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My name is Father Steve Macias and I am a Priest in California’s Silicon Valley.

I am the Headmaster at Canterbury Christian School and Rector of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church.

I am a presbyter (priest/pastor/minister) in the Reformed Episcopal Church, a founding jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in North America.

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    A Reformed Episcopal Priest & Classical Educator

    The Naval Officer Trope in Austen’s Persuasion 

    The portrait of an American naval officer is at the entrance of our church, Lt. Commander Norman R. Milbank. He was born in Alberta, Canada  but faithfully served in the United States Navy during WWII and the Korean conflict. He went on to have a full career in business including as the bursar at Stanford University and founded Canterbury School in 1974 where he served as Headmaster until 2009.

    Recently I read through Jane Austen’s Persuasion and couldn’t help notice how Naval figures were used as symbols of idealized men. We often do the same with our founder, who later died as the Very Reverend – as figure of faith and valor.

    Jane Austen introduces a litany of naval characters in Persuasion and their prominent roles are used to establish two important literary themes: social mobility and meritocracy. Captain Wentworth, Admiral Croft, Captain Harville, and Captain Benwick help establish the story inside the pride of English’s Georgian period and to coincide with the nationalistic reactions to the Napoleonic wars. Early 18th century figures like Captain James Cook and Admiral Horatio Nelson became symbols of British identity and idealized images of masculine heroism. Austen uses these military figures to explore the changing dynamics of British society—especially among the landed gentry. These male naval figures also transform the role of women in introducing vulnerabilities and opportunities.  Mrs. Smith and Anne Elliot explore how the personal agency afforded by military life comes with its own risks and regrets. 

    Persuasion is published in the wake of the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) where Britain’s centuries old conflict with France was again revisited. The wars became an opportunity for the English to build the Royal Navy and use the historic tensions to recruit new soldiers. Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, wrote that English soldiers were recruited from the “scum of the earth,” but as Britain evolved into a Naval power it also provided a mechanism for economic expansion. The landed gentry who literally lorded over the land would soon have their privilege and social status threatened by the men who went out from the land and into the sea.  The Royal Navy not only provided a means for wages, but also helped advance sailors up through ranks based on merit and experience. Men would return back with savings, experience in a new type of society, and the security of government pensions. The war itself also introduced new avenues for men to prove himself and develop a sense of social prestige based on merit, rather than hereditary privilege.  

    During this same period a mythology around sailors began to develop in English society. “Persuasion’s naval characters have been read…through the images of celebrities such as Captain James Cook and Admiral Nelson” (Susan, 2018) Captain James Cook and Admiral Horatio Nelson emerged as aspirational figures and symbols of national pride. Both Cook and Nelson were born outside of aristocratic families and rise through the ranks of the Royal Navy. Born into a family of very humble origins, the son of a farm laborer, Cook faced limited prospects for inheriting wealth or titles. However, over the course of two decades, he steadily ascended through the naval ranks, progressing from an apprentice mate to master, then lieutenant and commander, until he ultimately achieved the rank of captain. Similarly, Admiral Nelson’s naval victories, notably at the Battle of Trafalgar, established him as a military hero and legendary figure. The wars created new opportunities for men to forge new paths of social mobility and status outside the confines of the traditional aristocracy.

    The captain and admiral were certainly the pattern for Austen’s Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft who similarly rose from humble beginnings to their elevated statuses. In chapter three, Sir Walter Elliot emphasizes his disdain for the captain by with, “Wentworth? Oh! ay, Mr Wentworth, the curate of Monkford. You misled me by the term gentleman. I thought you were speaking of some man of property: Mr Wentworth was nobody, I remember; quite unconnected…” He lacked the standing socially to marry Elliot’s daughter, but throughout the novel is able to work through the social barriers and the work ends with their marriage. “[Wentworth] seeing her through all the petty difficulties of the case with the activity and exertion of a fearless man and a determined friend, fully requited the services which she had rendered, or ever meant to render, to his wife.” 

    Admiral Croft is married to Mrs. Croft and is a close friend of Captain Wentworth. He represents the nouveau rich, having acquired wealth through his naval career. The Crofts rent Kellynch, the Elliot family estate, which introduces them into the social circles of the novel. Akin to the celebrated figure of Admiral Nelson and unlike the traditional landed gentry, Admiral Croft’s prosperity is not based on inherited estates but on his achievements at sea.  The reader is expected to recognize the incongruity of a naval officer renting an estate emblematic of aristocratic privilege. 

    In “Persuasion,” the characters of Mrs. Smith and Anne Elliot also offer reflections on the risks and regrets that come with the Navy’s offer of personal agency.. The allure of social mobility and financial success, is counterbalanced by the stark reality embodied by Mrs. Smith. As the widow of a naval officer, she grapples not only with economic struggles and a decline in social standing but also with the ultimate risk that military life entails – the potential loss of a loved one to the perils of the sea. In the naval world depicted by Jane Austen, personal choices come with the ever-present specter of death. She employs naval characters like Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft to illuminate the themes of social mobility and meritocracy, symbolizing the evolving dynamics of British society, while the experiences of Mrs. Smith and Anne Elliot underscore the complex interplay of personal agency, risks, and regrets within military life.

    This initial idea for this coalesced as I was reading an article entitled, “Gentlemen of the Navy” by A.F. Susan in the Jane Austen Journal.  Source: https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/sailors-fiction-before-i-persuasion-s-gentlemen/docview/2309515796/se-2

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    I help Christians discover their calling in God’s Kingdom so that they may lead purpose-filled lives with victory, hope, and abundance.

    About Me

    Father Steve Macias is an Anglican priest in the Reformed Episcopal Church (ACNA). He is the Headmaster of Canterbury School and Rector of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church. He is married to Sarah and the father to Athanasius, Anselm, Assumpta, Basil and Zoe. His professional work consulting with political campaigns, leading nonprofit organizations, and in the California State Capitol has been recognized by The Los Angeles Times, National Review Magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, The Chalcedon Foundation, and numerous online and print publications. You can reach him on twitter @stevemacias.