The characters in Persuasion have a depth that I feel is directly owing to their problems in evaluating the moral roots underlying their decisions--giving their characters a consequent moral ambiguity. Thus, as issybird mentions, Lady Russell has a problem with class distinctions and the respect due to titles. It is no wonder that she sees Mr Elliott as the solution to Anne's problems. And it would seem that Mr Elliott actually does value Anne and would treat her well.
Mrs Smith--the most complex morally ambiguous character in the novel says:
"Well, my dear Miss Elliot, I hope and trust you will be very happy. Mr Elliot has sense to understand the value of such a woman. Your peace will not be
shipwrecked as mine has been. You are safe in all worldly matters,
and safe in his character. He will not be led astray; he will not be
misled by others to his ruin."
And even after her revelation of Elliott's true character she states:
"He is no hypocrite now. He truly wants to marry you. His present attentions to your family are very sincere: quite from the heart."
I find Mrs Smith to be one of the most interesting characters in the novel--certainly the most interesting of the secondary figures. She has fallen on hard times and very much appreciates the visits and help of Anne. But she is willing to let the marriage with Elliot take its course because it is the surest way she can receive the value of property to which she is entitled but unable to gain without assistance. It is only when Mrs Smith realises that Anne will certainly not marry Elliott that she reveals his true character. Indeed, Anne is herself astonished that Mrs Smith not only did not reveal Mr Elliott's character earlier but even seemed to promote the marriage.
The reply given to Anne is a revelation of a character whose cynicism is such that she is willing to let Anne take her chances and she makes no apology for doing so:
"My dear," was Mrs Smith's reply, "there was nothing else to be done.
I considered your marrying him as certain, though he might not yet
have made the offer, and I could no more speak the truth of him,
than if he had been your husband. My heart bled for you,
as I talked of happiness; and yet he is sensible, he is agreeable,
and with such a woman as you, it was not absolutely hopeless.
He was very unkind to his first wife. They were wretched together.
But she was too ignorant and giddy for respect, and he had never loved her.
I was willing to hope that you must fare better."
And Anne realises that Mrs Smith's assessment is by no means impossible--particularly with Lady Russell maneuvering in the background.
Off-hand, I can think of no other minor character in Austen that has as complex a psychology as Mrs Smith. And her presence is another reason why this novel has significantly more psychological depth and realism than any of the others.
Last edited by fantasyfan; 01-29-2013 at 03:54 PM.