In Persuasion, grief is a significant emotion that shapes character and marks physical appearance. The novel explores what it is to grieve both privately and publicly and also appraises several forms of public mourning through contrasting Anne Elliot’s almost ethereal form with the ample physique of Mrs. Musgrove, thus evaluating the capacity of each physical shape to evoke the appropriate sympathetic response in those who observe the mourner’s grief. The much-discussed passage that appraises Mrs. Musgrove’s “large fat sighings” (73) over her dead son has been noted by critics as an unusual instance of Jane Austen taking on an inappropriate tone; either Austen’s omniscient narrator or Anne herself couches Mrs. Musgrove’s public display of grief in rather unsympathetic terms, and the effect is jarring at the very least. I would like to suggest, however, that over the course of the novel Austen subtly and gradually criticizes the idea that there might be an appropriate public shape that mourning ought to take and, moreover, that Austen is keen to explore the many anxieties surrounding the appropriate shape of grief and mourning. This passage, however jarring it feels, is central to Anne’s experience of loss as change and is crucial in her ultimate rejection of grief and her new attachment to life as embodied experience. Grief as embodied experience necessitates a “show” of grief, a visualization of how grief ought to look as a kind of performative expression of an extreme emotional state, and also, in its extremity of sentimental expression, as a particular type of feminine response to loss.
Opinion about the tone and narrative function of this scene has been divided, with critics either denouncing Austen for her offensiveness or seeing the scene as pointing to something rather more complex. Malcolm Pittock has argued that Austen shows a “wanton heartlessness” by mocking Mrs. Musgrove’s size while also mocking her grief (261), while Sarah Emsley, in discussing Pittock’s reading of this passage, suggests that this scene involves a lack of charity, especially concerning Mrs. Musgrove’s size, which “can alert us to the broader preoccupation with charity and lack of charity [Austen] displays in her work” (“Laughing”). Emsley has also argued, in Jane Austen’s Philosophy of the Virtues, that Austen takes an Aristotelean view of wealthy Mrs. Musgrove’s “excessive eating as well as her excessive grieving,” proposing that she is judged for an irresponsible approach to her own health (29). Jill Heydt-Stevenson has accounted for the “unbecoming conjunctions” in terms of Austen’s acknowledgment of the “paradoxical nature of grief—sometimes it is moving, sometimes comical, sometimes ridiculous” (52), and Nina Auerbach sees Mrs. Musgrove as one of Persuasion’s “flat, comic characters” whose role it is to draw off any “potential preciosity and affectation” from Anne’s “protracted mourning over the death of feeling” (115). Some critics have moved their focus away from the problem of character and virtue in this scene, taking on the issue of embodiment in a social context. Judy van Sickle Johnson has read Mrs. Musgrove’s “broad body” as a “social ‘screen’ that allows Anne’s passionate impulses to remain undetected and unfulfilled by Wentworth” (50), and the reference to “fat sighings” disguises the reference to Anne’s slender body, rendering Anne even more unobtrusive; Robyn R. Warhol argues that Anne is “uncomfortable with the female body in general” (7) and that her response to the proximity of Mrs. Musgrove’s “excessive fleshiness” is “matrophobic” (17).
The issue of voice in this scene has also been a point of contention. While Warhol attributes the comments on Mrs. Musgrove’s size to Anne, and sees this as an opinion that Anne later rejects with “her increasing comfort with the female bodily experience” (17–18), Thomas P. Wolfe argues that “it is so unmistakably a voice unconnected with Anne’s—it is wholly the author’s,” and makes a distinction between the “brutality” of the Box Hill scene in Emma and the brutality of the “fat sighings” scene (695).
In their interest in the various facets of grief and their expression in the body, Jocelyn Harris and Adela Pinch have produced readings of this scene most relevant to this essay. Harris was the first to read Mrs. Musgrove’s “large fat sighings” in the context of James Gillray’s famous caricature of Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton (97–99), and Pinch has provided a careful and nuanced reading of the scene, taking note of the serious enquiry Austen makes into the nature of grief and the role of the body in expressing grief (147–48). Here I read Persuasion’s contrasting attitudes to the bodily shape of grief and mourning in the context of Lady Emma Hamilton’s1 Attitudes, arguably the most fashionable and famous visual representations of feminine sublime emotion circulating during the Georgian period. Emma was lauded for her energized and highly emotional tableaux vivants of classical beauties, some of whom are most powerfully represented in mourning. On the other hand, Emma’s ample figure was, like Mrs. Musgrove’s, comically portrayed as an inappropriate shape for the display of authentic expressions of grief, most famously in Gillray’s caricatures, Dido, in Despair! (1801) and The Death of Admiral Lord Nelson—in the moment of Victory (1805). In these sorts of complicated responses to Emma’s larger-than-life, physically demonstrative evocations of grief, we are able to gain a sense of Regency attitudes to normative displays of feminine mourning that provide a new context for how we might approach the embodiment of grief and mourning in Persuasion.
Emma’s Attitudes: A context for reading the mourning female body
In A Revolution Almost beyond Expression, Harris has remarked on the several ways in which Emma Hamilton is possibly alluded to in Persuasion, particularly through Mrs. Smith (whose maiden name is Hamilton) and more notably through Mrs. Musgrove, whose fat sighings for the memory of her dead son may have as their source the excessive sobs of Emma mourning Lord Nelson’s departure for the Nile in Gillray’s caricature, Dido, in Despair! (97–99).2 For Harris, the references reveal Austen’s innovative approach in drawing on “historical, cultural, and literary contexts,” and the allusion to Emma is just one of many intertextual references to the Napoleonic Wars that permeate Persuasion (11, 17). Gillray’s caricature foregrounds the illicit love affair between Emma Hamilton and Nelson, depicting her as unable to let go of her lover as he pursues his maritime duties. Harris reads the “fat sighings” passage in terms of Gillray’s “grotesque cartoon,” noting that Austen’s contemporary readers would have seen similarities between Emma’s and Mrs. Musgrove’s displays of grief, and that Austen is able to evaluate Wentworth’s masculinity in terms of his possession of the domestic virtues that the most famous of naval officers demonstrably lacks (98).
Another of Gillray’s caricatures not mentioned by Harris, but equally apposite to her discussion, is The Death of Admiral Lord Nelson—in the moment of Victory. Rather than casting Emma as a sensual, oriental seductress, Gillray depicts her as a buxom Britannia grieving for the loss of the country’s greatest hero. This caricature references Thomas Baxter’s Britannia crowning the Bust of our late Hero Lord Nelson, a print commemorating Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar. Emma, a friend and patron of Baxter, is the model for Britannia, adopting the neo-classical pose, not as a sylph, but as a matron in mourning (Grieg 214).3
While reference to Gillray’s Dido and Death of Admiral Lord Nelson certainly foregrounds the broader political context and makes sense of how Mrs. Musgrove’s grief is negatively presented in the novel, it is possible to see further allusions to Emma’s body as a transformative model for Anne’s gradual emergence out of a semi-permanent state of mourning. The most obvious foundation for this comparison is in Emma’s famous Attitudes, wherein she performed the various states of classical female figures in grief, bringing their passions to life, asserting the physical and emotional power of the woman in mourning, a power that disrupts the masculine antiquarian gaze by making direct connections with classical women, and thus controlling her own interpretation of grief and its role in the lives of these women from the past.4 This powerful and ubiquitous model provides a further context for how we read the grieving women in Persuasion. In composing a series of her own “attitudes” to grief, Anne is able to gain control of her past and shape her future through a succession of physical transformations that allow her to bear a sense of her own history and halt the repetition of the past. Austen shapes, in Susan Morgan’s terms, a new kind of heroine who is able to “embody radical alternatives to the classic Pygmalion and Galatea pattern of roles for women in eighteenth-century fiction,” through the process of “creating and understanding” herself in a society that is largely interpreted and shaped by men (12).
Rather than looking to the malleable Galatea, a statue brought to life by Pygmalion, a woman who has been shaped by his desire and lives only for him, Emma embodies Medea, Cassandra, Alope, Niobe, and Agrippina, all classical figures who shape their own worlds (even if briefly) through the power of extreme emotion. While this emotional and physical power is clearly ridiculed in Gillray’s cartoon as a sign of unrestrained passion, it is also evident that there is a great deal of anxiety around Emma’s sensual power over Lord Nelson and others who might be entranced by her performances. For John Cooper, Emma had a facility for “copious expression of various attitudes from myth, class, and history so excessively that she spilled over the tight neo-classical lines of beauty” (17). This excessive quality is described in unflattering detail by the Earl of Minto, who witnessed Emma perform her Attitudes:
She is the most extraordinary compound I ever beheld. Her person is nothing short of monstrous for its enormity, and is growing every day. She tries hard to think size advantageous to her beauty, but is all Nature, and yet all Art; that is to say, her manners are perfectly unpolished, of course very easy, though not with the ease of good breeding, but of a barmaid; excessively good-humoured and wishing to please and be admired by all ages and sorts of persons that come in her way. . . . With men her language and conversation are exaggerations of anything I ever heard anywhere; and I was wonderfully struck with these inveterate remains of her origin. (qtd. in Chard 149)
Emma’s excessive body, vulgar manners, exaggerated conversation, and humble origins make her an “extraordinary compound,” a contradictory combination of nature and art that seems to confuse the Earl of Minto in his attempts to classify her along the classical model.
The idea that Emma’s copiously expressive body might spill over the established lines of aesthetic and social decorum to challenge the static, statuesque neo-classical figure is interesting in relation to Mrs. Musgrove’s equally uncontainable body, impulsive in its gestures, movements, and positioning; like Emma’s body, Mrs. Musgrove’s transgresses the classical lines that Anne’s “slender form” (73) follows. Mrs. Musgrove’s body dominates the scene, and like Emma’s classical heroines, her emotion shapes her world in the immediate present. While Mrs. Musgrove’s physique is held up to ridicule in this scene, Anne is eventually drawn to Mrs. Musgrove’s person as a whole, and that maternal connection partly brings about an emotional and physical transformation in Anne. The sympathies between Anne’s and Mrs. Musgrove’s grieving bodies suggest at least an analogic connection to Emma’s famous postures that could literally incorporate two bodies, distinctly feminine, “one classical, one enlarged” (Cooper 20), both capable of expressing grief.
Gillian Russell has described Emma’s influence on late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century culture, seeing her as “a formative influence on the imagination of poets and artists, . . . a key figure in the fusion of neo-classicism with sensibility that was to characterize the European-wide cultural movement later known as romanticism” (139). Moreover, Emma’s Attitudes are seen by Russell as breaking down the masculine gaze that is central to the antiquarian picturesque vision of classical history and disrupting the relationship of male creator and female creation that makes the antiquarian gaze possible, essentially making the role of Pygmalion redundant:
The putting of a figure in its place enabled the objectification of and even distancing from what had been created for purposes of satisfaction, pleasure and also artistic authority. “Attitude” is thus fundamentally concerned with relations of power between creator and created. The liveliness or attitude of a posture or action gestured towards what lay beyond the frame of a painting or the immobility of marble, and therefore towards what the [male] artist could not control. (141)
A drawing by the Venetian artist Pietro Antonio Novelli depicts one of Emma’s performances, in a series of eight figures showing Emma in the process of forming her Attitudes. The drawing displays her range of classical poses and the fluidity with which she transitioned from one tableau to another. Rather than “capturing” Emma, Novelli allows her an agency to gesture beyond the frame.
Goethe, who was introduced to Sir William Hamilton, then British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, and his wife, Emma, in 1787, described Emma’s performance with great admiration for her glamorous capacity to transform:
[Sir William] has had a Greek costume made for her which becomes her extremely. Dressed in this, she lets down her hair and, with a few shawls gives so much variety to her poses, gestures, expressions, etc. that the spectator can hardly believe his eyes. He sees what thousands of artists would have liked to express realized before him in movements and surprising transformations—standing, kneeling, sitting, reclining, serious, sad, playful, ecstatic, contrite, alluring, threatening, anxious. One pose follows another without a break. She knows how to arrange the fold of her veil to match each mood, and has a hundred ways of turning it into a headdress. The old knight idolizes her and is enthusiastic about everything she does. (208)
When Emma performed, Sir William provided the props but did not play the role of Pygmalion, and this limited role is apparent in the various accounts of Emma’s Attitudes in letters and journals at the time. While it is noted that Sir William had a hand in stage-managing and directing the gazes of his visitors towards Emma’s form, the focus of accounts is very much on Emma’s ability to hold their gaze, not as a passive object but as an active interpreter of the material she had researched. Lori-Ann Touchette describes Emma’s playful role in the development of the Attitudes, noting that she was “not a mere instrument, trained to perfection by Sir William,” as she studied antique figures and then interpreted those figures in her own (according to a contemporary account) “voluptuous and indecent” way (143). Further evidence of Emma’s talents can be seen in a letter written to the Miss Berrys by Horace Walpole, who praises Emma’s vocal performance:
I had only heard of her attitudes; and those, in dumb show, I have not yet seen. Oh! but she sings admirably; has a very fine, strong voice: is an excellent buffa, and an astonishing tragedian. She sung [Giovanni Paisiello’s] Nina in the highest perfection; and there her attitudes were a whole theatre of grace and various expressions. (340)
Her ability to perform both comic and tragic parts, a skill also employed in her Attitudes, garners unequivocal praise of her creativity and talent from Walpole. In Goethe’s eyes, the magic of Emma Hamilton is that she seamlessly engineered the “surprising transformations” that he watched with wonder.
Russell has noted one of Emma’s transformations in particular, from Medea to Niobe:
Emma switched in a few moments from being Medea, a mother who killed her children (in revenge for husband Jason’s infidelity), to Niobe, a mother whose children were killed as punishment by Apollo and Artemis. Her linking in this way of Medea and Niobe highlighted the fact that both myths concerned the loss of children. . . . The Attitudes can thus be seen to anticipate one of the key genres of melodrama—that of the maternal melodrama—focusing on the mother-daughter relationship as the catalyst for intense feelings of love, longing and loss that were mythological in their resonance, but also specific to the changing roles of women in an Enlightenment world on the verge of revolution (151).
The changing roles of women that Russell refers to necessitated a new approach in depicting women as heroines who are maternal, fecund, and capable of embodying and reanimating the past. On this model, the maternal body becomes a site of living memory, a fitting shape for retaining associations of the past. Chloe Chard has explored this aspect of Grand Tour discourse, which is focused around visiting monuments and communing with the past:
Women are placed in various forms of affiliation with antiquity during this period, and often supply metaphors for a revival of the antique past, or for a resurgence of life alongside a recognition of the remoteness of the ancient world. Such metaphors invoke an assumption that the feminine, when it fuses with antiquity, allows the ancient past to be transported more easily into an intimate, private domain of individual feeling. One rhetorical option that allows female figures to assume this role is to introduce a narrative of a visit to a monument that bears the trace of an ancient presence. (152)
Women, including Emma, are uniquely able to invoke the antique past through melodramatic, emotional performances, and we see women artists of this period producing strong visual models for feminine self-fashioning. Henry Fuseli sullenly observed of Angelica Kauffman’s female characters, “her heroines are herself,”5 and this identification is equally pertinent to Emma’s classical heroines whom she brought to life. Both female artists engaged in self-fashioning that drew on the heroic feminine, forging a matrilineal concept of the artist.
It is particularly interesting that Emma continued to perform her Attitudes across the span of her life; she was a young woman when she premiered her tableaux in Naples and was still performing in London twenty years later, when pregnant with Lord Nelson’s child. Emma’s Attitudes were a highly visible and complex mode of self-fashioning, much discussed by the connoisseurs and literati that travelled the Grand Tourist route. They were strenuous physical performances that embodied a powerful, melodramatic expression of the same female experiences of love, longing, and loss that structure Persuasion.
The intense feelings evoked in Emma’s performances also resonate through the novel in the mother-daughter relationships that tend towards maternal melodrama but are ultimately moderated to allow a wider focus on the social self. The mother-daughter relationships in the novel are multiple: of Anne and her mother, but also of Anne and the various mother-figures whom she seeks out through the course of the novel. To Lady Russell, Anne is her “highly valued god-daughter” (6), Miss Hamilton (later Mrs. Smith) lessens Anne’s “misery” (165) by providing support and comfort for Anne shortly after her mother has died, and Anne herself is a mother-figure to her younger sister, Mary, when standing in as parent and nurse for Mary’s son Charles (despite Mary’s evaluation of her sister as not possessing “‘a mother’s feelings’” ). Later in the novel, Anne compares Mrs. Musgrove with Sir Walter and Elizabeth and finds a family warmth lacking in her own family (239). The absent mother haunts Persuasion at a structural level, setting in place a network of substitute mothers who link the maternal with loss and mourning.
Many of the tensions in the novel arise from the contradictory nature of maternal mourning: grief is something deeply felt by Anne, to the extent that her physical shape, like the youthful Emma Hamilton’s, takes on the contours of grief. There is, however, a public element to mourning, in the display of grief that is part of the mother-daughter melodrama, that repels Anne. It might be argued that the contradictory interpretations of Emma’s performances across two decades depended on the shape of her body—in artists’ renderings, Emma grew from a sylph-like to balloon-like figure (in Russell’s terms), which elicited different meanings and responses both to Emma’s body and to her capacity to engage her audience’s sympathy. It is to this difficulty—the comical response to what ought to be poignantly felt, the unseemly reactions to the “unbecoming conjunctions” of a large bulky figure who grieves, like Emma/Dido for her Nelson/ Aeneas—that I now turn.
The Shape of Mourning: Anne’s Attitudes to Loss and Love
Anne Elliot’s grief is evident to others in her physical appearance, which is marked by her “early loss of bloom” (30). While she was once “a very pretty girl,” she has become, in her late twenties, “faded and thin” (6). The shape of her body—thin, faded, haggard—befits the degree of her mourning: internalizing her grief, she has become the very image of the process of loss, and her shape mirrors standard neoclassical representations of the mourning beauty featured in the elegiac verse that Anne is so fond of quoting. Anne takes on a further ethereal quality when we note her resemblance to her deceased mother. Through this resemblance she keeps the memory of her dead mother alive, thus in many ways becoming both the object and subject of mourning. Prompted by Lady Russell, Anne visualizes herself as her mother, and, at this juncture, a crisis of identity occurs in which resemblance becomes an almost complete identification. In this sense Anne becomes incorporeal in that she is a specter of her mother. Anne does not simply mourn for her dead mother; she becomes a living memorial, “‘presiding and blessing in the same spot’” (173), as Lady Russell terms it.6
In juxtaposing Anne’s younger, lithe body with the older, bulkier form of Mrs. Musgrove, Austen draws on the tensions that are so clearly defined in Gillray’s caricatures, using grief as a medium to appraise Mrs. Musgrove’s emotional legitimacy on aesthetic grounds. The description of Mrs. Musgrove could equally describe the Emma Hamilton of Dido, in Despair! and Death of Admiral Lord Nelson. Her “comfortable substantial size, infinitely more fitted by nature to express good cheer and good humour, than tenderness and sentiment” dwarfs “Anne’s slender form,” and (as noted by van Sickle Johnson) screens her from Captain Wentworth, who attends to Mrs. Musgrove’s “large fat sighings over the destiny of a son, whom alive nobody had cared for” (73). We are also told that “Personal size and mental sorrow have certainly no necessary proportions,” and that “fair or not fair, there are unbecoming conjunctions, which reason will patronize in vain,—which taste cannot tolerate,—which ridicule will seize” (73–74). Not only does Mrs. Musgrove act as a screen preventing Wentworth from viewing Anne’s “slender form,” her memory also appears to others to be faulty so that her function as memorial is doubly subverted: she comically misremembers her son, as Isobel Grundy has noted in relation to Wentworth’s very clear memory of Dick (10),7 and with her physicality draws attention away from the object of her mourning.
In taking up the issue of Mrs. Musgrove’s “unbecoming conjunctions,” Pinch argues that Austen “applies the language of neo-classical aesthetic judgement . . . to Mrs. Musgrove’s expressive body” (147) and notes the similarity to the sorts of judgment that Sir Walter and Elizabeth make in general, finding that Austen is approaching these judgments from a position of “serious inquiry.” Pinch notes that, by the end of this scene, grief is no longer a cerebral or emotional phenomenon but seems to be stored in the body, suggesting a “dislocation of head from limbs” (148). Austen, I suggest, goes further than this: Anne looks beyond the neo-classical standards of Bath society and enters the gravitation pull of Mrs. Musgrove, whom Anne now sees as both expressive and natural, an indication of Anne’s change in perspective. When she properly enters Mrs. Musgrove’s social orbit, Anne is able to make life-informed judgments about her neighbors guided by fitting, tempered emotions.
It is interesting that all of the critical appraisals of the “fat sighings” passage outlined at the beginning of this essay are underpinned by a sense of discomfort: either we, as readers of Persuasion, are uncomfortable with Austen’s cruelty towards Mrs. Musgrove; or we are being made by Austen to feel uncomfortable about our own responses to body shape; or we might read the scene as signifying Anne’s discomfort with bodies. What all of these responses to the scene attest to is that the body, in Persuasion, is problematic, and that, if there is an “unbecoming conjunction,” it is in Anne’s distancing or dissociating her mind from her own body and the bodies of others, most explicitly Mrs. Musgrove’s. The fact that Mrs. Musgrove’s grief is entirely embodied appears to undermine the authenticity of her grief. There is no reason, however, why we should think that she did not value her son, even if nobody else did. That interpretation is either Anne’s or the narrator’s evaluation of what brings an almost imperceptible smile to Wentworth’s face. Instead, this scene indicates that Anne must take some responsibility and control over her own slender body and find a balance between thought and action. Through the course of the novel, Anne haltingly reconnects mind and body, and Mrs. Musgrove’s body comes to represent a source of unconditional love for Anne, offering a model from which she can proceed to shape her own future.
Anne’s gradual efforts to shape her future in terms of the heroic feminine develops in spaces that might be described as liminal; she uses these spaces, both private and public, for staging her careful and deliberate scenes of self-fashioning. John Wiltshire has described Anne’s “relation to the ambient world” as “actualized in spatial terms by moments in which she is partly present, and partly not,” as
she stands just outside doors, or on the stairs adjacent to the room, or sits apart overhearing what others are talking of, able only to partially attend to, or guess, what they are saying. . . . [I]nto the second volume, away from her immediate family, Anne gains more authority and prominence, is shown to speak more and is given more capacity to take her own life into her hands. (154–55)
It is in the context of Wiltshire’s fine observations of Anne taking her place in her surroundings that several pivotal scenes might be read in tracing Anne’s progress. In these scenes, Wentworth’s near touch or proximity is a trigger for a reaction in Anne, yet this sequence does not define a Pygmalion scenario as his proximity sends her back into herself.
Rather than shaping her and so bringing her back to social life, Wentworth’s touch triggers in Anne a painful and overwhelming series of emotions that she must learn to shape for herself. When he releases Anne from the burden of her “sturdy” nephew, her reaction is to seek self-composure in the activities of mothering Charles:
She could not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings. His kindness in stepping forward to her relief—the manner—the silence in which it had passed—the little particulars of the circumstance—with the conviction soon forced on her by the noise he was studiously making with the child, that he meant to avoid hearing her thanks, and rather sought to testify that her conversation was the last of his wants, produced such a confusion of varying, but very painful agitation, as she could not recover from, till enabled by the entrance of Mary and the Miss Musgroves to make over her little patient to their cares, and leave the room. She could not stay. (87)
Anne remains suspended in this way for most of the novel, and, as Wiltshire has noted, only really begins to emerge from her cocoon after the crisis of Louisa’s fall. At the beginning of the second volume, Lady Russell notes a change in Anne’s physical appearance—“Anne was improved in plumpness and looks” (134)—and Anne herself perceives a change in her own perspective, “some mental change” wherein her thoughts were directed to Louisa Musgrove, the Lyme community, and by extension “all her acquaintance there.” Anne not only evades naming Wentworth, even in her own thoughts, but this moment also looks forward to the further screens that she places between herself and Wentworth.
When Wentworth arrives in Bath, Anne sees him through a window (another screen, although transparent) at which she sits: “For a few minutes she saw nothing before her. It was all confusion. She was lost,” and after scolding back her senses she feels a strong desire to “go to the outer door; she wanted to see if it rained” (190). The “entrance of Captain Wentworth himself” halts her, but she realizes for the first time since their renewed acquaintance that she was “betraying the least sensibility of the two” and that she now has an advantage (190–91). Nevertheless, she moves through a series of powerful emotions, “overpowering, blinding, bewildering” feelings, “a something between delight and misery” (191)—all this, because Wentworth “looked quite red” (190). At the concert, Anne is “enabled to place herself much nearer the end of the bench than she had been before, much more within the reach of a passer-by” (206). Her gambit works, and she is able to see Wentworth from afar, but, in reading his reserved expression, she now realizes that he is jealous of Mr. Elliot’s attentions to her. Later, after having read Wentworth’s letter, she walks out, escorted by her brother-in-law, on the pretense that she must go home due to illness, all the while seeking out Wentworth in order to give him the “‘look’” that he has requested as a sign of her love (258). Anne is able to “receive” Wentworth’s own look of hesitation, and something in her manner brings him to life: “The cheeks which had been pale now glowed, and the movements which had hesitated were decided” (260). Wentworth now walks by her side as they return to the past together, and while they “slowly paced the gradual ascent” (261) of the gravel walk, they find themselves utterly immersed in their own immediacy and proximity to one another, seeing the past only as “what had directly preceded the present moment” (262), moving forward and upwards.
Finally, after we have witnessed a protracted and exquisite series of emotional attitudes performed by Anne throughout the novel—Penny Gay has suggested that “it is as though ‘Anne Elliot’ is being performed by a great actress” (158)—we find that Anne comes to resemble the melodramatic Mrs. Musgrove a little more. As she opens herself to the possibility of a future with Wentworth, her bloom is restored, and as she becomes more substantial, she also becomes more sympathetic to others and forgiving of herself. Anne comes to see Mrs. Musgrove as a model of sincere, motherly affection, perceiving that the fleshly, lively woman might fill the role of parent: in her “real affection” for Anne, partly due to Anne’s “usefulness” in Louisa’s aid and recovery, is “a heartiness, and a warmth, and a sincerity which Anne delighted in the more, from the sad want of such blessings at home” (239). By the end of the novel Anne seems to have forgotten that she hates card parties, and she no longer seeks solitude to quote from her favorite poets. Now, “[g]lowing and lovely in sensibility and happiness, and more generally admired than she thought about or cared for, she [has] cheerful or forbearing feelings for every creature around her” (267), including the Musgroves, who are now a picture of perfect ease. Anne is now receptive to the unruly shape of the world of the living, her attention focused on committing herself to a prosperous future with Wentworth. To quote again from Susan Morgan:
One’s identity is not shaped, nor can the self be fulfilled, outside a connection to others. This is not a matter of weakness or dependency, of femininity understood as an incompletely developed self. It is a matter of having historical vision. (17)
Morgan sees this “all-too-human sense of increased vision along with loss” as a “feminine attribute” (17), and it is a vision that Anne adopts, rejecting a Galatea-like identity and shaping her own destiny by becoming connected to others through physical close proximity and the sympathies that resonate from a fleshly connection to life.
While Anne does not become a bulky figure herself, we should recall Warhol’s observation that she becomes increasingly comfortable with the “female bodily experience,” and perhaps should consider that it is in Mrs. Musgrove’s larger-than-life presence that she comes to be at peace with her past, finding alternative homes. If mourning is linked to the maternal—as in the later, dignified, and matronly images of Emma Hamilton mourning the death of Nelson, images that were distributed widely and were quite possibly known by Austen—then Anne is able to connect to that matrilineal form of remembrance through acknowledging the body’s power for regeneration, reinvention, and transformation over the lifespan that Emma Hamilton so powerfully and famously promoted in her Attitudes.
1I will refer to Lady Emma Hamilton subsequently as “Emma,” as her contemporaries did not refer to her by one name. She went by several names throughout her life—Emma Hart and Lady Hamilton were the names she was best known by. Also, I am following a recent convention in referring to her as “Emma” due to her contemporaries’ fascination with her dramatic life story. For example, Chloe Chard writes: “It is her status as a woman who assumes an equivalence to the heroines of fiction that I take as my justification for referring to her by her first name only, rather than adopting the usual convention of using both names or the surname alone” (151).
2Gillray’s cartoon refers to Virgil’s story in the Aeneid of the grief suffered by the Carthaginian queen Dido when her lover, the Trojan hero Aeneas, sailed away. It is also a reference to Emma Hamilton’s enactment of Attitudes of grief and suffering by mythological women.
5Kauffman, the Swiss neoclassical painter, had both rejected the advances of the Swiss painter and artistic rival Fuseli and “usurped his role as foremost interpreter to England of continental history painting” (Mellor 131).
7Grundy notes, “For [Wentworth], it is in the gulf between Dick in fact and Dick remembered that he finds something comic; like Anne, he overcomes the momentary ‘self-amusement’ of his own clearer memory, to offer serious and respectful sympathy to the grieving, misremembering mother” (10).