A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Nine
Yesterday's chapter ended with Anne knowing for certain that Captain Wentworth was entirely indifferent to her. Or is he? Today's chapter certainly seems to indicate otherwise, although Austen never explicitly contradicts Anne's conclusion. As I've said before, I'm operating from the Norton Critical Edition of Persuasion, but any edition will do. And here's a link to Molland's online edition of Chapter Nine, should you find yourself without a hard copy of the text.
The chapter opens with some information about Charles Musgrove's cousin Charles Hayter and his relationship with Henrietta, which may be in question due to Henrietta's head being turned by Captain Wentworth. (Yes, we have Charles and Charles and Charles in this chapter, what with the elder nephew being Charles as well; having names in common among first cousins was quite common back then and would not have confused anyone then, although it's a bit unusual in modern times.) We learn that Mary is in favor of Wentworth choosing Henrietta over Louisa, because she looks down on the Hayters (surprise! - still, good of Austen to remind us of the Elliot snobbery). And in the midst of all that conversation comes the quiet heartbreak of Anne's assessment that "As to Captain Wentworth's views, she deemed it of more consequence that he should know his own mind, early enough not to be endangering the happiness of either sister, or impeaching his own honour, than that he should prefer Henrietta to Louisa, or Louisa to Henrietta. Either of them would, in all probability, make him an affectionate, good-humoured wife."
Poor Anne, forced to watch as Wentworth flirts with the young girls at Uppercross, who are both only too happy to encourage him. And then to be drawn into conversations at Uppercross Cottage between Charles and Mary, trying to figure out which of Charles's sisters he prefers. Again I will say that either Anne puts on a very good show (likely) or nobody really takes the time to observe her closely (also likely), because her distress level is quite high, but nobody sees it. And the Musgroves - both the older couple and their daughters and the younger couple - are actually kind-hearted people who are not inclined to ignore Anne in the same manner as her father and Elizabeth did, although they are happy to take advantage of her nature.
Back in my post about Chapter Six, I pointed out that "there are only a few characters who take note of any discomfort on Anne's part: we've already met one, Lady Russell, and there are two more to come - but only one who takes serious action to ameliorate her discomfort. And there are conclusions to be drawn from that, I believe[.]" In this chapter, we learn that one of the other characters who notes Anne's discomfort is Captain Wentworth - and he takes action to ameliorate it. This will continue to be something to watch for in the coming chapters, and certainly recurs in Chapter 10.
The set-up is that Anne is in the Cottage drawing-room, caring for her nephew (the injured one). Wentworth turns up looking for the Misses Musgrove, who are visiting Mary upstairs. He must now wait in the drawing-room with Anne. Charles Hayter turns up as well, but he's in a snit over Henrietta's interest in Wentworth, so he hides behind a newspaper (a time-honored tradition among men in Austen novels, including Mr. Bennet (P&P) and Mr. Palmer (S&S) hiding from their wives in that way). Anne's younger nephew, who is only two, comes in and flings his arms around Anne's neck, climbing onto her back.
Anne: Get down! You're making me angry!
Hayter: I say! Do as your aunt says! Come see me!
Wentworth: *springs into action, removing the child from her back and then keeping him engaged*
In this small domestic scene, Austen quite effectively establishes that Wentworth is still concerned for Anne's well-being, particularly when one considers the degrees of familiarity and relationship among the parties. Anne is the boy's maternal aunt and has known the child since birth; it is therefore natural for her to discipline the child, only he has her in a chokehold from behind and she really can't get at him. Charles Hayter is the boy's first cousin, once removed, and has known the child since birth; it is therefore natural as well for him to discipline the child, although he doesn't bother to actually do anything - he just sits there and tells the little boy to cease and desist. (Anne later notes that Hayter seems annoyed with himself for not having done what Wentworth did, since it was what he ought to have done.)
Captain Wentworth is (for all intents and purposes) a stranger, with no real knowledge of the child, yet he is the one to come to Anne's assistance. He doesn't exactly discipline the child, but he does physically handle him and then keep him occupied so as to prevent him from bothering Anne again while she is tending to young Charles Musgrove. And in doing so, he has come into extremely close physical proximity to Anne, prying the boy's hands from around Anne's neck and carrying him off. He acts not out of duty as a relation (as Hayter ought to have done), but out of a desire to help Anne. And then he fusses over the little boy so as to avoid conversation with Anne.
Austen sets the scene up in the way that she does in order to let the readers know more than her characters can sort out for themselves. Wentworth's "man of action" moment tells us, the readers, that he is still quite concerned about Anne, but is conflicted, and probably still angry, with her. His actions speak louder than any words, yet he actively discourages any words that might be spoken. He has acted based on feelings that he is actively trying to repress and/or disavow. Meanwhile, we have Anne, who can tell that he's uncomfortable in her presence and really doesn't want to talk to her, only he's just done something that is kind of close to being intimate (for that time period). No wonder poor Anne is in a bit of a tizzy - to have him so close to her (for one), and then to have him so studiously avoiding her afterwards has to be bewildering. So we end the chapter with a shaken Anne bolting from the room to try to pull herself together.
I can hardly wait for tomorrow, when we get to glean some nuts in the hedgerow. (Sounds dirty, no?)