In chapter six of Jane Austen’s novel, ‘Persuasion’ there is a huge sense of conflict within the families, this is highlighted in their interaction between one another and the language that Austen uses to portray this. This chapter emphasises the fact that even in the warmest of families there is always tension. Each character in the novel provides a certain role within the family, whether it is a positive or negative one. At this point in the book Anne has just moved to Uppercross with the Musgroves, although reluctant to do so at first it ends up that she is in fact a lot more comfortable with them than she is with her direct family, the Elliots. Her father, Sir Walter Elliot is very self indulgent and has a particularly shallow outlook on life and her sister Elizabeth follows in his ways. The Crofts are an amiable family, the relationships within the families contrast strongly from one another meaning that the presentation of their characters is emphasised.
Anne is constantly surrounded by her direct family. Anne is portrayed in Austen’s novel as being a modest talented character however due to her father’s dismissive nature he fails to recognise this. The Elliot family reflects a family that is so driven by their father’s arrogance and self indulgence that they are lead to being isolated from the majority of the unpretentious society, “in seeing how unknown, or unconsidered” they were now to their new surroundings. This emphasises the point that despite the fact that Sir Walter can talk of nothing but himself there is no one around who appears to share the same interest in his life as much as he.
Furthermore, he is only three miles away from Kellynch-Hall; if he really did carry any respectable status then it would be known of. Anne, Elizabeth and Mary only have their father as their mother died; naturally this has had an effect on the children as they only have one parent to aspire to, their trivial minded father whose particular unpleasant nature is apparent in Elizabeth; however there is evidence that Mary too carries traits of her father’s personality. “Mary was not so repulsive and unsisterly as Elizabeth, nor so inaccessible to all influences of hers.” Austen uses almost hyperbolic free indirect discourse to describe Elizabeth, ‘repulsive’ is beyond selfish or shallow, it gives the impression of her utter brutality. Moreover the fact that Mary is described as being ‘not so repulsive’ as her sister gives the impression that although Mary may not fully embody the extent of Elizabeth’s vile nature she is not an amiable character herself.
Mary shows tendencies to be attention seeking, this is shown when Charles says, “I wish you could persuade Mary not to be always fancying herself ill.” The use of the verb ‘fancying’ suggest that it is just a figure of her imagination in order to get the attention that she lacks at home, further more it describes her as ‘always’ fancying herself ill which implies that she constantly feels the need for attention highlighting the neglect her father gives her. Anne’s gentleness is highlighted through the comparison between her and the rest of her family. She recognises, unlike her father and sisters their “own nothingness beyond their own circle” and as a consequence is not egotistical.
It is probable that Anne carried various similarities with her mother when she was alive as her mother is described in the first chapter as “sensible and amiable”, “she had humoured, or softened, or concealed Sir Walters failings.” This reminds us of Anne who was the result of her mothers “youthful infatuation”. Like her mother Anne is able to “soften every grievance”, by associating the word “soften” with both Anne and her mother it draws parallels between them. Her father who in society would be frowned upon for his pompousness sees Anne as worthless.
This is ironic because there is evidence in the novel that Anne shows qualities of being a worthy wife, when she moves into the Musgroves house it explains how she felt more suited to their ways of life with “dress, dancing and music. She acknowledged it to be very fitting…” this quote highlights Anne’s desire to excel in her talents however her life at home has restricted her in doing so. Sir Walter shows no appreciation for Anne’s enthusiasm unlike the Musgrove parents who “fond partiality for their own daughters’ performance”. Sir Walter is so concerned about his status in society and his supposed superiority because of his title he has no time to concentrate on making his family an intimate one.
The Musgrove family draws a huge comparison with the Elliot family. Although the Musgroves are a wealthy, landowning family, second in the parish, they are not have a title. Despite the fact that the Elliots are perfectly happy to interact and intermarry with the Musgroves there are distinct differences in their ways of life. At Uppercross, Anne notices the very different topics that occupy the Musgroves’ attention. Little concerned with discussing appearances and social standing, the Musgrove family occupies itself with “horses, dogs, newspapers, house-keeping, neighbours, dress, dancing, and music.” She finds their presence a welcome change from the company of her father and Elizabeth. Austen describes the marriage between Mary and Charles as “reasonably happy”, giving the impression that although they may have their differences and quarrels they are content with their marriage.
Charles is described as being “superior to his wife”. This was common although within a marriage was bound to cause conflict. They do not appear to have a real emotional connection; this is shown where it says, “He had very good spirits, which never seemed much affected by his wife’s occasional lowness.” If there was an emotional connection within the marriage then he would feel sympathetic towards her if she was feeling low however this quote suggests that they are more concerned with their own emotions. Furthermore there is evidence that they are both dissatisfied with each others parenting methods and complain to Anne about each other, enhancing the idea that they may not be as happy together as they may seem. Mary is not happy with Mrs. Musgroves approach to dealing with the children either, she says, “Mrs. Charles knows no more how they should be treated! Bless me how troublesome they are sometimes! I assure you, Miss Anne, it prevents my wishing to seen them at our house so often…”
It appears from this that the children are used as a way of blaming each other. Despite this however the family hold a much more positive vibe than to that of the Elliot’s as “he had very good spirits” unlike Sir Walter who is reclusive in his manner due to his brashness. Within the Elliot family there lacks a positive atmosphere so for Anne moving to Uppercross it seems to have made her feel more relaxed. She acts as the peacemaker and “listens patiently” and “excuse each to the other” when there is a sense of conflict within the family. From the outside the family seem to be very happy which is what was perceived as important, their irritations with each other had not got to the point where they were unhappy as a couple.
A part from being a fairly warm family the Musgroves are also a very popular family, “the neighbourhood was not large, but the Musgrove’s were visited by everybody, and had more dinner parties, and more callers, more visitors by invitation and by chance, than any other family.” This shows something significant that the Elliot family lack, social awareness. They are not only popular compared to the Elliot family but are more popular than any other family, this implies that they are hospitable and kind as a family, this assumption is supported by the way they make Anne feel so comfortable, “she was always on good terms with her brother in law; and in the children, who loved her nearly as well, and respected her…” This respect that she receives is possibly the only respect she has from any of her family so naturally she would feel contented here.
The Croft family are presented as being very amiable one. When Mary and Anne visit them Mr Croft displays his hospitality with his “good humoured notice of Mary’s little boys.” The earlier depiction of Mary’s children portrays them as being impatient and in demand of a lot of attention, the fact that Mr Croft greets them so kindly draws across a friendly tolerance. Mrs Croft is described as having “bright dark eyes” the juxtaposition of “bright” and “dark” gives the impression that she is lively and positive in her nature but sincere as well.
This immediate presentation of the Crofts is a huge contrast with the Elliots and even the Musgroves who although are admired do not appear as genuine as the Crofts. Mrs Crofts complexion is described as “weather-beaten, the consequence of having been almost as much at sea as her husband.” This conveys the idea that she is not vain, unlike Sir Walter, and goes with her husband on his voyages indicative of her authentic love for him which could be questioned in the relationship between Charles and Mary Musgrove. “Her manners were open, easy, and decided, like one who had no distrust of herself, and no doubts of what to do” portraying that she is naturally polite and is instinctively respectful.
The different family displayed in Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ are each very different. By having them contrast each other so dramatically Austen manages to draw attention to their individualities. The misfits within the marriages are reflective of women’s social positions within the class system of the nineteenth century. For women the most important quality in a marriage was the prosperous outcome. Although in some cases such as Mr and Mrs Croft, they were lucky to have genuine love for one another however the relationship between Charles and Mary Musgrove proves that couples simply grew to admire each other despite their initial differences and some were not happy at all however divorce was extremely unlikely. Sir Walter Elliot proves the influence the parent has on the child, in this case Sir Walter’s dismissive attitude to anyone he saw as having lower status was clearly visible in Elizabeth and even Mary who still felt the need to seek attention. The Croft’s kind nature is similar to that of Anne’s which could be an indication of the compatibility she potentially has with Frederick Wentworth.