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Corvey ‘Adopt an Author’ |
Anna Maria Porter

The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

Essay on the work of Anna Maria Porter, by Laura Bennett, May 2004

How are the Army and Navy represented in the novels of Anna Maria Porter and Jane Austen?

Both Anna Maria Porter and Jane Austen are from families with an army and navy background. Anna Maria Porter’s father, who died before she was born, was an army surgeon; her brothers John and William became an army colonel and naval surgeon respectively. Jane Austen’s father was a parson, but her brothers Charles and Frank both reached the rank of Admiral in the navy, whilst her other brothers chose the army. These links with the army and navy show strongly in both ladies’ fiction, and many of their novels reflect the feeling towards the army and navy in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain. Porter’s Octavia (1798) and A Soldier’s Love (1805) as well as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) look at the role and reputation of the army. The naval profession during and in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars is examined in Porter’s A Sailor’s Friendship (1805) and Austen’s Persuasion (1817) and Mansfield Park (1814).

Anna Maria Porter’s Octavia (1798) follows the story of sisters Octavia and Antonia Rochford, and their brother George, who following their parents’ deaths, live with their uncle, Mr Rochford. When a regiment of soldiers settle at Derby, close to their home, Rodenbury, George becomes interested in joining the army. This provides an opportunity for Anna Maria Porter to shown both positive and negative views of the army.

Mr Rochford’s view of the army is a negative one. He and George fall out over his decision to join the regiment; he loves his nephew like a son, and because two of his own brothers have died in the fighting does not want him to enlist. “He will break my heart – that boy will kill me,”1 he says. George then leaves the house following an argument with his uncle, and sends Mr Wappen (a family friend and brewery proprietor) to talk to his family. Wappen recounts to them his attempts to George not to join the army:

“George – George Rochford – you are certainly going to the devil, if you mean to enter that sink of iniquity, the Army. Who? Says I, who would so, damme, and be shot at, for three and six-pence a day? Shatter me, if I’d be generalissimo to his majesty, if I was to go and fight. What has a man to value, but his life? What’s a red-coat, but the badge of a beggar, damme! – the covering of a rascal! Damme, says I, take ‘em all in a lump, they are villains to a man, hate ‘em all – wouldn’t be seen in their company for a thousand pound.”2

Wappen later also adds on the subject of the officers; they are “gentlemen butchers, fighting machines, legal murderers.”3 Both these quotes reflect the view of the army as rascals and villains. This shows another reason why Mr Rochford is against his nephew joining the army, because of their bad reputation; “George will very soon lose every virtuous principle by associating with these men.”4 Rochford even tells his nieces that they are not to speak to the officers. Wappen’s view of the army is however, quite inconsistent, and later in the novel he imitates the fashions of Captain Mansfield. He tries to be like him; in fact, it is shown that he envies their “well received elegance”.5

Despite the efforts of his uncle, and Wappen, George is determined to join the Army: “I will go into the army, whatever is the consequence – I have set my heart on it and I will.”6 He then leaves saying nothing, but Octavia’s correspondence with Captain Leonidas Greville shows that he has joined up, but is “in honourable hands.”7

The heroine, Octavia, is of the view that these are courageous young men, “they are such brave, such charming beings.”8 Similarly, her sister Antonia is fond of them “O! The dearest creatures in the universe – but hang their bravery – if it wasn’t clothed in scarlet, I would not pick it off the streets.”9 Even their close friend Miss Henrietta Manning, who is very fond of George, says “the town will look a little lively again – there will be fine picking for us, then, girls!”10

On meeting Captain Greville for the first time at a ball, he is overbearing, leaving Octavia upset and agitated.

“Octavia had seen captain Greville with displeasure, although the extreme beauty of his person, and the softness of his manners, were in general beloved; but these had little effect upon her; she acknowledged them; but as she saw in his behaviour, the first time she beheld him, such outrageous offences against honour and sobriety, she shunned the thought of being further acquainted with him.”11

However, Octavia’s opinion of Captain Greville begins to change when she sees his heroic side. As they are walking by a riverbank, a young child falls into the river and Greville dives and rescues her. This valiant action changes the opinions of both Octavia and Mr Rochford and, from this point; Octavia begins to fall in love with Captain Greville. However, as a party comes together at nearby estate Castle Granby, Greville and the other officers are shown as flirtatious and womanising. Most of the officers are attracted to Miss Arabin, a woman very much in fashion: “Miss Arabin was nineteen; her figure was full and showy, her features striking, her eyes dazzling, and her walk studiously abtrusive: she rouged violently, dressed extravagantly, and was seen at every public place in the metropolis.” “To the women she was detestable, to the men bewitching,”12 shows that she is disliked by the women, including Octavia, although this may be through jealousy, as she gets a great deal of attention from the men.

Octavia becomes very upset and jealous as Greville flirts with Miss Arabin, but she does not know that he has placed a bet with the other officers that he can seduce Miss Arabin. However, this shows how philandering the officers are, that they put bets on seducing women. It is only when Octavia sees Greville with Miss Arabin that she realises that she has fallen in love with him, but is also shocked at how fickle he is.

Soon after this Greville leaves Derby unexpectedly, and is seen leaving with a woman, he does not tell Octavia and she suspects that he has left with Miss Arabin. However, he leaves with his nurse from home, and returns with her to his family home, close to Bath, where the emotion of seeing his childhood home, and the memories of his late brother, make him unwell and he remains there for some months. This therefore shows the more sensitive side of Captain Greville, and consequently the officers as a whole.

Meanwhile, George Rochford, now one of the officers, falls for the glamorous Miss Ferrars, the orphaned daughter of a rich baronet. However, when Henrietta Manning becomes expectant with his child, thus ruining her reputation, Octavia tries to persuade George to marry her. It takes a long time for her to do this, mainly because he loves Miss Ferrars, but in the end, he agrees and Henrietta can be seen in society again. However, the fact that he is reluctant to marry Henrietta and rescue her reputation reflects the irresponsible nature of the officers.

In the end, Octavia and Greville are reunited, all is explained and they are married. George’s child and his wife Henrietta tragically die and he is left lonely and upset. After seeing how much he still loves Miss Ferrars, Greville and Octavia reunite this pairing and they also marry. The novel ends with the lines “Mr Rochford lives to see George once more a husband and father, and to witness the changeless love of Greville and Octavia; the latter, as a wife and mother.”13 This therefore shows that the army officers can settle down and be tamed when they get married, but also that it is the aim of a man, even an officer, to be married.

The second part of Anna Maria Porter’s joint publication of epistolary novels - A Sailor’s Friendship and A Soldier’s Love (1805) – reflects similar views to that of her earlier novel Octavia.

The first soldier we meet in A Soldier’s Love is Lieutenant Camelford, who helps to secure the release of a wrongly imprisoned man; this shows him from the start of the novel to be a good and honourable man. He is the soldier mentioned in the story’s title, and the love is between him and his wife Amelia.

However, chronologically at the start of the story Camelford is not in the army, and lives under the care of his uncle, Sir William, from whom he is due to inherit. However, when he meets Amelia (the daughter of the parson in their small village) and falls in love with her, his uncle takes him away to Bath. His uncle arranges a match for him with Lady Lucy Hamilton, and when Camelford rejects this (because of his love for Amelia), his uncle disinherits him. He then accepts an offer of a commission in a marching regiment and is posted to the French West Indian Islands, where he stays for three years, before returning to England and finally marrying Amelia.

Their story is told as Amelia tells it to Isabella Delaval, who writes it in her correspondence home to her aunt, Mrs Catherine Markham. In addition, there are letters included between Amelia and Lieutenant Camelford in the present, whereas the background information is recounted to Isabella. This adds an extra element of romance to the story; as the story is passed along, it takes on almost fairytale-type qualities.

The officers in Camelford’s regiment are shown to have been calmed by the influence of his wife, Amelia:
“I must premise, that when Mrs Camelford came into the regiment, she found the young men lost in idleness and dissipation; but by permitting them to come freely to her house, and by striving to amuse them while there, she gradually drew them off from wine, cards and billiards; and at last formed a sort of friendly society.”14

The major of the regiment, Lord Ryan agrees with this:
“The poor devils can’t walk for ever, nor sleep for ever, they must have a great deal of vacant time upon their hands, which they are literally forced to employ in drinking, gaming and rioting; but give them but a sort of home to go to, where there’s an amiable pretty woman, willing to receive them and see what they become.”15

Lord Ryan even writes a list of rules for the Camelford’s home, Rose Cottage, near Windsor. These include being obedient to the house’s mistress, not to come to supper without dining earlier in the day, to lend a hand with tasks around the home, and that no man should swear, quarrel or grumble.16 This again emphasises the domestic influence of Mrs Camelford, and wives in general, on the officers.

The regiment are also shown to do good deeds, such as giving a concert to raise money for a local tradesman whose house has burnt down. Mr Camelford also, helps a lost child, and despite its dirty clothes brings it home to give it food. The other officers help Mrs Camelford around the home, and are shown doing tasks such as shelling peas and Isabella states how this shows quite a contrast. “Their glittering regimentals, their fine figures, their lively looks, contrasted with the simplicity of their employments, and the romantic retirement of the scene, were altogether new and delightful.”17

The most unruly of the officers is shown to be the Major, Lord Ryan. Who, when the other officers are helping and shelling peas to help Amelia, arrives at the cottage and begins eating them out of the bowl. Also, the final rule of his list for Rose Cottage, states that “from all these rules no officer of the regiment can be excused, save only the major; and that is because he is particularly agreeable – and a Lord!!!”18 Although he has the title of a Lord, he inherited this following the deaths of his father and brother, who died in a great deal of debt. After he had given marriage portions to his sisters, he was left with only a small income and his regimental pay. However, he does have enough money to keep a groom, a luxury only a gentleman would be able to afford. Lord Ryan falls in love with Isabella, the ‘writer’ of most of the letters, and gives her flowers on her birthday. When Isabella says she is leaving, he is upset, and writes to her declaring “I love you more than life; and that since your virtues and graces became known to me, every thing else in this world has ceased to charm.”19 Soon after, Isabella and Lord Ryan are married, and Lord Ryan is restored to some of the previous comfort he knew. This again reflects that the aim of the officers is to be married, and that this union pacifies their rebellious nature.

Lord Ryan, however, says this of the way in which soldiers are seen in society:

“I’ll tell you what, Miss Delaval, soldiers are shut out of all decent agreeable families as if they carried bloodhounds in their pockets; they are generally young, and single, and lively men, and of course in want of amusement: not one man in fifty amongst other professions is literary, (but all can enjoy social intercourse.) You must not then expect their number to be great in the army.”20

This shows that soldiers, in general, are bachelors with very few ties and that they tend to be in search of enjoyment, but also that expectations of them are too high. However, they are also shown to be part of society, giving and attending balls.

At the end of the novel when Lord Ryan and Isabella are married, she and Mrs Camelford have many “wife plans for the improvement of the regiment.”21 Isabella writes telling her aunt that since Amelia and Lieutenant Camelford’s marriage:

“Swearing, gaming, intoxication, idleness, were all vices she abhorred and professed to abhor; every man addicted to any of these habits, became afraid that she would discover it… now in a regiment of two or three and twenty officers, I am certain that no profligate or even dissipated character is to be found. I need not suggest to your rapid mind, my dearest madam, the powerful influence which this propriety has upon the men: reproof from such officers, must come with irresistible force.”22

The general opinion of the army conveyed by Anna Maria Porter in A Soldier’s Love is that as bachelors, they are womanising gamblers with bad reputations, but the influence of a wife changes them a great deal, and their manners are improved.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) on the whole perpetuates the stereotype of the army set out in the military related novels of Anna Maria Porter. The officers -from the regiment based at Meryton – are mainly shown at balls and social events, where they are shown dancing, drinking, gambling and womanising.

Jane Austen invariably contrasts the soldiers with the gentlemen, especially highlighting the difference between the characters of Mr Darcy and Mr Wickham. Initially, Mr Wickham appears to have been wronged by Darcy, but Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth Bennet and the other truths that emerge following Lydia and Wickham’s marriage, expose the truth that he is a liar and a womaniser.
The first meeting with Wickham presents him before he has received his officer’s uniform, but is described as: “a young man, whom they had never seen before, of the most gentlemanlike appearance … the young man wanted only regimentals to make him completely charming.”23 This shows that the uniforms of the officers are used as symbols of status, that Wickham does not yet have the same status as the officer he is with, Denny, dressed in regimentals.

Army uniforms are also used by novelists as a symbol of “a sense of sexual threat attached to army characters, and to the seducers Wickham and Captain Tilney.”24 This also reflects Austen’s preference for the navy over the army; she shows the navy to be moral and proper, whilst the redcoats of the army are womanisers and gamblers. Anna Maria Porter also uses a similar view, the soldiers need a wife in order to be tamed, whilst the navy are more moral and will do anything to help a friend.

Austen portrays the officers, and Wickham especially, in a positive way in the early part of the novel:

“ The officers of the –shire were in general a very creditable, gentlemanlike set, and the best of them were of the present party; but Mr Wickham was as far beyond them all in person, countenance, air and walk, as they were superior to the broad-faced stuffy uncle Phillips, breathing port.”25

The officers are therefore shown, to begin with, as good and gentlemanly; but the fact that the main contact with them is at balls shows that they are, in the main, only in pursuit of pleasure. Also, Mr Bennet says of his two daughters, Lydia and Kitty, who are interested in the officers, “from all that I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country. I have suspected it for some time, but now I am convinced.”26 It is also shown that they have been influenced in their opinion of the officers by their mother, Mrs Bennet: “ I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well – and indeed I do still at my heart.”27

The actions of Wickham in the past and present however show him, and in general those that enlist in army, as womanisers and gamblers. After flirting with both Elizabeth and Lydia Bennet, Wickham swiftly turns his attentions to Mary King, who has just inherited a great fortune – “the sudden acquisition of ten thousand pounds was the most remarkable charm of the young lady.”28 However, the other characters quickly realise his motives are mercenary “But he paid her not the smallest attention, till her grandfather’s death made her mistress of this fortune.”29 As his affections turn to Mary King so soon after this bereavement, it is clear that he is only interested in her inheritance, and her uncle and father prevent the match.

Wickham’s third, and only successful, attempt at marriage is with Lydia Bennet, although it is not clear whether he intended to marry her or not. After travelling with the regiment to Brighton, they are thought to have eloped to Gretna Green, but are found in London by Darcy, who then forces the pair to marry. This shows that Darcy feels guilty that he has not told everyone about Wickham’s past, and tries to make up for this by ensuring that he does not ruin Lydia’s reputation, as well as paying off many of Wickham’s debts.

This again shows the contrast that Austen makes between Darcy and Wickham, that Wickham ruins reputations, whilst Darcy does all he can to redeem them. Darcy also manages to resolve situations quietly, in order to protect his sister, as well as concealing the events leading up to Wickham and Lydia’s marriage.

Wickham is shown to have joined the army after rejecting other professions, including the church. The profession of the church is shown in this novel using the character of Mr Collins, a most annoying individual whose proposal Elizabeth Bennet rejects instantly. Darcy’s father ensured that Wickham received a “gentleman’s education” being supported by him through school and at Cambridge, which Wickham’s own father would have been unable to do. Wickham is from a working class background, being the son of a steward, however, Darcy’s family brought him up. This shows that he has been taught how to be a gentleman, but he does not behave in the same manner as true gentlemen such as Darcy and Bingley. He also begins to study law, but uses this as a pretence to live a life of “idleness and dissipation”30 and finding this a less profitable profession than he had expected, chooses the army as a career, as a last resort after rejecting or failing in other professions.

Other than the regiment based at Meryton, the main soldier depicted in Pride and Prejudice is Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s cousin, and the joint guardian – with Darcy – of Georgiana. Being from a rich and honourable family, he is shown as a gentleman and not a rogue like the officers at Meryton. He is a minor character in the novel, but represents the more gentlemanly side of the army: “his manners were very much admired,”31 and Mrs Collins even has plans to match him and Elizabeth Bennet, “he was beyond comparison the pleasantest man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible.”32

Therefore, Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice shows the army as rogues who will break hearts, especially using the character of Mr Wickham. It is also shown as a default career for those who have rejected or failed at other careers.

However, in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility the roles of the gentlemen as good and the soldiers as libertines are reversed. The main comparison of male characters in the novel is between Colonel Brandon and Mr Willoughby, both of whom compete for the attentions of Miss Marianne Dashwood.

In Sense and Sensibility, the army is shown as a more honourable profession. The main military character is Colonel Brandon, who has fought in the West Indies. He is first dismissed by Marianne for being to old a match for her: “Colonel Brandon is certainly younger than Mrs Jennings, but he is old enough to be my father; and if he were ever animated enough to be in love, must have long outlived every sensation of the kind. It is too ridiculous!”33

The character of Willoughby can easily be compared to that of Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. He charms the Dashwood family by rescuing Marianne when she falls when out walking and twists her ankle, and leads everyone to believe that he has fallen in love her. He is shown to have an interest in literature, especially sharing in Marianne’s love of poetry, showing him to be sensitive and cultured. However, after seeming as if he is in love with Marianne, Wickham leaves unexpectedly without explanation, and fails to reply to Marianne’s letters. When they finally meet again, he returns her letters, and Marianne discovers that he is engaged to someone else, Miss Grey. This shows him to be fickle in matters of the heart, in comparison to Colonel Brandon who is shown as devoted to Marianne.

Colonel Brandon’s speech in Chapter 31, his longest in the novel (explaining to Eleanor his past with Willoughby), shows that he has loved before – with Eliza, a close relative under the guardianship of his father. However, despite their love, Eliza was forced to marry Brandon’s brother against her wishes. Colonel Brandon was banished to a relative’s house, and soon after went with his regiment to the West Indies. On his return, he found her after a six month search, and when he does, she is confined and in the late stages of consumption. She dies soon afterwards, leaving her three-year-old child in Brandon’s care. Brandon sends her to live with a respectable woman in Dorsetshire, but she disappears and is seduced by a young man, Mr Willoughby. Mudrick writes that as Brandon has told this story we are “intended to observe the Colonel in his true light as a nobly feeling man, by contrast with the revealed infamy of his rival.”34
This is very similar to the situation between Darcy and Wickham. In order to protect his sister, Darcy hides the truth about Wickham; Colonel Brandon does not reveal this information about Eliza, concealing the truth about Willoughby. Mudrick writes that Brandon sticks to a gentleman’s code “which permits him to fight a duel with Willoughby, but not to tell Marianne’s family the truth about her prospective husband.”35

Colonel Brandon is shown to be older and wiser in comparison to Willoughby, being “wealthy, propertied, honourable”36 and is victorious over him for the hand of Marianne. “Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted, as it had once been to Willoughby.”37

Overall, the army are shown to be bachelors and libertines, in search of wealthy women and enjoyment only, when they are married become more refined and orderly. In addition, there are individual characters that are more honourable, such as Colonel Brandon and Colonel Fitzwilliam, but these are shown to be the exception to the rule.

A Sailor’s Friendship (1805) is constructed from the correspondence between a sailor named Byron, and his friend Eden, a scholar who, at the start of the novel, travels to Germany to learn the language. Byron is shown as a good and moral character, he gives advice to Eden when he falls in love (with Castara), and is sensitive to his feelings. He is also shown as a naval hero, but is aware of the massive sacrifices other sailors have made for these victories.

Captain Byron is represented by Anna Maria Porter as a hero, many of his letters are written from ports when he is about to set sail, or has just returned to shore. When he writes to Eden including information about his past, we find that he has won many dangerous battles at sea:

“In my former cruise, it was my great fortune to meet ship after ship, and to beat them all: - I was cast into a situation where I grappled with danger every hour; I returned home full of wounds and honours: the world was then too small for my greatness.”38

When Byron gets another ship, The Thetis, he is aware of the risks involved – of both battles and illness – and knows that he may not come back alive. Nevertheless, he returns safely, as a great hero, and the Duke of Verulam’s bride gives a public breakfast in his honour. He also writes “at the expense of five brave soldiers, and an aching shoulder, I have once more purchased the fulsome praises of ladies of quality.”39

Byron is therefore very aware of the sacrifices other sailors have made to win these battles. In fact, when peace is declared in London, likely to be the Peace of Amiens signed on 25th March 1802, he contemplates the sailors’ lives that have been lost in the conflict:

“After the most dreadful slaughters, the severest sufferings, the most brilliant victories, we were just in the very place from which we had set out ten years before: it seemed to me then, as if we had fought only to make widows and orphans. Such a peace rendered the war criminal; and I am not ashamed to say that I wrung some drops from my eyes.”40

This again shows the more sensitive side of this naval hero. He also enjoys painting, and his landscapes have been exhibited at Somerset House where they were “honourably paragraphed by the newspapers.”41 He also agrees to teach Theodora how to paint. It is interesting that Anna Maria Porter selects Somerset House as the location for this exhibition, as her brother Robert Ker Porter was an art student there, whilst the family were living in London, and this text is dedicated to him.

Teaching Theodora to paint is the start of Bryon and Theodora’s relationship. She is concerned that she is not intelligent enough, and strives to read more, to learn how to paint, and in general to gain further knowledge and culture. She is also concerned that people will discover her past; that she is Castara, the illegitimate daughter of James, brother of Lady Frances and Lady Mary (the second pair of correspondents in this epistolary novel.) She was living in Germany with her mother, who did not allow her an education. Lady Frances and Lady Mary travel to Germany to find her, give her the inheritance she is entitled to, and bring her back to their home, Brandon Court. However, Castara is the English girl Byron’s friend Eden fell in love with in Germany, but thought her not cultured enough, and tried to forget her when he returned to his family home of Huntley Castle in Scotland. Following this move, and the death of his father, Eden takes on the family name of Huntley.

Bryon visits his sister at Davington in Leicestershire; close to Brandon Court where Theodora is staying. When Byron first meets Theodora, because she has educated herself since arriving in Leicestershire, he tells Huntley “she will prove far too wise for a poor wandering sailor.”42 He even suggests that Huntley should come and visit as he will find “Theodora all that you wished to have found Castara.”43 This reflects that the naval profession was not seen as intelligent, and that a sailor would not be able to marry a very intelligent, cultured woman.

However, Theodora is still in love with Eden, and tells Byron that she still loves another when he offers her his hand. Although she agrees to marry him, he is unhappy because he knows she does not truly love him. In a letter to Lady Frances, Theodora/Castara writes on the subject of Byron’s proposal:

“Had it been from any other man, than Captain Byron, such a declaration would have caused no conflicts: but Byron, the best, the noblest of men; the brother of my friend; the favourite of my benefactress; the beloved of all the world; he, whose ceaseless kindness has encircled me for so long, almost unseen, but never unfelt; he, for whose good opinion, I have panted and laboured – gracious Heaven, can I have has the ingratitude, the barbarity, the folly to refuse him?”44

This shows that because Byron has been so noble and good to her, and because he is so well liked by everyone, she finds it impossible to refuse him. However, when she tells him that the man she loves is Eden, Byron realises that she is really Castara from Eden/Huntley’s letters. He does not reveal to Theodora that he knows Eden, and instead invites his friend to meet Theodora. He wants to reunite Eden and Castara, as he wants these two friends to be happy, and would sacrifice his own love for Theodora/Castara to do this. In the end, Theodora and Huntley are married, and Byron and Huntley’s friendship remains. This again shows that he is sensitive and moral, and a very good friend, consequently showing the navy to have these qualities as a whole.

The novel concludes with Byron returning to the sea: “Glory is my passion. My country is once more my mistress.”45 When he gets a new ship he travels to St Vincent’s and there is a gap in the letters of a year, shown by an editor’s note “The letters which intervened between this last and the following, were not preserved by Lady Frances – suffice it, that nothing remarkable occurred during the lapse of a twelvemonth.”46 However, the final letters of this epistolary novel reflect that Byron does find love. Ruth, the milkmaid from Brandon Court, conceals herself dressed as a man on Byron’s ship and nurses him through yellow fever, saving his life. She then reveals her true identity; they fall in love and are married. The closing letter (Huntley to Byron) writes that everyone is looking forward to Byron and Ruth’s return, and that Castara is pregnant. This demonstrates that despite his victories at sea, the happiest event that can happen is marriage.

A Sailor’s Friendship therefore shows that sailors are good, honest, kind men. Byron gives Eden/Huntley a great deal of advice and help, and in the end sacrifices the woman he loves, because his friend loves her even more. Also, the heroic nature of the navy is shown in this Anna Maria Porter novel, as Byron is treated as a hero when he returns victorious from the sea.

Persuasion (1817) is written in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, a time when the navy were seen as the saviours of the nation and the source of the best possible masculine values.47 It is also set in a time when the aristocracy was waning, and professionals – such as the navy – were rising into their place.

A variety of viewpoints of the navy are shown in this Austen novel, but of these Sir Walter’s is the strongest and most harsh:

“It is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts up a man’s youth and vigour most horribly; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man; I have observed it all my life.”48

Speaking as a member of the aristocracy, Sir Walter is of the opinion that the status that can be achieved by members of the navy, raises them unfairly, and that this amount of status should only achieved by being from a noble family. He also dislikes the navy from a point of view of vanity, that their skin tans, and ages quicker, a look that was discouraged for pale skin at the time of Jane Austen. Tanned skin showed that people had been working outside; therefore, they would be seen as working class. When talking about Admiral Croft – a rear-admiral of the white, who is set to move into Kellynch-hall – after discovering that he has been stationed in the East Indies for several years “ ‘Then I take it for granted,’ observed Sir Walter, ‘that his face is as orange as the cuffs and capes of my livery.’ ”49 This shows a contrast between the aristocracy and the navy, that a sailor’s skin will be orange, whilst an aristocrat will only have this colour as decoration to his clothing.

The ladies in Persuasion, generally have a more positive and romanticised view of the sailors:

“[Louisa] burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy – their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, the uprightness, protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.”50

They also insist that they have been allowed onto the ships, Mrs Croft says that she has lived comfortably on her husband’s ships, although Captain Wentworth says he would not let a lady onto one of his ships. However, they are also shown to have a general ignorance of knowledge of the navy, and they often question Captain Wentworth on naval matters.

The character of Captain Wentworth is shown to have changed over time. When Anne Elliot knew him in the past, she did not think that his prospects were good enough. However, now that he has reached the rank of Captain this has changed a great deal: “[He] had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession…full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted.”51 Wentworth is shown to have benefited a great deal from the Napoleonic Wars, gaining prize money from his ship the Laconia “How fast I made money in her.”52 He was commander in consequence of the action off St Domingo, and would have received prize money for any enemy ships captured there. His change in prospects, brought about by his success in the navy, means that he is a good enough match for Anne and they are married.

Captain Wentworth’s stories uphold the version of the navy at war portrayed in Persuasion as a “glamorous one.”53 They ignore some of the harsher realities, such as the truth that sailors were four times more likely to die from disease or in an accident than to be killed in action.54 However, the danger of the navy as a profession is also shown in Persuasion, Charles’ brother, Dick, was lost at sea.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion overall shows this glamorous side of naval life – also seen in Anna Maria Porter’s A Sailor’s Friendship. It also reflects a view that the navy can raise a man’s station from being a poor sailor, to a rich aristocrat.

Austen’s Mansfield Park also looks at the role of the navy, from the highest level of Admiral to the lowest of midshipman. In this novel the setting changes from the tranquil rural parishes of Northamptonshire, to fashionable London, the Portsmouth dockyards, and overseas to the West Indies. Austen therefore compares the rural world, with that of the navy and seafaring life.

Portsmouth is shown to be a source of national pride and as being at “the hub of naval action against Napoleon”,55 as well as being a centre of technological advancement and ship construction. Mr Price (formerly Lieutenant Price of the marines) “talks only of the dock-yard, the harbour, Spithead, and the Motherbank [an anchorage west of the Isle of Wight]”56 and often visits the dockyard, which acts as a symbol of the national pride in the navy, and talks of the great spectacle of the ships: “You lost a fine sight by not being there this morning to see the thrush go out of harbour. I would not have been out of the way for a thousand pounds.”57

Austen shows opinions of the navy using her comparison of the marriages of the three Ward sisters. Maria has married Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park, and her elder sister weds a clergyman Rev Norris; they also live comfortably at Mansfield Park. However, the youngest of the three sisters, Frances, marries an uneducated Lieutenant of marines, and, as this is not a good match for her, an elopement is implied. As the novel opens, Frances is shown to be living in difficult financial circumstances, and is expecting her ninth child.

The character of William Price is used to show the lower, and poorer, ranks of the navy. He originally has the rank of midshipman, one of the lowest ranks in the navy, but is promoted to second lieutenant after Henry persuades his uncle Admiral Crawford to put in a good word for him. Whilst still at the rank of midshipman, when asked if he will attend an assembly says, “The Portsmouth girls turn up their noses at any body who has not a commission. One might as well be nothing as a midshipman.”58 This shows that the ranks within the navy are looked upon very differently, and that at the lowest rank William is ignored. After he is promoted to second lieutenant, there is speculation by his family on further promotions and even of prize money that he could distribute generously at home.

William has seen a lot at sea; some – mainly the ladies – cannot see the appeal “Dear me! How disagreeable. – I wonder any body can ever go to sea,”59 says Lady Bertram. However, Henry Crawford, as a man who has not been at sea, wishes he had been “the glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful contrast.”60 However, both of these again show the pride in the navy, that the women are sympathetic to the plight of the brave sailors, whilst men who live a life of leisure envy their heroic deeds.

However, the higher ranks of the navy are portrayed differently. The Bertram family know more of the higher ranks, Admirals, within the navy. The higher ranks are therefore shown to be connected with the aristocracy, but not the lower ranks, as said by Mary Crawford: “Post Captains may be very good sort of men, but they do not belong to us.”61 However, she also says that she has become acquainted with a circle of admirals “Of Rears, and Vices, I saw enough. Now, do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.”62 Many critics suggest that this is a double entendre, in regard to “the navy’s reputation for sodomy or, less scandalously, large bottoms and general bad behaviour.”63 ‘Bad behaviour’ in Mansfield Park refers to Admiral Crawford living with his mistress, and at the time Admiral Nelson’s affair with Lady Hamilton. Roger Sales also highlights that Mansfield Park is set in “the context of Regency anxieties about the sexual conduct of the armed forces.”64 At this time, there were numerous scandals on ships and even within the Royal Family about homosexuality.

Mansfield Park therefore shows a mix of views about the navy, by looking at the profession at different ranks and classes. The higher ranks may appear better behaved, but are disparaged by rumours of affairs and homosexuality. However, the lower ranks, although they are accepted less into social circles are shown to be harder working, and often more heroic.

In conclusion, the professions of the army and navy are represented very differently in the novels of Jane Austen and Anna Maria Porter. The army are shown to be frivolous, and womanising, and in need of taming by a wife, and are often contrasted with gentlemen. However, there are examples of military characters that contradict this stereotype, but on the whole, both authors adhere to it. Both professions use a hierarchical system, and all of these novels show the difference in treatment, opinion, and fortune of higher and lower ranks. The navy are shown to be more moral, and heroic, and at the time these works were written were seen as the saviours of the nation in the Napoleonic wars. In addition to their successes at sea, one of their aims in life is to be married, but in some of these novels, the reputation of the higher ranks is shown to be tainted by rumours and controversy. Therefore, these two crucial professions during the reign of George III are shown by Porter and Austen as opposites in both reputation and character.


  1. Porter, Anna Maria, Octavia, Volume 1 p32
  2. Ibid Volume 1 p25
  3. Ibid, Volume 1 p57
  4. Ibid Volume 1 p75
  5. Porter, Anna Maria, Octavia, Volume 1 p87
  6. Ibid Volume 1 p44
  7. Ibid Volume 1 p52
  8. Ibid Volume 1 p30
  9. Ibid Volume 1 p30
  10. Ibid Volume 1 p30
  11. Porter, Anna Maria, Octavia, Volume 1 p104
  12. Ibid, Volume 1 p125
  13. Porter, Anna Maria, Octavia, Volume 3 p228
  14. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and a Soldier’s Love, p44 Volume 2
  15. Ibid, Volume 2 p 58
  16. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and a Soldier’s Love, Volume 2 p44-46
  17. Ibid, Volume 2 p50
  18. Ibid, Volume 2 p46
  19. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and a Soldier’s Love, Volume 2 p168
  20. Ibid, Volume 2 p57-58
  21. Ibid, Volume 2 p174
  22. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and a Soldier’s Love, Volume 2 p175-176
  23. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice p66
  24. McMaster, Juliet “Class” p122
  25. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice p70
  26. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice, p26
  27. Ibid, p26
  28. Ibid, p136
  29. Ibid, p139
  30. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice, p180
  31. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice, p156
  32. Ibid, p164
  33. Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility p24
  34. Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility, p112
  35. Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility, p109
  36. Mudrick, Marvin “Irony and Convention versus Feeling” p 115
  37. Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility, p255
  38. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and A Soldier’s Love Volume 1 p22
  39. Ibid, Volume 1 p96
  40. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and A Soldier’s Love, Volume 1 p143-144
  41. Ibid, Volume 1 p184
  42. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and A Soldier’s Love, Volume 1 p182 
  43. Ibid, Volume 1 p183
  44. Ibid, Volume 1, p225
  45. Porter, Anna Maria, A Sailor’s Friendship and A Soldier’s Love, Volume 1 p299
  46. Ibid, Volume 1 p301
  47. Humble, Nicola “Introduction to Persuasion” p viii
  48. Austen, Jane, Persuasion, p15
  49. Austen, Jane, Persuasion, p16
  50. Ibid, p70
  51. Austen, Jane, Persuasion, p15, p20
  52. Ibid, p47
  53. Sales, Roger, Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England p185
  54. Ibid, p184
  55. Stabler, Jane Introduction to Mansfield Park, p xxxiii
  56. Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, p305
  57. Ibid, p 298
  58. Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, p194
  59. Ibid, p185
  60. Ibid, 185
  61. Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, p48
  62. Ibid, p48
  63. Stabler, Jane Introduction to Mansfield Park p 400
  64. Sales, Roger Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England p68



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McMaster, Juliet “Class” in Copeland and McMaster (Ed) (1998) The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
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Macmillan: London
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Porter, Anna Maria (1805) A Sailor’s Friendship and a Soldier’s Love
Longman: London
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