by Jane Austen
Persuasion Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Instead of pushing his fortune in the line marked out for the heir of the house of Elliot, he [Mr. Elliot] had purchased independence by uniting himself to a rich woman of inferior birth. (1.16)
It's interesting that Mr. Elliot's marriage is here described as independence...independence from what? And it's interesting too that his marriage is also described as a "purchase," even though it's his new wife who is bringing the money – what benefits might she be getting from this transaction?
[Sir Walter Elliot speaks] "Yes; it [the naval profession] is [...] offensive to me; I have [...] strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of [...]. I have observed it all my life. A man is in greater danger in the navy of being insulted by the rise of one whose father, his father might have disdained to speak to, [...] than in any other line. One day last spring, in town, I was in company with two men, striking instances of what I am talking of; Lord St Ives, whose father we all know to have been a country curate, without bread to eat; I was to give place to Lord St Ives[.]" (3.16)
Sir Walter has great difficulty separating an individual from his or her family – in his eyes, whatever the father is, the son is too. And not only that, he also feels personally insulted when someone who started out below him ends up above – it seems like he feels his position is in itself superior because he didn't do have to do any work to achieve it.
[Mrs. Clay speaks] "In fact, as I have long been convinced, though every profession is necessary and honourable in its turn, it is only the lot of those who are not obliged to follow any, who can live in a regular way, in the country, choosing their own hours, following their own pursuits, and living on their own property, without the torment of trying for more; it is only their lot, I say, to hold the blessings of health and a good appearance to the utmost: I know no other set of men but what lose something of their personableness when they cease to be quite young." (3.17)
Mrs. Clay, not being of the aristocracy herself, can see what the aristocrats' privilege blinds them to – that even good health and beauty are a function of being born into wealth and leisure.