You knew it was coming, and yet perhaps you hoped there was a way it could be avoided. It would be tempting to rewrite history in order to spare our hero and heroine the pain that lies ahead. But, since we all promised to abide by the facts of Jane Austen’s story…
Anne did not abandon the dream willingly or without a fight. She spent many hours closeted with her own thoughts, doggedly debating every aspect of the case with herself until she was wearied beyond all understanding. In the end, however, she was persuaded to believe the engagement a wrong thing – indiscreet, improper, and incapable of success. This was not the result of mere selfish caution but of her belief that she would be acting prudently and in self-denial, principally for his advantage. Otherwise, she could never have given him up, even temporarily.
She hoped Commander Wentworth would understand.
He did not.
The painful scene unfolded in this way.
Anne had procured the use of her father’s study in advance, in order that she might make the unpleasant disclosure in private. So, when Frederick Wentworth came to call as expected that day, she led him thither. It was the most difficult thing she ever had to do, to hold the man she loved at arm’s length and to speak the words that would change everything. She did it, however, believing it was for the best.
Instantly, his adoring expression transmuted into one of pain and incredulity. “You have decided to give up our engagement?” he repeated. “No, Anne, this cannot be so.”
“It will not be forever, Frederick,” she assured him. “Only for a little while, until circumstances make our marrying more supportable. We must be sensible, after all.”
“Sensible! This is not what you said before. A week ago, you said you would marry me. There was no talk then of being sensible, only talk of love. These are someone else’s words you now avow. Who has whispered in your ear and made you lose your nerve?”
“It was not one person only, my love; everybody advises against it. Can they all be wrong?”
“Yes, by god, they can be, if they say we must be parted!”
“You already knew my father would do nothing to support us. And Lady Russell says…”
“Lady Russell?” he broke in. “What has that lady to do with this?”
“Nothing, only that she is my dear friend, my confidant, and the nearest thing to a mother that I have. But you must not blame her for cautioning me. It has only confirmed what others and my own conscience tell me.”
“It is my fault then,” he said miserably, dragging a hand through his hair. “I should never have left you alone for a minute. I certainly would not have done so, had I any idea that your resolve could be so weak, that your word to me meant so little. Anne, just answer me this one question. Do you love me?”
“Yes, of course I do! More than anything in the world.”
“Nothing else matters, then.”
“If only that were true! But how can a man of understanding and education, who has lived in the world, speak such utter nonsense? You know it is nonsense, too, and yet you would use it against me?”
“I will use anything at my disposal, fair or foul, to change your mind, to persuade you in favor of love again.”
“No one could be more a champion of the idea that love is the only right basis for marriage, but even I acknowledge that love alone is not enough. We all must have something to live on as well. Can you deny it?”
“This argument simply means that you do not trust me to provide for you. You do not believe I will do as I have promised.”
“I do believe in you, Frederick.”
“But not enough, it seems. Not nearly enough.”
Anne’s tears, kept at bay with difficulty until that time, began to flow, and she could not reply. Her worst fears had overtaken her. Not only was she required to relinquish this man of superior worth – for, despite the current disagreement between them, she still believed with every fiber of her being that Frederick Wentworth was one such – but she was to have the additional pain of his bad opinion against her.
He had walked away to the window, rubbing his face with both hands as if assaulted by a sudden headache. Presently, he returned. “Anne, Anne,” he pleaded softly. “My love, I ask you to reconsider. Do not do this terrible thing, I beg of you. Do not throw away what we have, what we could have – our future together.”
More composed again, she answered, “It is only a delay, not a throwing away. Please understand me! What I do is not for my convenience or even according to my own wishes. But I believe it is the best thing, the right thing – for you, for me, for everybody involved. If we were to go ahead now, without money and without family support, we would be risking the happiness of others as well as ourselves… possibly even that of our own children.”
A mixture of emotions rapidly played across his face at the mention of the last. Anne could only imagine that his thoughts mirrored her own: pleasure at the notion of their having children together, but also trepidation for the heavy responsibility the idea entailed.
He shook his head, as if to rid himself of this valid concern. “Nevertheless, I must have a decision I can depend on. So tell me, once and for all, will you marry me, Anne? There is no ‘later,’ only ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ A man must have some pride left to him.”
She paused before answering, trembling under a great weight of despair – despair, but also anger that, rather than choosing to understand, the gentleman had given her an impossible ultimatum. She would not be dictated to, especially to act against my own conscience! He might have his pride, but Anne had her convictions.
“I have already given my answer to your question,” she said, “and my rational explanation for it. Perhaps in time, you will learn to credit them. If, however, your pride is truly so overpowering as to prevent you from seeing reason, then it is well that I have discovered it now, before it had been too late. I will not marry a man without sense, sir. Until you acquire some, I will not marry you. Have I made myself clear?”
For a moment he seemed undecided, and then he straightened himself and replied, “Perfectly, madam. You do not want what I have to offer, clearly. You must forgive me for having troubled you so long with my foolishness. I will leave you now.” He gave a curt bow, turned to go, and then stopped. In a milder tone, savoring more of sadness than ill will, he added, “Since it is doubtful we shall ever meet again, Miss Elliot, please accept my best wishes for your health and happiness. I truly hope you find the kind of life you seek. Pity it cannot be with me.”
With these words, he hastily left the room. His firm footfalls briskly retreated from her presence, and the next moment Anne heard the front door as he quit the house. So emotionally spent was she that she collapsed into a chair, remaining there for some time, crying inconsolable and hardly knowing what had happened… except that it was over between them. Harsh words had been spoken on both sides, accusations made and countered. It was not to be supposed that such things could ever be recovered from.
What do you think? Tragic, I know. But what fun to write! Confrontations always are, especially when you know you’ll get the payoff of a reconciliation later on. We know it, but unfortunately Wentworth and Anne do not!
As with the proposal scene 10 days ago, this P200 episode was inspired by a similar scene in my Persuasion-based novel, debuting later this summer, in which I draw a parallel between the events of Jane Austen’s own life and those she records in her book. I can hardly wait to share that with you too! In the meantime, read chapter one of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen here at Austen Variations.