Filling the story gaps of literary characters:
Jane Austen's much overlooked last novel "Persuasion", originally published in 1817, has at its centre the long-lost love story between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. Eight years before the start of the novel, they were secretly engaged to be married, but Anne was persuaded to break the promise by her father, Sir Walter Elliot and her late mother's best friend, Lady Russell. Frederick Wentworth went off to sea, making a name for himself and becoming a wealthy Captain. When he comes back into Anne Elliot's world, they go through many obstacles, before finding their love again. This though, is the story of their very first encounter in the summer of 1806. A literary gap that Jane Austen only hints at in the original novel.
Frederick Wentworth was breathing the brisk English morning air once again. The sun coming up behind the soft Blackdown hills was promising a fine summer day. He had come off the ship just a day earlier and was on his way to visit his elder brother Edward, who had become a curate in Monkford, while Frederick had sailed the Indian Ocean. A clergyman - the profession their parents had also envisioned for Frederick. But he had other dreams. He wanted to live an adventure, see faraway places, and experience landscapes never seen before. Frederick became a sailor, and his parents were not thrilled. However, when his sister Sophia had married a certain Admiral Croft, they had started to relax. Frederick now had family connections in the Royal Navy. Yet, with or without them, this young sailor was determined to make it far. Even further than the Admiral himself. Frederick smiled to himself at the thought. He was sure of his capabilities and passions. His parents weren’t, but it mattered little to him. The rising sun now above him, Frederick found his way to Monkford, where his future was waiting for him.
Anne Elliot had her eyes closed, faced towards the sun, absorbing its warmth. The morning had been a cold one, but her brisk walk on the grounds of her childhood home Kellynch Hall had brought life to her cheeks. She loved the feeling of exertion on a chilly English morning. There was nothing better than walking and communing with nature. Seeing the seasons change and admiring the new summer blossoms around her. She heard steps coming up behind her, and Anne sighed. She knew she had come too close to the house too soon. She had caught a glimpse of the newly blooming peonies in her father’s garden, and they had beckoned her to come closer.
“Anne, don’t take too much sun. We wouldn’t want the good people of Monkford to mistake you for a farmer’s girl.” Her elder sister Elizabeth laughed. Anne rolled her eyes discreetly, until she heard her father clear his throat audibly. Anne turned to face them both, a blush coming to her cheeks.
“Oh Anne, look at you, already red in the face. You really should take better care of your appearance. Follow the good example of your sister, please.” Sir Walter Elliot sounded exasperated, and Anne felt guilty. She knew he had certain expectations of how his daughters represented him and their estate. Today was an important day. They would go to Monkford, to meet the new curate. It was an overdue visit. This Mr. Wentworth had been in the parish for nigh on four months now, yet their father had found excuse after excuse to avoid welcoming him properly into the community. Sir Walter Elliot did not like associating himself with the lower classes. He was a baronet, and a baronet did not mingle with the likes of lower clergymen. But graceful Lady Russell had reminded him some days ago, what his duties were to the church, and so he had decided to make it into a family outing. They were all going for the Sunday service and a gathering in the local assembly hall.
“Shall we make ready, father?” Anne asked Sir Walter with averted eyes. She wanted to escape their presence, their inquiring looks. Anne was aware of her own blooming beauty this season. She had grown into a woman this last winter, and spring had only enhanced her new countenance with a touch of sun. Anne knew she wasn’t a traditional beauty like Elizabeth, but she had something that the young men at the Spring Ball had very much responded to. Charles Musgrove in particular had not left Anne on her own, asking to dance again and again. Lady Russell was pushing Anne to form an attachment with him. He was a respectable young man from a good family. Of course, she could do better than him, as her father had pointed out, but Anne knew he would accept the Musgrove family as in-laws. The question now was, could Anne?
Frederick was standing next to his brother, engaged in conversation with a certain Charles Musgrove, when Sir Walter and his three daughters, followed by Lady Russell, entered the churchyard. Their arrival put an eery silence over the assembled crowd. Edward excused himself from Charles Musgrove’s attentions and walked over to the baronet. He bowed and welcomed Sir Walter with his authoritative church voice, which was new for Frederick. He had never seen his brother act in such a commanding way. The training for becoming a clergyman had really transformed Edward. But then his own training had probably also changed him, Frederick thought. He watched Sir Elliot smile down on his brother in a way only a baronet could, and let his eyes wander over the women behind him. The eldest was pretty but seemed self-absorbed, constantly fiddling with her hair do and her dress. The youngest was a sour looking girl, rather obviously tired of these proceedings. Frederick couldn’t see the middle daughter, but he felt the man next to him shift his weight to catch a glimpse. Frederick registered Charles Musgrove’s apparent interest in the elusive daughter of the baronet. When Edward gently ushered Sir Walter towards the church entrance, Frederick finally got a glance at the girl. Her cheeks were flushed, and her wild curls framed her face in a way that made his heart jump. Her eyes were smiling at Charles Musgrove, and Frederick found himself thinking what a lucky bastard the man next to him was. Then her gaze travelled over to him, seemingly scanning the crowd for other familiar faces. But her eyes stuck to him. They were lost in each other for a moment. A moment too long. Both Lady Russell and Charles Musgrove seemed to notice this fateful encounter. Lady Russell acted quickly and took her young charge by the arm, pulling her away from both men. Frederick heard Charles Musgrove sigh slightly disappointedly next to him. Frederick tried to hide a grin. He knew he would catch the heart of that girl. He didn’t even know her name yet, but he was sure she would carry his name before too long.
Two hours later the whole town seemed to have assembled in the hall. It wasn’t a daily occurrence that the baronet came down to their village. Anne was standing next to Lady Russell, slightly removed from her sisters and father. She was looking for the young sailor she had seen before the service. She thought he must be the curate’s younger brother. They looked so similar it was not a hard guess. Edward Wentworth was now making his way through the crowd towards her father. Anne was sad to see no trace of his brother. The all bowed and curtsied to each other, and the curate engaged Elizabeth and Sir Walter in a conversation about the flora and fauna in Somersetshire. He seemed to like his new home and spoke highly of the local landscapes. Anne smiled at him while he spoke and he nodded at her, recognising a fellow nature lover. Including her in the conversation he pleased Anne greatly. Most of the men in their community would only want to speak to Sir Walter and his eldest daughter. Never to Anne or Mary. As Mr. Wentworth asked Anne about the gardens at Kellynch Hall, his brother stepped up behind her and cleared his throat to announce his arrival. Anne turned with a start and blushed when she recognised the young naval officer.
“Frederick Wentworth, at your command.” He introduced himself to her. His eyes locked on hers, while Sir Walter turned to the unwelcome intrusion and addressed the insolent young man.
“You must be the younger brother then?” Sir Walter asked, looking back and forth between Edward and Frederick Wentworth. Edward Wentworth obliged with an answer when he realised that his younger brother was too busy making Anne Elliot blush.
“Yes, Sir Walter, this is my younger brother. He has been at sea for the last year or so and has now come here to stay with me this summer.” With irritation in his eyes, Edward motioned to Frederick to make a small bow before the baronet. Catching his brother’s meaning, Frederick obliged his brother, but not before shooting a secret wink at Anne.
“At sea?” Sir Walter asked, his disdain plain in his voice. “I could have guessed with the tan on his face. Just like my Anne, she is too much in the sun as well.” With a careless flick of his wrist, Sir Walter made it clear which daughter he meant, and Anne was mortified. But Frederick gave her another one of his dazzling smiles and retorted: “Just like a young lady ought to. The sun gives life, does it not, brother?”
Now it was Edward Wentworth’s turn to blush. He was clearly uncomfortable at his brother's open display of wooing the baronet’s daughter. Though he had to admit, Frederick had chosen well from the three daughters. Sir Walter scoffed at Frederick Wentworth and turned to another admirer, forgetting all about the sailor, who in turn admired Anne. Edward, Frederick and Anne were left to exchange amused looks and Frederick proposed to take some air on the terrace. They nodded in unison and all three made their way outside.
“Your name is Anne?” Frederick asked her in his frank manner. She admired him for his open attitude and moved her head in agreement. “Well, Anne, would you like to take a walk in the rose garden, next to the church? I saw earlier, they are already in full bloom.”
Edward nodded: “So they are. It is a most beautiful sight. I need to speak to Mr. Musgrove but you should show Miss Elliot, if she likes. You are an admirer of flowers, are you not, Miss Elliot?” Edward smiled at her so warmly, Anne felt safer in his presence than that of her own family.
“Yes, I should like to see them.” She said with enthusiasm in her voice. Frederick let out a sound of astonishment. It was the first time he had heard her voice. He was in love, he knew it right then and there. Edward looked at him in a most peculiar way and seemed to consider his decision to leave them.
“Will you be comfortable with my brother, Miss Elliot? Shall I fetch one of your sisters to join?” he asked with a warning glance at Frederick.
“Oh I wish you wouldn’t!” Anne exclaimed most feelingly. Casting down her eyes with a hint of embarrassment she added. “They wouldn’t enjoy the roses.”
Frederick chuckled and gestured at his brother to make himself scarce. “Right,” Edward said, “I shall leave you then. It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Elliot. I hope to repeat it soon.”
“I hope so too,” Anne replied and smiled at the elder Wentworth brother. As he walked away from them, Anne turned to Frederick, catching him studying her profile. A warm feeling spread in her as they stepped out of the hall, and she knew she had wanted to be alone with him. She knew it wasn’t proper for a young woman to be alone with a young man, but they were walking through the village in plain daylight, and she did not think it was a scandal if it was in public.
“May I call you Anne?” the sailor asked her now. “Yes, you may. Although maybe not in front of my family.” Frederick laughed at her unabashed directness, and she watched him bemused. “I’m sorry, Anne, but your frankness is a trait I have sorely missed in other conversations since I’ve arrived here.” Anne smiled at him now. “It does feel like I’ve known you for much longer. I have this urge to tell you about my whole life.” Frederick admitted to her, stopping just in front of the gate to the church garden. Anne regarded his countenance, weighing what she could answer him without showing her true feelings already. She knew she loved him, when he had said that the sun gives life. She felt like she was meant to be here with him, in the rose garden, getting to know her future.
“Tell me then, Frederick.” She had used his Christian name without asking for permission and his face split into a grin that exuded a happiness he could not contain. She grinned back, like a hopeless fool, until she spotted Lady Russell down the road, hurrying after them. She sighed and without thinking she explained the situation to Frederick.
“Lady Russell is coming. She is my aunt by all intents and purposes. You see, my mother passed away when I was quite young and Lady Russell was her best friend. Ever since then, she has been looking after me and my sisters. I love her dearly.”
Frederick regarded her with a deep sadness in his eyes. One that hinted at his own loss in life, whatever it might have been. Anne always knew when people understood grief and also when they didn’t. “May I see you again?” Frederick asked, rushing, seemingly before Lady Russell reached them to interrupt their intimate moment. “I certainly hope so!” Anne smiled at him and gave a little curtsy. She saw the anxiety on his face as she was turning to walk towards Lady Russell. Stopping herself, she added in a more solemn tone: “I do want to see you again, Frederick. You have to tell me your life story, don’t you?” Her little joke stayed between them, as he scanned her face, as if wanting to make sure he could retain a mental image.
“Anne, your father is looking for you!” Lady Russell was now close enough to disrupt their familiarity. With a final nod, Anne turned her back on her future. She wasn’t sure yet what kind of future it would be, but she knew Frederick Wentworth would be a central part of it.
Note from the author:
This text is the second part of a series of "Literary Gap" texts, which will be published in the weeks to come. Thank you for reading!