Sir Walter Elliot
Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall in Somerset, south-west England, never read anything except the Baronetage. He particularly liked to read the pages about his own family:
Walter Elliot, baronet, born 1 March 1760, married Elizabeth Stevenson 15 July 1784. Three daughters: Elizabeth (born 1 June 1785), Anne (born 9 August 1787), and Mary (born 20 November 1791, married Charles Musgrove 16 December 1810). A still-born son (5 November 1789). Lady Elliot died in 1800. Heir presumptive: William Walter Elliot, the great grandson of the second Sir Walter.
This introduction was followed by the history of the Elliot family: three hundred years of respectability. Reading it gave Sir Walter great satisfaction. Vanity was his principal characteristic: he was vain about his noble family and his good looks. At fifty-four he was still a handsome man. His friends had been surprised that he had never married again. He could have asked Lady Russell to marry him. She was a widow who lived nearby and had been Lady Elliot’s closest friend. However, thirteen years had passed since Lady Elliot’s death, and Sir Walter and Lady Russell were still just good friends and neighbours.
Sir Walter’s favourite daughter was Elizabeth. She was twenty-nine, but she was still very good-looking. Anne was twenty-six and had been pretty a few years before, but now she was pale and thin. Mary had grown fat since her marriage. Lady Russell had deep lines around her eyes. Sir Walter took great pleasure in thinking that of all the people he knew only he and Elizabeth were still as good-looking as ever. Elizabeth will marry a great nobleman, he thought, and he did not notice that he had been thinking it for the past thirteen years.
When Elizabeth was sixteen, she had planned to marry her father’s heir William Walter Elliot. That was the only way she could keep her father’s property. When she met the young man, she liked him. He was invited to Kellynch Hall, but he never came. A year later, he married a rich woman from a middle-class family. Elizabeth was angry and upset. Her life went on rather emptily. She went to elegant parties and visited friends. She tried to fill the time, but it was difficult, since she had no talents or interests.
Recently she had been worried about her father: he was in debt. Neither Elizabeth nor her father could imagine how to pay these debts. Both felt that their extravagant lifestyle was essential to the dignity of a noble family. Lady Russell and Anne spent hours trying to find a way to save money and pay the debts, but every plan for economy they proposed was rejected by Sir Walter. Finally he accepted the radical plan of moving to the town of Bath. There he could live for less money without losing his dignity. Meanwhile, Kellynch Hall was rented to a gentleman called Admiral Croft.
When Sir Walter’s lawyer Mr Shepherd had completed the business arrangements with Admiral Croft, he came to Kellynch to report to Sir Walter.
‘Admiral Croft is very nice,’ said Mr Shepherd. ‘His wife’s brother lived in the nearby village of Monkford a few years ago. Perhaps you know the gentleman. Now, what was his name?’ Mr Shepherd searched his memory but couldn’t remember the name of Mrs Croft’s brother. ‘He lived in the grey stone house…’
After a moment, Anne said, ‘I suppose you mean Mr Wentworth.’
‘Ah!’ said Sir Walter. ‘The curate of Monkford. When you said «gentleman» I thought you meant a man of property, somebody of the nobility. Mr Wentworth was nobody.’
Anne left the room quietly and went out into the garden. As she walked between the tall trees, she thought, ‘In a few months, perhaps he will be here!’
She was thinking of the curate’s brother — Captain Frederick Wentworth of the Royal Navy — who had spent the year 1806 in Monkford. At that time, he was a handsome, clever, charming young man, and Anne was a pretty, gentle, sensitive girl. They fell in love and were happy for a short period, but, when Frederick asked Sir Walter if he could marry Anne, Sir Walter was not pleased. He thought that Frederick’s family was not good enough. Even Lady Russell, who was much more sensible than Sir Walter, disapproved. Anne was Lady Russell’s favourite of the Elliot sisters; only Anne had the gentleness, good sense and modesty that Lady Russell had loved so much in her old friend Lady Elliot. Lady Russell thought that it was foolish for Anne to marry a young man with no money. ‘When your father dies,’ she had said, ‘he’ll leave you very little money and no property. You need to marry someone rich and so does Captain Wentworth. If you marry each other, you’ll have no money at all, and you’ll both be miserable as a result.’
Anne was too gentle to argue against this. She broke off her engagement to Frederick, convinced that it was the best thing for him. Frederick was angry and hurt. ‘I’m sure that I’ll earn money and promotion in the Navy,’ he said, but Anne continued to resist him, and finally he went to sea. That was eight years ago, when Anne was nineteen. Very few people knew about the relationship between them: his sister Mrs Croft had been abroad with her husband at the time, and Anne’s sister Mary had been away at school. Captain Wentworth had never returned to Monkford, because his brother had moved away.
In the eight years since Captain Wentworth had left, Anne had never fallen in love with anyone else. Mr Charles Musgrove had asked her to marry him, but she had refused, and he had married her sister Mary instead. Anne read about Captain Wentworth’s career in the newspapers. He had been right: his Navy career was a great success. By now he must be quite rich, thought Anne sadly. He had never married. Thinking about it now, Lady Russell’s advice seemed too cautious: Anne thought she was being prudent, but instead she had ruined her life.
Mary lived at Uppercross, three miles from Kellynch Hall. One day she said to her sister Elizabeth, ‘When you go to Bath, please leave Anne with me. I’m not well, and I need Anne’s help.’
‘All right,’ said Elizabeth. ‘No one will miss her in Bath!’
Elizabeth’s friend Mrs Clay — a young widow — was going to Bath with them. Elizabeth was perfectly happy with the thought of her father and her friend as her only companions.
Anne was also happy with the arrangement and gladly accepted Mary’s invitation. She did not like Bath. She much preferred to stay in the country close to Lady Russell, who appreciated her. She and Mary did not enjoy each other’s company, but at least Mary valued her help, and this way she did not have to go to Bath.
There was only one problem with the plan: the idea of Mrs Clay staying for months with Elizabeth and Sir Walter at their house in Bath made Anne worried. Mrs Clay was not a pretty woman, but she was intelligent and friendly. Anne thought it imprudent to let a pleasant young single woman stay in the house with Sir Walter for so long a period. She told Elizabeth this, but Elizabeth replied, ‘Nonsense! Father doesn’t find Mrs Clay attractive. Besides, she isn’t from a noble family. There’s no danger.’
So Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs Clay left for Bath, and Anne moved into Mary’s house. Mary lived in the Cottage, the smaller of two houses on a large property owned by her husband’s parents. Mr and Mrs Musgrove Senior lived in the Great House. Anne and Mary spent a lot of time with Mr and Mrs Musgrove and their daughters Henrietta and Louisa. They were rather pretty, lively, fashionable girls, who were very popular in the neighbourhood. They seemed to enjoy life a lot, but the only thing Anne was envious of was their friendly feeling towards each other — this was very different from Anne’s relationship with either of her sisters.