Jane Austen's Perfect Heroine: The Use of Reserve in Persuasion

Jane Austen's Perfect Heroine:

The Use of Reserve in Persuasion

"Her character was now fixed on his mind as perfection itself."

Jane Austen, Persuasion

Anne Elliot is often described as Jane Austen's most mature and perfect heroine; and so she is. One is disposed to share Captain Wentworth's sentiments when he pronounces Anne's character to be "perfection itself, maintaining the loveliest medium of fortitude and gentleness" (226). Jane Austen's use of reserve in her 1818 novel Persuasion is a device to set her heroine off against the people and society around her, and, most of all, to give Anne an air of perfection. By giving her a reserved character, Anne becomes the antipode of a society with decaying values. Austen speaks out against the attitude of the aristocracy, the inclination of a willful disposition, and a decreasing sense of decorum.

Sir Walter Elliot is the embodiment of the declining aristocracy in Regency England, which Anne escapes by marrying someone from the rising professional class. According to Paul Cantor "the aristocracy no longer bases its claim to rule on its intrinsic merit or superiority in virtue, [but n]ow the aristocracy's pre-eminence rests solely on its...

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