For whatever reason, Jane Austen tells us very little of the initial courtship of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. We’re told even less about the actual proposal. She only says in chapter four, “It would be difficult to say which had seen the highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest; she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted.” Did Austen have difficulty imagining how things might have played out between these lovers? Did she think the details unnecessary or simply too personal to have an audience looking on? We will never know. Here is my interpretation of that early proposal scene, which precedes the live action of the novel. It’s told from Anne’s point of view:
July or early August, 1806
Although our time together had been brief, a special bond had already formed between us. I was certain by the glow of regard I saw in Commander Wentworth’s eyes that he felt it too. I could not account for the miracle, but it was true. We had fallen rapidly and deeply in love.
Nobody else seemed to have perceived the seriousness of the attachment so swiftly forming between us. My father, who only ever paid me scant attention, apparently saw nothing in Commander Wentworth’s frequent visits to excite his particular interest. And we did our best to keep well clear of the keener observation of Lady Russell. It was not that we feared disapproval so much as we simply wanted no one else. We wanted only to be left to ourselves and to revel in each other’s company.
Suddenly, all the world was right and beautiful in the Frederick’s estimation, for which he gave me full credit. I felt the same boundless bliss, rightly sighting him – in whom all the manifold virtues of male perfection were happy to reside – as the source of my unalloyed contentment. Past injuries and disappointments were soon forgot, and nothing but the most glorious future lay before us.
Commander Wentworth admitted to only one minor reservation regarding our outlook (seeming minor because, in our exuberance, we believed ourselves more than equal to overcoming any obstacle), and that was his current lack of fortune. He had been forthright about this inconvenience from the beginning, and then again on the morning he rode over from Monkford to see me after a two-day absence. He proposed another walk in the countryside, and I immediately accepted. We had been enjoying especially fine weather – dry, but not too hot – and walking out together had given the two of us opportunity to become more intimately acquainted away from any officious scrutiny.
We set off that day with no particular destination in mind. Once out of sight of the house, the captain and I slackened our pace. Words were not necessary to orchestrate this alteration, or the fact that our parallel paths soon drifted a little closer, to the point where his sleeve might happen to brush mine occasionally. I could then at least imagine I felt his warmth bridging the gap between us, though we never touched.
“I believe I owe you an apology, Miss Elliot,” he began at length as we went along.
I looked sideways up at him. “Truly? Whatever for? And please, do call me by my Christian name when we are alone.” He had used it only once before, and I longed to hear myself addressed so again. Coming from his lips, that one syllable had sounded as sweet as the most elegant sonnet.
He paused and looked at me. “Very well, Anne.”
A wave of pleasure washed over me at his caressing tone, and we stood suspended for a moment while the sound hung in the air. Then he remembered himself, resumed our walk, and continued with his thought.
“I owe you an apology, or at least an explanation, for my absence these two days. You must have wondered what had become of me, especially after what passed between us at the ball the other night.”
I attempted to make light of the circumstance that had in fact given me some anxiety. “Not at all,” said I. “I only hoped I had not done anything to displease you.”
“Far from it! The problem was entirely on my side – a niggling question, the contemplation of which kept me well occupied for many hours. And now I must confess everything to you, my dear Anne.”
Again, he had pronounced my name, only made the more effecting by the words “my dear” coming before it. I waited with breathless anticipation for whatever he would say next.
“You see, I perceived even at our first meeting that I could love you. Indeed, within hours – no, truly, it was within minutes – an attachment had already begun, on my side at least. Possibly I should have put an end to it at once, since I knew I was in no very strong position to make any commitments at present. I warned myself that the longer we were together, the more difficult it would be to break away. But still I lingered a few days, and then a few days more. After the ball, where I heard you so ably defend me and all sailors to your father, I considered myself a lost man. Yet I thought it might not be too late for you, and that perhaps I owed it to you to withdraw before any serious harm was done. That is why I stayed away.”
“And yet you came back.” I stopped and turned to my companion, and he did likewise.
“Yes,” he said, with a weight of feeling behind the word. “I decided it was impossible that we should part.”
Perhaps it would have been more correct of me to demure, but instead I told him the truth. “I feel exactly the same, Frederick.”
This seemed to decide him. Rewarding me with a gratified smile, he took both my hands in his and hurried on. “The world would tell us it is imprudent to contemplate marrying on so little. I have some money put aside; otherwise there will be barely anything above my officer’s pay to live on in the beginning. But I love you too passionately for delay, and I am asking you to believe in me. I am resourceful, hard working, and a lucky sort of person. With you by my side, I cannot fail of achieving great things, both in my career and as regards to fortune. There is a deal of prize money to be made in the war, you know, and I am determined I shall have my share of it. Dearest Anne…” Here he dropped to one knee. “…will you trust me? I may have no right to ask it, but will you marry me now, while I am undeserving? If you agree, you will never regret it, I promise you.”
This defining moment will stand forever frozen in time, perfectly preserved in my mind. No matter how long I may live, I doubt I shall ever forget one detail of it – the stray lock of dark hair forming a flawless curl on the captain’s forehead; the bewitching confidence and powerful warmth with which he pledged his love to me; even the call of a distant rook punctuating the brief silence that followed. These and other precious remembrances compose a sharply drawn picture in my mind.
It was more than enough for me. I agreed to marry Commander Wentworth at once, and it would be impossible to say which of us was the happiest – me, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted. We laughed and kissed by turns, taking periodic cover amidst the shrubbery and forgetting to make any progress in our walk. I smiled so much that morning that by the time we finally returned to Kellynch Hall, my cheeks ached for it. If only that initial happiness, that boundless, unlimited joy, had been stout enough to withstand the storm to come.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it! It was inspired by a similar scene in a Persuasion-based novel that will debut 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. Read chapter one of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen here at Austen Variations.