Study Guide

Persuasion Chapter 16

By Jane Austen

Chapter 16

  • Anne’s still concerned that she’s going to get Mrs. Clay as a wicked stepmother.
  • Mrs. Clay offers to leave, but both the elder Elliots insist that she stay.
  • It doesn’t help Anne’s worries that, when her father is trying to give her beauty advice, he holds up Mrs. Clay as an example of what his favorite face cream can do.
  • Anne feels powerless, and thinks that she would feel better about Mrs. Clay becoming Mrs. Walter Elliot if Elizabeth became Mrs. William Elliot. Her own backup plan is to move in with Lady Russell.
  • Lady Russell is rather cranky that Anne is getting ignored while Mrs. Clay gets all the attention; despite her crankiness, though, she still enjoys being a Bath scenester.
  • As Lady Russell gets to know Mr. Elliot, she likes him more and more, and is pleased with his sense of moderation and family pride.
  • Anne, however, thinks that Mr. Elliot has more than family pride on his mind, and suspects him of being after Elizabeth, but Lady Russell doesn’t see things that way.
  • In any case, Anne knows that the first Mrs. William Elliot has been in the ground for only seven months, and so he might not be too eager to enlist a second wife, even if the first one was unsatisfactory.
  • Until that becomes clear, Anne simply enjoys their friendship, as Mr. Elliot is by far the person in her limited social circle she most enjoys hanging out with, even though he cares more about rank than she does.
  • This difference becomes especially clear when a cousin to the Elliots, known unfortunately as the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, and her daughter arrive in Bath.
  • The Dalrymples are higher up on the social ladder than the Elliots, so Sir Walter is anxious to get some of their reflected glory. The backstory fairy explains the difficulty: Sir Walter was ill when Lady Dalrymple’s husband died, and so didn’t send a letter of condolence; the Dalrymples struck back by similarly ignoring Lady Elliot’s death, and the two families have been giving each other the silent treatment ever since.
  • Knowing this, Sir Walter writes an elaborate letter to smooth things over, which has the desired effect. Soon Sir Walter and Elizabeth are name-dropping their illustrious cousins at any chance they get.
  • Anne feels ashamed that her family has gone to such efforts to get in with people she finds boring and stupid, but Lady Russell and Mr. Elliot hold that rank brings along a whole bunch of other privileges that are worth pursuing.
  • Anne tells Mr. Elliot that her pride makes her want to make friends based on who she is rather than who her family is; Mr. Elliot replies that he, too, is proud, and that having Sir Walter set his eyes on those above him will keep his attention away from those below him – especially, Mr. Elliot hints, Mrs. Clay.
  • Anne can’t argue with that, and likes Mr. Elliot all the more for his sharing her dislike of Mrs. Clay.