by Jane Austen
Persuasion Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
[Mr. Elliot speaks] "Good company requires only birth, education, and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company; on the contrary, it will do very well. My cousin Anne shakes her head. She is not satisfied. She is fastidious. My dear cousin" (sitting down by her), "you have a better right to be fastidious than almost any other woman I know; but will it answer? Will it make you happy? Will it not be wiser to accept the society of those good ladies in Laura Place, and enjoy all the advantages of the connexion as far as possible? You may depend upon it, that they will move in the first set in Bath this winter, and as rank is rank, your being known to be related to them will have its use in fixing your family (our family let me say) in that degree of consideration which we must all wish for." (16.17)
Mr. Elliot's words illustrate that class isn't just a matter of some people feeling like they're better than others, but that it's a whole system that one individual can't do much to change. If Anne wants the benefits of that system, she has to play by its rules.
"Westgate Buildings!" said he, "and who is Miss Anne Elliot to be visiting in Westgate Buildings? A Mrs Smith. A widow Mrs Smith; and who was her husband? One of five thousand Mr Smiths whose names are to be met with everywhere. And what is her attraction? That she is old and sickly. Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you. But surely you may put off this old lady till to-morrow: she is not so near her end, I presume, but that she may hope to see another day." (17.14)
You may have heard of the "halo effect" in psychology – that people have a tendency to think that a beautiful person is also smart, funny, nice, etc. Sir Walter operates on the same principle, only with class – a lower-class person must also live in squalor and be not worth visiting, just as an upper-class person (as we just saw in the passage about Lady Dalrymple) automatically is good company.
Captain Wentworth, with five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, was no longer nobody. He was now esteemed quite worthy to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him, and who could give his daughter at present but a small part of the share of ten thousand pounds which must be hers hereafter. (24.1)
Ah, money, that great leveler – even though the Elliots may privately continue to complain about new wealth acquired by those of low birth, that wealth still has social power. And the use of the passive voice here suggests that general public opinion is not quite so picky on these matters as Sir Walter.