When explaining the class dynamics of Phyllis’s engagement to Humphrey, the narrator uses two similes, as seen in the following passage:
In those days unequal marriages were regarded rather as a violation of the laws of nature than as a mere infringement of convention, the more modern view, and hence when Phyllis, of the watering-place bourgeoisie, was chosen by such a gentlemanly fellow, it was as if she were going to be taken to heaven, though perhaps the uninformed would have seen no great difference in the respective positions of the pair, the said Gould being as poor as a crow.
The first simile here—“it was as if she were going to be taken to heaven”—captures how people in Humphrey and Phyllis’s small community in the early 1800s viewed Phyllis’s experience of the engagement. In other words, because of the “unequal” nature of their class status—with Humphrey’s family being more financially well-off—Phyllis should consider herself lucky. She is expected to "ascend" in social status the way one might "ascend" to heaven.
The second simile here complicates this story, as the narrator states that Humphrey is “as poor as a crow.” Here, the narrator zooms out from the limited viewpoint of those in Phyllis and Humphrey's small rural community, suggesting that, because of the story’s provincial setting, small class differences seem more significant than they really are. While rural neighbors may have viewed Humphrey as “gentlemanly” and Phyllis as part of the “watering-place bourgeoisie” (or middle class), in reality, the narrator is suggesting, they were all lower-middle-class people far from the wealth and glamour of the English elite.
When Phyllis realizes that Matthäus and Christoph have likely been captured while trying to flee England, the narrator uses a simile, as seen in the following passage:
What she beheld at first awed and perplexed her; then she stood rigid, her fingers hooked to the wall, her eyes starting out of her head, and her face as if hardened to stone.
On the open green stretching before her all the regiments in the camp were drawn up in line, in the mid-front of which two empty coffins lay on the ground.
Here, the narrator uses a simile when describing how Phyllis’s face looked “as if hardened to stone” when she sees “two empty coffins” laid out in front of the troops in the military camp. This extreme language captures how shocked and horrified Phyllis feels as she realizes that Matthäus and Christoph are likely going to be killed for desertion. She has already been grieving the fact that Matthäus left for Germany (and that she did not join him), and now she must grieve this more devastating loss. This evocative simile also makes it clear to readers that, though Phyllis decided to be loyal to Humphrey by declining to run away with Matthäus, in her heart she is still committed to her German soldier love.