This is the first day of Advent with Austen, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility.
Hope to see you later today for AwA Twitter Movie Night’s viewing of Pride and Prejudice (2005).
This is the third time I’ve read Persuasion, the first two were very close together, about 10 years ago. Just as I suspected even back then, this time around it became official: Persuasion has overthrown Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel.
New things caught my attention this time around. I realized for instance, how innovative Persuasion must have been at the time, with its focus on a woman’s intimate point of view. Her earlier novels use an objective narrator, but Persuasion goes further and we get an “interior” perspective of Anne’s thoughts. At times I think it even comes close to stream of consciousness.
She now felt a great inclination to go to the outer door; she wanted to see if it rained. Why was she to suspect herself of another motive? Captain Wentworth must be out of sight. She left her seat, she would go, one half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was. She would see if it rained.
Notice the subtle self-awareness and even mockery. It must have been a writing style completely new at the time and we can only wonder where Austen would do if she lived longer. Charlotte Brontë does something very similar with Jane Eyre, but that’s 27 years later! JE was also considered radical because it put a plain woman in the lead, but Anne is not far from it, with her “lost bloom”. Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: a Life said something very interesting about this:
[Persuasion is Austen’s] present to herself, to Miss Sharp, to Cassandra, to Martha Lloyd.., to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring.
On a different note, Austen is not the revolutionary type and is far from wanting to challenge the social status quo (Mrs Clay, shame on you for wanting to step out of place!). Yet, Captain Wentworth is an ode to the self-made men if there ever was one. How heroic, how strong and dignified he is, compared to the Elliot family and their pedigree.
On yet another note, this time around I couldn’t help comparing Anne Elliot with Fanny Price. Their families undervalue them, both have strong moral compasses and a discreet presence. Fanny would probably be the only other Austen heroine who could support Persuasion’s plot. I think Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor and Marianne wouldn’t be persuaded and Catherine wouldn’t wait eight years. What do you think?
I’ve often seen Anne and Fanny compared, so it was interesting to try to figure out what makes Anne loved and admired by some many, while Fanny is often the least popular of Austen’s heroines.
First, as a friend of mine said, Anna has “eaten her own dust”. She’s suffered a big disappointment of her own making and that makes her less naïve than Fanny. Age, of course, also helps, as well as the fact that Anne has a “place” in her family (even if undervalued), while Fanny is almost a non-person at Mansfield.
But what makes Anne so great are the moments when we see her sharp mind in action. She’s ironic and often we see her mentally roll her eyes at the silly people around her. In one scene she’s even positively scheming, when she expertly maneuvers herself to a chair close to Captain Wentworth at the concert in Bath. One of my favorite moments in the book is when she’s returning to Uppercross after Louisas’s fall:
Don’t talk of it, don’t talk of it,” he [Captain Wentworth} cried. “Oh God! That I had not given way to her at the fatal moment! Had I done as I ought! But so eager and so resolute! Dear, sweet Louisa!”
Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is proof of Anne Elliot’s subtle mental subversion. I love all the little indicators about Anne’s “level-headness”, intelligence and her own value of these traits. She is the perfect mix of passion and practicality. Fanny on the other hand, is more of an early version of the future Victorian feminine ideal: suffering in silence, docile, erased, stoic.
I tried to look for evidence whether or not Austen knew she was dying while writing Persuasion. She started it in 1715 and finished it in mid 1816, by which time she and her family probably knew she was seriously ill. She died late 1817, still revising the novel. Wikipedia says that “Austen wrote Persuasion in a hurry, during the onset of the illness from which she eventually died.”
If she did know she was sick and feared for her life, did that somehow influence Persuasion‘s plot and characters? It’s interesting to think about the book in this light. It’s a novel about second chances and the right to personal pursuit of happiness. On purpose or not, it is a lovely message to leave behind in a last novel. As Mrs. Croft said, “We none of us want to be in calm waters all our life.”
Other thoughts: Fyrefly’s Book Blog, The Blue Stocking Society, Dot Scribbles, The Literate Mother, Jayne’s Books, The Literary Stew, Open Mind, Insert Book., A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook, Just Books, Rebecca Reads, All Consuming Books, Fashion Piranha, Presenting Lenore, Alita Reads, Worthwhile Books, LesleyW’s Book Nook, The Book Pirate, Fingers and Prose, Desperate Reader, You’ve GOTTA read this, Adventures in Reading, MariReads, Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Stella Matutina, Deliciously Clean Reads, Lost in Books, Reading Reflections, My Random Acts of Reading, Stacy’s Books, The Literary Omnivore, Books. Lists. Life., Tony’s Reading List, A Striped Armchair, Lit Endeavors, Aneca’s World, Bookworm Nation, Shelf Love