The Navy is discussed by many characters in the novel, from the admiring Louisa and Henrietta to the more pragmatically appreciative Anne. As a vehicle of social mobility, it offers the potential for men from less prominent social standing, through hard work and merit, to climb the ranks of status and earn their fortune—two components that grant men distinction and importance in Austen’s society. For this reason, the novel’s conclusion references the Navy as possessing “domestic virtue” as well as national importance. Captain Wentworth’s marriage to Anne is enabled largely by his ability to make his fortune and rank through the navy.
For the very same reason that the Navy represents socioeconomic mobility through feats of distinction and valor, Sir Walter regards it with wariness and distaste. Sir Walter, as landed gentry, desires a society fixed by aristocratic bloodlines. He has great pride in his family lineage and in his estate, Kellynch Hall, and he recognizes the threat that those who rise through marrying money (like Mr. Elliot’s first marriage) and those who climb the ranks of Navy pose to his own conservative vision of social hierarchy. In general, Austen seems to support the positive and romantic notion of the Navy as a valid, adventurous, and more meritocratic means of social distinction—a symbol of private as well as public virtue.
The Navy Quotes in Persuasion
Yes; [the Navy] is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as a means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly.