Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Captain Harville, though not equalling Captain Wentworth in manners, was a perfect gentleman, unaffected, warm, and obliging. Mrs Harville, a degree less polished than her husband, seemed, however, to have the same good feelings; and nothing could be more pleasant than their desire of considering the whole party as friends of their own, because the friends of Captain Wentworth, or more kindly hospitable than their entreaties for their all promising to dine with them. (11.15)
The novel never tells us anything about Captain Harville's class background, so we judge him only on his personal merits. Although we do first meet him as a close friend of Captain Wentworth – how do friendly connections compare to family connections in how a character is judged in the novel? Also, it's interesting that, even as the novel is suggesting that class background is less important to who a person is than their individual merit, it does so using terms loaded with class significance, like "a perfect gentleman."
Anne had never seen her father and sister before in contact with nobility, and she must acknowledge herself disappointed. She had hoped better things from their high ideas of their own situation in life, and was reduced to form a wish which she had never foreseen; a wish that they had more pride; for "our cousins Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret;" "our cousins, the Dalrymples," sounded in her ears all day long. (16.11)
Pride is a funny thing – on the one hand it makes Sir Walter and Elizabeth full of their own importance, but the second anyone turns up who's more important than they are, they're knocking each other over to see who can bow first and lowest. It seems like they're so invested in the system of rank that it conquers even their own vanity...although they're also indulging their vanity by showing off their high-class connections.
Anne was ashamed. Had Lady Dalrymple and her daughter even been very agreeable, she would still have been ashamed of the agitation they created, but they were nothing. There was no superiority of manner, accomplishment, or understanding. Lady Dalrymple had acquired the name of "a charming woman," because she had a smile and a civil answer for everybody. Miss Carteret, with still less to say, was so plain and so awkward, that she would never have been tolerated in Camden Place but for her birth.
Lady Russell confessed she had expected something better; but yet "it was an acquaintance worth having;" and when Anne ventured to speak her opinion of them to Mr Elliot, he agreed to their being nothing in themselves, but still maintained that, as a family connexion, as good company, as those who would collect good company around them, they had their value. (16.14-15)
Whoa – Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret might be boring party guests, but "they were nothing?" That's really harsh. There seems to be a connection here between a person's value as a friend, and their value, full stop – and it's happening on both sides, both for those who prefer personal superiority, and those who think rank conquers all. At this moment those two viewpoints seem like flip sides of the same coin rather than truly opposite.