Study Guide

Lady Russell in Persuasion

By Jane Austen

Lady Russell

Lady Russell is the queen of advice. Love troubles? Money troubles? She’s on it. Her methods, however, are not always to her advisees’ liking. While Anne generously gives her the benefit of the doubt in recalling her old friend’s advice to give up on Captain Wentworth, Sir Walter is less obliging when she offers to help him with his budget woes. Still, she perseveres in trying to save the Elliots from themselves.

It seems a bit strange that Lady Russell doesn’t just stick to Anne – the only one of the Elliots who actually likes her and listens to her advice – and leave the others to their fate. Why does Lady Russell care for the Elliots so much? One reason could be that her strong affection for Anne gives her an interest in making sure that the other Elliots don’t mess things up for Anne. A second reason is her "value for rank and consequence, which blind[s] her a little to the faults of those who possessed them" (2.2). Lady Russell’s continuing friendship with the Elliots is based on both personal merit (of Anne and the late Lady Elliot) and social rank (Sir Walter’s title), combining these two systems which clash throughout the novel. Lady Russell does, however, seem pretty bad at seeing personal merit without a high social rank to back it up (case in point: Captain Wentworth).

At the end of the novel, Lady Russell has to undergo an entire mental makeover, realizing that she was totally wrong about both Mr. Elliot and Captain Wentworth. That she manages to do so fairly easily shows that she thinks more of Anne’s happiness than of being right, though it remains uncertain whether the same was true of her earlier acts of persuasion.

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