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A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Six

Today we come to Chapter Six of Persuasion, which is available online at Molland's and elsewhere, should you be so unfortunate as to not yet have a copy of your very own.

In this chapter, we learn what an easy-going nature Anne has, and how she inspires confidence, something which Austen demonstrates for us, and which informs the reader of a good deal about the natures of the people at Uppercross, as well as convincing us that Anne has the patience of a saint, listening to all of them chatter about one another. We also learn far more about Mary, and, in particular, her parenting abilities, including the information that Charles is the better parent, and that Anne gets almost as much love as and far more respect from Mary's children as Mary does.

Austen marks the time for us: three full weeks of visits and days spent listening to people and playing the pianoforte for their enjoyment (whether thanked for it or not), a point which was almost certainly based at least in part on Jane Austen's personal experience: she was a fairly accomplished player of the pianoforte, and spent an hour or so each morning practicing, despite the fact that nobody in the house was particularly fond of music. She also played dances for nieces and nephews on several occasions. Her discussion of the private pleasure of music is therefore likely based on her own experience, and it is not completely beyond the pale that the visiting nieces and nephews and any supervising adults forgot to show their appreciation to their accompanist now and again.

Then Michaelmas (pronounced rather like Mickle-muhs - sorry, no schwa key readily available) arrives, and the Crofts are at Kellynch. Mary at least has the good grace to acknowledge the day and to rest her hand on Anne's shoulder, the first and only real acknowledgment of Anne's loss of her real home that we get in this chapter. In fact, Austen starts the chapter with everyone quite excited about Sir Walter's move to Bath, quite unconscious of any discomfort on Anne's part, a recurring theme throughout the novel. In fact, I want to point out that there are only a few characters who take note of any discomfort on Anne's part: we've already met one, Lady Russell, and there are two more to come - but only one who takes serious action to ameliorate her discomfort. And there are conclusions to be drawn from that, I believe, but I'm putting the cart before the horse.

Getting back to the point about people being unconcerned or unaware of Anne's sadness at leaving Kellynch and distaste for Bath: it is that sort of omission that allows us, as readers, to fill in more about Anne's personality. As readers who are given information by our omniscient narrator, we know that Anne is sad about leaving Kellynch and dreading Bath, yet the people around her rattle on about what a great thing it all is. Given how kind-hearted the Musgroves are established as being, it must be that Anne pastes on a smile or at least a sense of indifference to cover it all over, for surely if her pain were reflected on her face, someone would notice. And since nobody does at all, she must be wearing her mask well. I think it's something we intuitively grasp as readers, but it represents a deliberate choice on Austen's part not to spell it out. There's a trust in the reader implicit in here that I think modern authors sometimes lack - they rush in to fill all the cracks with newspaper, instead of allowing the reader to do a bit of the work. And I'd argue that it's the work done by the reader to fill in the cracks for themselves that creates a sense of "ownership" of the characters and the text, and one of the reasons that so many people enjoy reading and re-reading Austen's work. But perhaps I digress.

A Visit from the Crofts

Besides the further information as to the daily life at Uppercross and the characters of those who live there, this chapter includes a Key Event: Mary and Charles visit the Crofts, and the Crofts promptly return the visit, allowing Anne to meet Admiral and Mrs. Croft for the first time. She is fortunate to spend quite a bit of time in conversation with Mrs. Croft, Frederick Wentworth's sister, during which she has this heart-stopping exchange:

"It was you, and not your sister, I find, that my brother had the pleasure of being acquainted with, when he was in this country."

Anne hoped she had outlived the age of blushing; but the age of emotion she certainly had not.

"Perhaps you may not have heard that he is married?" added Mrs. Croft.

She could now answer as she ought; and was happy to feel, when Mrs. Croft's next words explained it to be Mr. Wentworth of whom she spoke, that she had said nothing which might not do for either brother. She immediately felt how reasonable it was, that Mrs. Croft should be thinking and speaking of Edward, and not of Frederick, and, with shame at her own forgetfulness, applied herself to the knowledge of their former neighbour's present state with proper interest.

The rest was all tranquillity; till, just as they were moving, she heard the Admiral say to Mary, "We are expecting a brother of Mrs. Croft's here soon - I dare say you know him by name."

Austen leaves us with a bit of a cliffhanger on that, changing the scene to later in the day, when the folks from the big house are expected to turn up at the cottage. It is only then that we learn that it is indeed Captain Wentworth who is coming to visit, and we are treated to a bit of nonsense about poor Richard.

Do you know Dick?
The nonsense about Dick Musgrove is based on an Austen family joke invoked more than once by Jane Austen in her letters, which included comments about a close family friend named Richard who needs to get himself a better name, and a similar jesting reference within the text of Northanger Abbey. (It's actually a point I've researched quite well during the Jane project, as it turns out, but as I'm hoping to get a serious article published elsewhere, I'll say no more here.)

Back to Chapter Five
On to Chapter Seven

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A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Five

Having introduced us - if not in person, then by reputation - to Captain Frederick Wentworth in Chapter Four, thereby completing the introductions to the main characters in the book (including Mr. Elliot, whom we have not yet met in person either), Austen is getting ready to launch into the story proper, by which I mean the part where interesting men turn up to cross Anne Elliot's path.

But here's the thing: Austen's working title for this book was The Elliots. And truly, if the focus of the novel is to examine the workings of the Elliot family, then the first four chapters actually serve that end in part, for we've learned quite a bit about Sir Walter Elliot and Miss Elliot (Elizabeth), the eldest sister. And in today's installment, Chapter Five (which you may read online at Molland's if you haven't a copy with you), we meet the final Elliot sister, Mary - now Mary Musgrove, who is on the one hand a hypochondriacal narcissist, and on the other a most excellent comic character.

While well, and happy, and properly attended to, she had great good humour and excellent spirits; but any indisposition sunk her completely. She had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used.

I always smile at Mary's greeting of Anne, who has been working herself nearly ragged getting things packed up and sent on to Bath or put into storage, since her father decided on a rather rapid departure from the neighborhood:

She was now lying on the faded sofa of the pretty little drawing-room, the once elegant furniture of which had been gradually growing shabby, under the influence of four summers and two children; and, on Anne's appearing, greeted her with,

"So, you are come at last! I began to think I should never see you. I am so ill I can hardly speak. I have not seen a creature the whole morning!"

"I am sorry to find you unwell," replied Anne. "You sent me such a good account of yourself on Thursday!"

"Yes, I made the best of it; I always do: but I was very far from well at the time; and I do not think I ever was so ill in my life as I have been all this morning--very unfit to be left alone, I am sure. Suppose I were to be seized of a sudden in some dreadful way, and not able to ring the bell!"

Such a drama queen! Austen was particularly good at sketching comic characters like Mary who nevertheless manage to feel real - in part because we all know someone who, if not identical to Mary in their need for attention, comes close, don't we? Mary's also very determined to stand on ceremony (when she can) with her in-laws, trying to assert her superiority as a baronet's daughter. (In pomposity, at least, she is the match of her father and eldest sister.)

I'm now completely out of order in my discussion of this chapter, but I did want to double back to mention how easy it is to despise Elizabeth, who has asserted that she is "sure Anne had better stay [with Mary], for nobody will want her in Bath." It is almost impossible, however, to feel the same animus towards Mary, since she is so pitiful in some ways, and funny in others. And so we're clear on the arrangements, Sir Walter and Elizabeth have taken Mrs. Clay off to Bath with them, thereby setting Lady Russell a-sputter, leaving Anne to tend to Mary for a while, then stay with Lady Russell a while, and then come to Bath with Lady Russell after Christmas. Sir Walter's party has left for Bath a few weeks ahead of the Crofts taking possession of Kellynch Hall at Michaelmas (September 29th), which means that Anne will be staying at Uppercross Cottage with Mary and at Kellynch Lodge with Lady Russell for a combined period of four or five months (from early September until sometime in January).

Having sorted out a bit of what we can expect from the local families at Uppercross - pleasant, warm, welcoming people at the big house, needy Mary at the Cottage - Austen has set the scene for what is to come next - for something - or, rather, someone - as you must expect, is coming.

Back to Chapter Four
On to Chapter Six

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All this month, I've been posting entries for an event I'm calling A Winter's Persuasion, a month-long study of the chapters of Jane Austen's last completed novel, Persuasion. Many consider it the most Romantic of her works, and certainly her references to Romantic poets such as Byron (both explicit and implicit) are part and parcel of why that is so.

Today, a stanza from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, the fourth canto (a canto being rather like a chapter, if by chapter one means "a whole lot of stanzas"). I have posted excerpts from Childe Harold twice before: stanzas 137 and 138 back in 2007, and one of my favorites, stanza 178 back in 2006. Actually, I'm going to go ahead and re-post stanza 178, not only because I love it so, but also because it is the lead-in to stanza 179, which is referenced by Austen in chapter 12 of Persuasion. (And yes, I'm getting well ahead of where we are in the novel, since today we shall be covering Chapter Five, but that is of no real matter.)

In Persuasion, Chapter Twelve, Anne is walking near the sea with a sea captain who, it has been established, is quite well-versed in "modern" poets such as Byron and Scott.

Anne found Captain Benwick again drawing near her. Lord Byron's "dark blue seas" could not fail of being brought forward by their present view, and she gladly gave him all her attention as long as attention was possible. It was soon drawn per force another way.

The "dark blue seas" to which Austen refers can be found in the first line of Canto 179, which begins "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean — roll!" Austen's contemporary audience would likely have been familiar with the verses she references, and would have appreciated that she is referring not only to a quite recent work by Byron and a stanza that references the sea, but that she is putting the words in the mouth of a sea captain who is in mourning and regrets that he was at sea when someone close to him died, and that the remainder of the stanza remarks on the vanity of men in setting their fleets on the ocean and on the sort of death that sailors like himself were constantly braving.

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar;
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean — roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin — his control
Stops with the shore; — upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

Canto IV of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage marks Byron's shift from mere Romanticism to what some call "high romance". Note how he praises nature and condemns man's intrusion - by which he means society, of course, because Childe Harold is the poem wherein Byron creates what is known today as the Byronic hero: a sexy, dark & twisty sort of man who is a bit of an outcast, prone to mood swings, possibly narcissistic and/or self-loathing, with a disdain of society and/or its norms, a strong cynical and arrogant streak, but with a good heart. Rather the way Caroline Lamb once described Byron: "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Other Byronic heroes of whom you might be fond include Han Solo, the vampire Lestat, Mr. Rochester, and Batman.

The form. You may already have noticed that Byron was using a repeated meter and rhyme scheme here. The form of stanza he's using is Spenserian stanza, which was used by Edmund Spenser in his magnum opus, The Faerie Queen. Each of the stanzas has nine lines. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is ABABBCBCC, with the first eight lines being in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM). The last line of each stanza is what is known as an "alexandrine", being a line in iambic hexameter (six iambic feet per line). The extra foot in an alexandrine has the slowing or swinging effect of dragging a train around a corner (you are free to picture the train of a dress or a railroad train) - the point being that there's a little extra effort to be made on that last line, which alters the pace of the poem as a whole (if you are reading more than one stanza of the poem). Back in Byron's time, it was quite common for people to read out an entire Canto in an evening, since reading was often done aloud, and this poem, like so very many others, is designed for that purpose.

Similarity to Sir Walter Scott?
I cannot help but notice (and I'm certain Austen noticed as well) the similarity between the last line of stanza 179 ("unknelled, uncoffined and unknown") and a line written by Sir Walter Scott's in the narrative poem he published seven years earlier than Byron's Childe Harold, The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto VI, stanza 1, which speaks of a man dying "unwept, unhonored, and unsung". That portion of The Lay (written in rhymed couplets using iambic tetrameter) is usually excerpted as "Breathes There the Man With Soul So Dead", which is generally perceived as a poem about patriotism:

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored, and unsung.

I rather suspect that the similarity was intentional on Byron's part, and that he was engaging in the time-honored tradition of engaging in a dialogue of sorts with another poet through his own work. The similarity of the lines, coupled with the placement of the similar evocative (and memorable) terms speaks of intention, but Byron has specifically replaced Scott's dust with water. Scott has claimed that if there's a man who doesn't take pride in his homeland, then he dies a double death and deserves to die unmarked and unmourned. Thus, where Scott believes man ought to claim dominion, ownership or at least sense of pride in "[his] own, [his] native land", Byron makes clear that while man might exercise some sort of dominion over land, he ruins it as he does so, and then goes further to say that man holds no power whatsoever over the sea, and that his efforts to establish dominion through an exertion of power at sea is fruitless: thus his man is reduced to insignificance: a mere drop of rain in the ocean.

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A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Four

You may recall that we left off Chapter Three with a cliffhanger of an ending, with Anne in the thicket (actual and emotional), thinking that perhaps he might soon be walking there. Today, in Chapter Four, we learn who he is:

He was not Mr. Wentworth, the former curate of Monkford, however suspicious appearances may be, but a Captain Frederick Wentworth, his brother, who being made commander in consequence of the action off St Domingo, and not immediately employed, had come into Somersetshire, in the summer of 1806; and having no parent living, found a home for half a year at Monkford. He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling. Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly anybody to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail. They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest: she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted.

A short period of exquisite felicity followed, and but a short one. Troubles soon arose. Sir Walter, on being applied to, without actually withholding his consent, or saying it should never be, gave it all the negative of great astonishment, great coldness, great silence, and a professed resolution of doing nothing for his daughter. He thought it a very degrading alliance; and Lady Russell, though with more tempered and pardonable pride, received it as a most unfortunate one.

Austen manages to make most of her female readers good and in love with Captain Wentworth themselves in this chapter, and I posit that she manages it using the following devices:

1. He is described in glowing terms, and, since Anne is the one person introduced in the novel so far who readers can attach to without feeling like they're rooting for a numbskull (Elizabeth) or a popinjay (Sir Walter) or someone on the make (Mrs. Clay and, to some extent, her father, Mr. Shepherd) or someone who places improper emphasis on rank (everyone I've just mentioned except Anne, plus Lady Russell).

2. Anne has already earned reader sympathy by being somewhat of an underdog - her father and her sister Elizabeth have been set up as fools, and they don't value Anne. Lady Russell, who is intelligent but a bit too fond of titles and money, adores Anne and has helped us to see her as a person of good character and real value. So if Anne loved - and still loves - Wentworth, then we sympathetically attach to him as well.

3. Wentworth himself is established as an underdog. Despite all his heroic traits (physically and intellectually), he is sneered at by Sir Walter (which can only raise him in readers' eyes) for his lack of fortune and rank. He is disliked by Lady Russell for traits that are presented as good traits - ambition in his career and a positive outlook that he'll soon make his fortune.

4. We learn that Anne deeply regrets having broken the engagement, that she still harbors feelings for Captain Wentworth, and that she wishes she had not done so.

How can we not all be inclined to love Captain Wentworth, under those circumstances? And, I might add, it's a good thing, too, or else we might not care for him all that much or bother to try to explain or understand his behavior when he and Anne eventually meet. And no, I don't consider that a spoiler, because if you've read any Austen or know anything about her work at all, you're already expecting it to occur.

Lady Russell's role

Lady Russell has essentially appointed herself Anne's fairy godmother, without the magic wand or gifts of nice clothing. And while I found myself exceedingly pissed at her for interference the first couple of times I read Persuasion, I believe it worth the time to examine her reasoning.

1. Anne was the daughter of a landed, titled gentleman; Wentworth is an aspiring naval officer with neither land nor money. Sir Walter had already said he'd do nothing for Anne, meaning no dowry and no support after her marriage.

2. Anne was only 19, and, at the time, quite pretty. She could make a more stable match, rather than attaching herself to a man who would be at sea all the time and, given his daring nature, willing to take a lot of risks in order to advance his career and his winnings. (Men in the navy split up the "winnings" when an enemy ship was captured, just as pirates did, frankly. So a daring officer willing to take lots of risks in engaging the enemy could gain a large amount of wealth, but in doing so, he was risking death on a regular basis.) Anne would be alone quite often, without any support from her father, and might face difficult times financially, to say nothing of the great risk of her being made a young widow.

3. Lady Russell didn't fully grasp the depth of Anne's affection, and thought it was merely an infatuation. She believed that with Wentworth gone, Anne would readily find someone else. Instead, she faded away. But Lady Russell didn't know - and couldn't have known - that when she advised Anne to break the engagement.

Why Anne broke it off

You will note that Anne was willing to proceed with her marriage despite her father's disapproval, since he did not outright forbid or oppose the marriage. Lady Russell, however, who was for all intents and purposes standing in the role of mother to Anne at that age, did outright oppose the marriage, offering quite a number of reasons as to why the match should not proceed. In deference to Lady Russell's pseudo-parental role, Anne allowed herself to be persuaded to call off the match due to Wentworth's lack of funds. This brings us to one of my favorite sentences in the book:

"She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning."

Back to Chapter Three.
On to Chapter Five.

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A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Three

We come today to Chapter Three of Persuasion, in which Netherfield Park is let at last. Oh. Wrong novel. Let us say, rather, that a tenant is found for Kellynch Hall. And that while we are on chapter three, we are still in the preliminary scene-setting section of the story, which does not involve the info-dump and tremblings that you may have seen in any film versions of Persuasion.

If you are in need of a version of the text to read, having left your own copies at home or whatever, you can read Chapter 3 online at Molland's.com, which begins in media res, a phrase that here means "in the morning room at Kellynch Hall", rather than in the middle of any action, as it appears that Mr. Shepherd, the solicitor/agent, and Sir Walter Elliot, the foolish father of our beloved main character, are sitting about reading newspapers, which, while a form of action, isn't exactly active.

Mr. Shepherd suggests that the house might be let to an admiral of the Navy, showing him to be either prescient or else already working to find a tenant for the house and working to soften up Sir Walter Elliot. This chapter gives us one of the first discussions of the Navy found in the book, and is noteworthy for the variety of opinions expressed. Mr. Shepherd and his daughter, Mrs. Clay, use terms like wealthy, liberal (meaning will to spend their money), neat and careful. Anne Elliot speaks of sailors as being hard-working and deserving of all the comforts and privileges any home can give. Sir Walter, of course, looks down on them for two quite separate reasons - one to do with rank, and the other to do with appearance.

. . .Sir Walter's remark was, soon afterwards-- "The profession has its utility, but I should be sorry to see any friend of mine belonging to it."

"Indeed!" was [Mr. Shepherd's] reply, and with a look of surprise.

"Yes; it is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the 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; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man. I have observed it all my life. A man is in greater danger in the navy of being insulted by the rise of one whose father, his father might have disdained to speak to, and of becoming prematurely an object of disgust himself, than in any other line. One day last spring, in town, I was in company with two men, striking instances of what I am talking of; Lord St. Ives, whose father we all know to have been a country curate, without bread to eat; I was to give place to Lord St. Ives, and a certain Admiral Baldwin, the most deplorable-looking personage you can imagine; his face the colour of mahogany, rough and rugged to the last degree; all lines and wrinkles, nine grey hairs of a side, and nothing but a dab of powder at top. 'In the name of heaven, who is that old fellow?' said I to a friend of mine who was standing near, (Sir Basil Morley). 'Old fellow!' cried Sir Basil, 'it is Admiral Baldwin. What do you take his age to be?' 'Sixty,' said I, 'or perhaps sixty-two.' 'Forty,' replied Sir Basil, 'forty, and no more.' Picture to yourselves my amazement; I shall not easily forget Admiral Baldwin. I never saw quite so wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do; but to a degree, I know it is the same with them all: they are all knocked about, and exposed to every climate, and every weather, till they are not fit to be seen. It is a pity they are not knocked on the head at once, before they reach Admiral Baldwin's age."

I have to say that I kind of love Mrs. Clay's reply to him in this scene, for she cajoles him into accepting that other positions also take a toll on a man's health, going so far as to come up with issues that might affect still more "gentlemanly" professions such as soldiering, the law and the clergy: "'The lawyer plods, quite care-worn; the physician is up at all hours, and travelling in all weather; and even the clergyman--' she stopt a moment to consider what might do for the clergyman;--'and even the clergyman, you know, is obliged to go into infected rooms, and expose his health and looks to all the injury of a poisonous atmosphere.'" HA!

Sure enough, not all that long thereafter, Mr. Shepherd comes to Sir Walter with word of a proposed tenant: Admiral Croft, a retired Navy officer, who is married, but with no children. You can see C.E. Brock's representation of him off to the left.

Mr. Shepherd was eloquent on the subject; pointing out all the circumstances of the Admiral's family, which made him peculiarly desirable as a tenant. He was a married man, and without children; the very state to be wished for. A house was never taken good care of, Mr. Shepherd observed, without a lady: he did not know, whether furniture might not be in danger of suffering as much where there was no lady, as where there were many children. A lady, without a family, was the very best preserver of furniture in the world. He had seen Mrs. Croft, too; she was at Taunton with the admiral, and had been present almost all the time they were talking the matter over.

"And a very well-spoken, genteel, shrewd lady, she seemed to be," continued he; "asked more questions about the house, and terms, and taxes, than the Admiral himself, and seemed more conversant with business; and moreover, Sir Walter, I found she was not quite unconnected in this country, any more than her husband; that is to say, she is sister to a gentleman who did live amongst us once; she told me so herself: sister to the gentleman who lived a few years back at Monkford. Bless me! what was his name? At this moment I cannot recollect his name, though I have heard it so lately. Penelope, my dear, can you help me to the name of the gentleman who lived at Monkford: Mrs. Croft's brother?"

It is Anne Elliot who supplies Mr. Shepherd with the name "Mr. Wentworth", and then works herself into quite a tizzy thinking about him:

Mr. Shepherd was completely empowered to act; and no sooner had such an end been reached, than Anne, who had been a most attentive listener to the whole, left the room, to seek the comfort of cool air for her flushed cheeks; and as she walked along a favourite grove, said, with a gentle sigh, "A few months more, and he, perhaps, may be walking here."

Oh, Jane, I see what you did there. What reader, upon suddenly finding Anne Elliot all flushed and fluttery, would be able to refrain from turning the page to learn more about the mysterious he? And that, my friends, is the magic of ending a chapter with a hook. Modern masters of this technique include Dan Brown (love him or hate him, he writes page-turners) and Suzanne Collins in her Gregor the Overlander and Hunger Games series. I am a fan of the chapter-ending hook. And I must say that this sudden interjection of an air of mystery is, like the cool air Anne seeks out in the grove, a pleasant, refreshing thing. Because now we are all certain that our Anne has a Story - a back story, and one to come as well - and we are eager to find out more about it. And we will. In the next chapter. Which we will discuss on Thursday, in keeping with the reading schedule for the month that has us covering six chapters each week (Sunday through Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday), thereby allowing a few more people to catch up with us (I hope) and giving us room for Shakespeare on Wednesday. And maybe some additional conversation about Persuasion.

You can read Chapter Two discussion here.
On to Chapter Four.

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A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Two

We continue today with the second chapter of Persuasion by Jane Austen. (Here's the text online at Molland's, if you need it.) It continues our introductions to the characters in the text - we learn more about Mr. Shepherd and Lady Russell, and our omniscient narrator roots this chapter rather more in Lady Russell's viewpoint without adopting it. We also meet Mrs. Clay, who will play an interesting and important role later in the book. Much of the chapter focuses on the importance (and self-importance) of Sir Walter, whom you can see preening off to the right.

This chapter picks up with two characters introduced briefly in the prior chapter: Mr. Shepherd, an attorney who is Sir Walter's agent and solicitor, and Lady Russell, a friend of the family. I should point out that Lady Russell's husband was the one with the title, hence the use of his surname along with her title. He was a knight, a title also obtained by payment to the crown, but not one that could be inherited - therefore, a baronet is of higher rank than a knight, although both of them are below the aristocracy and nobility (where one finds Dukes and Earls and such). Were she endowed with a title of her own, she'd likely be called by her first name (as in the case of Lady Catherine De Bourgh, whose title came from her father and not her husband). In case you were wondering why there's a difference in the mode of address.

Mr. Shepherd knows that Lady Russell will push Sir Walter to do the right thing, so rather than prod Sir Walter himself, he waits for her to do it, then agrees with her. Lady Russell's character is quickly listed off for us, but I'd like to encourage all of us to slow down and read it again, because it is all too easy for modern readers to get pissed at her as they read the book and to consider her as meddlesome in a negative way and are apt to think of her not treating Anne like an equeal, rather than as a good-hearted, well-intentioned woman with a bias favoring titles. Here's the paragraph on Lady Russell, which emphasizes her economic good sense, slowness in coming to decisions, and strong attachment to the Elliots, as well as her deference to rank:

She was a woman rather of sound than of quick abilities, whose difficulties in coming to any decision in this instance were great, from the opposition of two leading principles. She was of strict integrity herself, with a delicate sense of honour; but she was as desirous of saving Sir Walter's feelings, as solicitous for the credit of the family, as aristocratic in her ideas of what was due to them, as anybody of sense and honesty could well be. She was a benevolent, charitable, good woman, and capable of strong attachments, most correct in her conduct, strict in her notions of decorum, and with manners that were held a standard of good-breeding. She had a cultivated mind, and was, generally speaking, rational and consistent; but she had prejudices on the side of ancestry; she had a value for rank and consequence, which blinded her a little to the faults of those who possessed them. Herself the widow of only a knight, she gave the dignity of a baronet all its due; and Sir Walter, independent of his claims as an old acquaintance, an attentive neighbour, an obliging landlord, the husband of her very dear friend, the father of Anne and her sisters, was, as being Sir Walter, in her apprehension, entitled to a great deal of compassion and consideration under his present difficulties.

They must retrench; that did not admit of a doubt. But she was very anxious to have it done with the least possible pain to him and Elizabeth. She drew up plans of economy, she made exact calculations, and she did what nobody else thought of doing: she consulted Anne, who never seemed considered by the others as having any interest in the question. She consulted, and in a degree was influenced by her in marking out the scheme of retrenchment which was at last submitted to Sir Walter.

We learn that Anne is in favor of an even more drastic plan that what Lady Russell concocts, for Lady Russell knows that Sir Walter will want to retain the appearance of rank and importance, whereas Anne is far more concerned with speaking honestly and in paying down the debt as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, Lady Russell's plan is influenced by Anne - she has found a diplomatic way to allow Sir Walter to pay off his debts within seven years (a significant period of time in this book, in which seven years have passed since Anne Elliot broke off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, although I am getting several chapters ahead in the text by telling you that).

Sir Walter rejects Lady Russell's econimisation out of hand, declaring he'd rather quit Kellynch Hall than be seen to live to a lesser standard of living, which allows Mr. Shepherd to propose that he do just that: Pack up, move to Bath for a term (where one can live well without nearly as much expense), and lease Kellynch Hall out.

"How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!" (A direct quote from the text that serves me well in everyday use, and not merely in the icon to this post.) Lady Russell loves Bath, and is keen to see the Elliots there, even though poor Anne prefers a house in the country. She's also hoping to separate Elizabeth from Mrs. Clay, Mr. Shepherd's widowed daughter (a mother of two children - you will note, perhaps, that they are not mentioned again), who is "beneath" Elizabeth in the same way that Harriet Smith is "beneath" Emma in Emma, but who is a manipulative sycophant. Lady Russell considers Elizabeth's relationship with Mrs. Clay to be potentially dangerous, for reasons which are not yet spelt out, and is pleased to hear the Elliots will be moving to Bath, thereby separating Elizabeth from an undesireable relationship. (Or will it?)

Note that we still haven't been given too much information about our actual main character - we have a very little information from chapter one - she has "delicate features and mild dark eyes", quite different from her father, and her bloom had faded, and she was now quite thin (fashion called for a slight plumpness as the preferred female form at the time, so being thin was not a good thing). In chapter two, we learn that she doesn't really care for appearances (not merely physical appearance, but in all of the things to do with keeping up appearances for society). She is practical, honest and unconcerned with social status. The main thing we know from both chapters is that neither her father nor Elizabeth pays her any mind or accords her any sort of respect. And you ought not hold your breath that you'll learn much more in the next chapter - truly, an outdated way of starting into a story, and yet I adore the suspense. What do you think about it? Could this sort of opening work today? (I think perhaps it could - and does in, say, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but that is written in 19th-century prose (kind of), so perhaps that's not a fair comparison?)

Read the previous chapter.
Move on to the next chapter.

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A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter One

I find myself thwarted by technology on the header this time. Alas. Rather than spending even more hours fumpfing around trying to get the computer world and internet to bow to my will, I'm moving one to the meat of the project, our discussion of Persuasion. As I did for August at the Abbey, I'm not necessarily giving a blow-by-blow recap of the chapters, which I rather hope you have read or will read soon. I will be working from my Norton Anthology copy of Persuasion, although as I've said before, any version will work, and if you don't own a copy or haven't borrowed one from your local library, you may read it online at lots of places, including the e-text available at Molland's, a site which takes its name from a store in Bath mentioned in the text of Persuasion.

The first chapter gives us a list of many of the principal characters in the book, some of whom we don't truly meet here. In fact, we really only see into the minds of the foolish Sir Walter Elliot and his equally foolish daughter, Elizabeth, who, being the eldest unmarried female child, is called "Miss Elliot" when in society.

Sir Walter Elliot

Unlike her previous book, Emma, which began with a brisk description of the main character, this book begins more in the vein of a much earlier composition, Pride and Prejudice, with an introduction to a foolish parent: in this case, it's Sir Walter Elliot, who is quickly and clearly established within the lengthy first sentence as a vain and silly member of the landed gentry. He is a baronet, which is a hereditary title, passed to the eldest male heir from generation to generation; it is not, however, actual aristocracy, but a title that was conveyed to an ancestor in exchange for large donations to the royal coffers. To be so puffed up over a title that is not actually a truly noble one marks Sir Walter Elliot as a fool, something that Austen's initial readers (with their knowledge of titles and status) would have immediately seized upon.

Sir Walter is a widower, the father of three daughters, who lives at Kellynch Hall, an estate in Somersetshire that is, like that of Mr. Bennet's in Pride & Prejudice or the elder Mr. Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility, tied up in such a way that it cannot be divided up. Unlike Mr. Bennet, Sir Walter has the ability to sell the estate, but he would have to sell the complete parcel, something his pride will not allow him to do. The importance of Kellynch Hall is emphasized not only by its placement early on in the first sentence, but in the number of times the its name is repeated in the first page. The importance of the estate to the Elliot family cannot be trivialized: it is a source of pride, certainly, but also of income and sustenance. We learn rather rapidly that Sir Walter has grossly exceeded his means and needs to find some way to economize or risk financial ruin, which necessitates him leasing his estate to someone else for the time being as a means of increasing his own income through rent payments while also reducing his expenses - he will need fewer servants at a house in Bath. The issue of to whom he will lease the estate reveals Sir Walter's petty nature, but also makes clear that Austen is not opposed to the idea of a meritocracy, where one might be upwardly mobile by proving their worth, rather than by having an inheritance.

William Walter Elliot, Esquire

We don't actually meet Mr. Elliot in person until much later in the novel, but he and his existence hang over the Elliots of Kellynch Hall from the get-go. He is a cousin (removed a bit), and the closest male relative. We need know nothing more about him until later, except that he is an attorney, and that he and Sir Walter have had a falling out because the younger Mr. Elliot married a wealthy young woman instead of Elizabeth, Sir Walter's eldest daughter.

Lady Russell

Lady Russell was the close friend of Mrs. Elliot. Mrs Elliot died when Anne, our main character, was only 14 years old. She has been a trusted friend of the family ever since. She did not remarry after the death of her husband, which Austen explains as follows:

That Lady Russell, of steady age and character, and extremely well provided for, should have no thought of a second marriage, needs no apology to the public, which is rather apt to be unreasonably discontented when a woman does marry again, than when she does not[.]

Elizabeth Elliot

Eldest daughter and "lady of the house" since the age of 16. Her personality is quite similar to that of her father's, and she is similarly vain and of a superficial nature, and similarly disinterested in the practicalities of life. Elizabeth's idea of economising is to cut off her charities, hold off on redecorating the drawing room, and to not purchase a gift for Anne when she and her father were living the high life in London. Elizabeth had once been quite the eligible beauty, but never married. She is now 29 years old, which essentially puts her "on the shelf", although she seems rather unaware of that being her position. She is nevertheless quite bitter about Mr. Elliot's disinterest in courting her when she was younger, and quite disinterested in renewing her acquaintance with the now-widowed Mr. Elliot.

Mary Elliot Musgrove

Mary, the youngest of the three girls, is the only one to have married. She is married to Charles Musgrove, eldest son of a neighboring gentleman landowner who stands to inherit the estate of Uppercross when his father dies. We will learn far more about her in chapters to come, but suffice it to say that she eclipses even Mrs. Bennet from Pride & Prejudice when it comes to comic hypochondria.

Anne Elliot

We come at last to an extremely slight description of Anne Elliot, our main character. Anne is now 27, and still single. She was once pretty, although her beauty was never valued by her father or elder sister, but is acknowledged as a woman of superior value by people with actual taste. She is a reliable, practical young woman who was once very much in love with a young sailor, although we do not find out that last bit of information for another several chapters.

Mr. Shepherd

Mr. Shepherd is Mr. Elliot's agent - a gentleman, although not of any real rank, who is charged with overseeing Mr. Elliot's accounts.

On to the next chapter.

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A Winter's Persuasion

Tomorrow marks the start of our discussion in earnest of Persuasion by Jane Austen. I find myself thwarted by my efforts to create a header, but shall persevere and try to figure out what on earth I did to create the one for August at the Abbey. Meanwhile, an introduction to Persuasion is in order.

Persuasion was written by Jane Austen near the end of her life. She had fallen ill with something that caused her weakness and significant pain in her back, as well as discoloration of her skin. It was most likely Addison's disease that killed her, which is a form of tuberculosis that affects the renal system, but no definitive diagnosis has been made (nor could it be, without digging up her remains from under the floor of Winchester Cathedral, and even then it's not a sure thing). Many readers have described the novel as having an "autumnal" feel, based in part on their knowledge that Austen was nearing the end of her life, but it lacks any elegiac vibe, in my opinion. The term "autumnal" also applies because the novel begins in the autumn, and includes wonderful descriptions of nature, both in the countryside and at the seaside.

This novel picks up on some of the more romantic threads from Mansfield Park and Emma, the two other completed novels from her mature years.* The word "romantic" here does not have to do with love affairs, but with the Romantic movement that originated in the late 18th-century and included the works of the poets Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Scott and the music of composers such as Beethoven. Romanticism embraced a special fondness for nature, particularly in its picturesque, wild or unimproved forms. Similarly, the Romantic movement tended to exalt the success of the common man and to hold less respect for the ancient aristocracy. Although subtle, Austen's references to nature beginning with Mansfield Park and moving through Emma and into Persuasion place her if not firmly in, then at least straddling into the Romantic movement; her respect for the success of Navy men, based at least in part on having two of her own brothers in the British Navy, undoubtedly influenced her decision to show William Price's desire to make good in Mansfield Park and her near glorification of the Navy in Persuasion, which effectively compares and contrasts our hero, Captain Wentworth, a Naval officer made extremely rich, with Sir Walter Elliot, a foppish wastrel who has lived beyond his means.

*Austen's first two published novels, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, were first written in her late teens and early twenties, and revised at several points in time. Northanger Abbey began its life as Susan, then became Catherine when she changed her main character's name, and still sat in the drawer at the time of Austen's death; a letter to her niece from the spring of 1817 indicates that she wasn't quite satisfied with the manuscript yet, and that she was keeping it "on the shelve".

With past novels, Austen gave her manuscripts some resting time, then returned for further revisions. Although none of her manuscripts survive for any of the earlier novels, information in letters written by Austen and in a chronology prepared by her sister, Cassandra, indicate that she was a dedicated reviser. Jane Austen completed the first full draft of the novel she called The Elliots on July 16, 1816. Within days, however, Austen found herself unhappy with the ending she'd crafted, and re-wrote a second ending, completing it on August 6, 1816. As was her custom, she set the manuscript aside for a rest; a few months later, she commenced work on a new manuscript, which remained unfinished at the time of her death (but is nevertheless available, either as she left it, or completed by someone else, as Sanditon).

Persuasion was, in point of fact, not 100% completed - Austen would undoubtedly have done another set of revisions before sending it to press, had she the time, strength and ability to do so. Instead, her brother Henry and sister Cassandra were left with the completed first draft of The Elliots and a much-revised (but not finished, to Austen's mind) version of Catherine, which were published together in a four-volume set (two volumes each) as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both of which spend a considerable amount of time in Bath, as it so happens.

As I said yesterday, I've figured out a reading schedule that allows us to move through six chapters per week, with a break on Wednesdays. This means that we'll be discussing chapter 24 (or, if you prefer, Vol. II, chapter 12) on January 30th. On January 31st, we'll look at the cancelled chapter. Austen's family members kept her heavily edited and Xed out chapter, giving us some insight into how she worked and edited. It is interesting to see how hasty the first ending was, and how she corrected some of her pacing. It is worth considering that on an additional edit, she would likely have further corrected the pacing of the novel, which still has a few places near the end that feel a bit rushed. Her revisions would undoubtedly have resulted in additional length for this novel, which is only slightly longer than her shortest work, Northanger Abbey.

I hope to see you tomorrow for Chapter One. Just don't expect it too early in the day, okay?

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