Do characters in Austen's Persuasion have a real choice between acting foolishly and acting wisely?
Characters in Jane Austen's Persuasion do have real choices between acting foolishly and wisely as is demonstrated by the reunion between Anne and Wentworth. Anne acts wisely by keeping her focus and adjusting her demeanor, deportment and general behavior to reflect composure and generosity without bias against or for Wentworth. On the other hand, as Wentworth confesses to Anne in the letter he writes her while she is engaged in conversation with Captain Harville about the constancy of love as exercised by men versus women, he has acted foolishly: "Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been ...." Wentworth foolishly treats Anne with a grudging disdain and does his best to single her out as beneath his notice and courtesy. Had he acted wisely, he may have chosen to take her aside at the earliest opportunity and made peace with her; this may even have sped up their reconciliation (while shortening our beloved novel!)
Elizabeth is a prime example of one who had the opportunity to choose between acting wisely or foolishly. In her early years as a new entrant into society, Elizabeth acted foolishly by thinking she was superior in station and beauty to all her suitors and potential suitors so therefore could hold out against an early marriage while waiting for a suitable baronet. The result was that thirteen years later, she was still going the rounds of balls and entertainments as a single woman who did not have the charm of the youthful women she now had to compete against for marriage.
For thirteen years had she been ... walking immediately after Lady Russell out of all the drawing-rooms and dining-rooms in the country ... opening every ball of credit ... [travelling] up to London with her father, for a few weeks' annual enjoyment of the great world.
Had she chosen wisely, she would have been willing to love and accept one of her suitors since she realized that her father's rank and title of baronet is the lowest of the titles of honor instead of acting like it was the highest.