Penelope Clay (née Shepherd) is a character in Persuasion. She is the daughter of Mr. Shepherd, an attorney and financial adviser. She is a friend of Elizabeth Elliot's, much to Lady Russell's dismay. Surprisingly, Sir Walter Elliot doesn't disapprove of the friendship, perhaps because Elizabeth is his favorite daughter.
Marriage and widowhood
Mrs. Clay, born Miss Shepherd, must have married a Mr. Clay who died later. The couple had two children. As Mr. Clay's widow, she still lived in Somersetshire near Kellynch Hall with her father and "the additional burden of two children".
Friendship with Elizabeth
She became the dear friend of Elizabeth Elliot, the eldest and favorite daughter of Sir Walter, a widowed baronet. Despite Elizabeth's assumed "Elliot pride", she became friends with Mrs. Clay anyway, who was not born a gentlewoman. When the Elliot family decided to quit Kellynch for the season, Mrs. Clay was invited to Bath, along with Elizabeth and Sir Walter. This shocked and offended Lady Russell, who was angered that Anne was being ignored for the sake of a lawyer's daughter. Mrs. Clay is lucky that Lady Russell had no influence over Elizabeth or she would not be invited at all.
So Mrs. Clay accompanied the Elliots, excluding Anne, to Bath. They rented a very nice home in a very fashionable part of the city. Lady Russell was still annoyed that Mrs. Clay was still with the Elliots by the time Lady Russell and Anne joined them in Bath months after they moved out. Even with her lower status, Mrs. Clay managed to get Sir Walter to think well of her. Anne was relieved to note that her father didn't seem to be in love with Mrs. Clay, but it still worried her. Mrs. Clay realized that having Anne and Lady Russell in residence with them would not aid her chances at nabbing Sir Walter.
Mrs. Clay is the proverbial "viper in the bosom". She befriends Elizabeth Elliot, knowing that the lady is Sir Walter's favorite daughter. This immediately puts her in Sir Walter's favor, as well.
Notes and references
- Persuasion, Chapter 3. First name revealed
- Persuasion, Chapter 2
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 16