This is from chapter 19 of Jane Austen's Persuasion:

The rain was a mere trifle, and Anne was most sincere in preferring a walk with Mr Elliot. But the rain was also a mere trifle to Mrs Clay; she would hardly allow it even to drop at all, and her boots were so thick! much thicker than Miss Anne’s; and, in short, her civility rendered her quite as anxious to be left to walk with Mr Elliot as Anne could be, and it was discussed between them with a generosity so polite and so determined, that the others were obliged to settle it for them; Miss Elliot maintaining that Mrs Clay had a little cold already, and Mr Elliot deciding on appeal, that his cousin Anne’s boots were rather the thickest.

  1. What is the meaning of the phrase "as Anne could be"?

  2. Is it that even though Mrs. Clay's boots were the thickest, Mr. Elliot was compelled to decide that Anne should be the one who should walk because her boots were the thickest as decided by the others?

1 Answer 1

  1. The phrase needs to be understood as “as X as Anne could be” where X is “anxious to be left to walk with Mr. Elliot”. That is, Mrs. Clay wanted, just as much as Anne did, to walk alone with Mr. Elliot.

  2. The context is that Mr. Elliot, Miss Elliot, Anne, and Mrs. Clay are out walking in Bath when it starts raining. Mrs. Dalrymple offers to take them home in her carriage. However, the carriage is a barouche and only has covered seating for four. Mrs. Dalrymple and Miss Carteret are two, and Miss Elliot immediately claims the third place (“Whoever suffered inconvenience, she must suffer none”). This leaves one place for either Mrs. Clay or Anne; the other must therefore walk back in the rain with Mr. Elliot.

    It becomes apparent that Mrs. Clay and Anne both want to be left alone with Mr. Elliot. Mrs. Clay’s reason for this is still a mystery as of chapter 19, but Anne’s, we understand, is that she is still puzzled as to Mr. Elliot’s motives in renewing acquiantance with his family. Does he intend to propose marriage to Miss Elliot? She hopes that if she can converse with him privately he may reveal something. (In the event she squanders this opportunity, all other concerns being driven out by the appearance of Captain Wentworth.)

    Neither of them wishes to admit her motive for seeking a private conversation with Mr. Elliot, so instead each pretends that she is concerned that the other will get wet feet. (This is the “generosity so polite and so determined”.) Since neither is willing to give up in favour of the other, eventually “the others were obliged to settle it for them” and Mr. Elliot settles the matter in favour of Anne. It seems likely that his judgement about the relative thickness of the boots is just a pretext, and really he prefers the company of Anne.

  3. The phrase “deciding on appeal” humorously likens the situation to a court case. In English law, a party that is dissatisfied with a decision in a lower court can appeal to a higher court for a review of the decision. In this metaphor, Mr. Elliot represents the appellate court, with his decision the final one.

  • "Mr. Eliot decided on appeal": Does this mean that Mr. Eliot insisted(based on his own opinions) that Anne's boots were the thickest or this was an opinion he generated based on what the others said?
    – Soumee
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 13:24
  • "Mr. Eliot decided on appeal": Does this mean that Mr. Eliot insisted that Anne's boots were the thickest or this was an opinion he generated based on what the others said?
    – Soumee
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 13:24
  • 4
    @Soumee I think you are missing the point. The shoe thickness issue was only a pretext, and understood as such by all the characters. The issue was which of the ladies should have a private conversation with Mr. Elliot, and he got to pick. Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 17:04
  • 1
    @PatriciaShanahan Precisely. Gareth's answer appeared while I was drafting mine (essentially the same points made so no need for mine to be posted) but mine was going to open with 'The substantive issue is not whose boots were the thickest, it is who Mr Elliot gets to go walking with!'
    – Spagirl
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 10:52
  • Appeal would mean that he was asked to judge, presumably because they could have bickered forever without someone to make a ruling.
    – Mary
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 3:00

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