Jane Austen warns us to suspect the perfect person. Mr Elliot, from Persuasion, the heir to Kellynch estate is such a perfect person. He says and does all that is expected of him. He doesn’t let himself behave like an embarrassing git. In society, he conducts himself in an exemplary manner, tuned in to all the wishes of all around him and he plays court to those he wishes to infiltrate very successfully.As Austen tells us :
“Everything united in him; good understanding, correct opinions, knowledge of the world, and a warm heart. He had strong feelings of family attachment and family honour, without pride or weakness; he lived with the liberality of a man of fortune, without display; he judged for himself in everything essential, without defying public opinion in any point of worldly decorum. He was steady, observant, moderate, candid; never run away with by spirits or by selfishness, which fancied itself strong feeling; and yet, with a sensibility to what was amiable and lovely, and a value for all the felicities of domestic life, which characters of fancied enthusiasm and violent agitation seldom really possess.”
Indeed such perfect Prince Charming types are much more popular with the sophisticated set, than the typical Jane Austen heroes. Mr Elliot is much more successful than Captain Wentworth in winning friends amongst this set but not in winning the Austen heroine. Austen hints why, “Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, – but he was not open.” Being so rational so that you do not feel is not the answer. Anne knows this when she thinks, “Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still.” She may have been tempted by both his seemingly good nature and the thought that she would become the new Lady Elliot. However, her good sense, led her along the path that would prove to be the happiest.
At the end of the novel, we learn that Poisonly-Perfect-Mr Elliot has been playing a perfectly sinister game to ingratiate himself back into the lives of the Baronet’s family for his own purposes. Down on her luck and very much a nobody in the status stakes, Resilient-Mrs Smith is able to reveal the truth:
Hear the truth, therefore, now, while you are unprejudiced. Mr Elliot is a man without heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself; whom for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character. He has no feeling for others. Those whom he has been the chief cause of leading into ruin, he can neglect and desert without the smallest compunction. He is totally beyond the reach of any sentiment of justice or compassion. Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black!”
Resilient-Mrs Smith is able to provide evidence of his dishonourable intentions and shares a letter with Anne, showed in the illustartion. Her emotional intelligence had already warned her to beware his perfect personna but the reader enjoys the irrefutable evidence. Sometimes the seemingly perfect is not the best choice after all. Beware.
2 responses to “Beware the seemingly perfect person”
I really like your comments! “Persuasion” is my favorite novel by Jane Austen. Thank you.
Better to be “faultless in spite of all her faults,” as Emma is (in Mr. Knightley’s view at least).