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Thursday, July 12

Persuasion, A Question: What Are Your Thoughts?

Gentle Readers,

Some weeks ago my online friend Eric asked me a simple question: Which Jane Austen book would I recommend? He had already read Pride and Prejudice and seen the movie. First, I was so excited that a man wanted to read a Jane Austen novel, so without hesitation I replied: Persuasion.

Eric is 2/3 of the way through the book, and he has a few questions. For the fun of it I thought I would solicit the Janeites to help answer them. Here are his observations:

By the way, I'm two thirds of the way through Persuasion. It's an odd book compared to Pride and Prejudice. Austen mocks people for their excessive class pride but she seems so class conscious herself it seems a little hypocritical. And Ann seems a little confused, too. She's embarrassed that her family was forced to rent the manor and move to Bath but her original idea was to rent the manor and move into a cottage in their own village? That's such a bizarre idea. I tend to wonder why they didn't move to Bath sooner; the father and sister seem to be perfectly suited for that lifestyle.

And I had forgotten that the sisters were quite as old as they are. Still on the market in their late 20s? Shocking! I know Elizabeth's age is made into a joke (she doesn't seem to understand how she has gotten so old). But Ann is certainly piling on the suiters, isn't she? Anyway, I'm enjoying it. Looking forward to seeing the movie! Eric


So, readers. Please feel free to make a comment and share your well-informed thoughts with Eric. I will mull his points over and make comments as well.

Ms. Place

14 comments:

Ms. Place said...

Eric, Jane completed this book before she became terminally ill. While she had time to finish it, I suspect she did not have the chance to revise it to her satisfaction. Often, a novel's inconsistencies are dealt with during the revision stages, so she must have inadvertently allowed a few loose threads to dangle.

In addition, the society Jane Austen lived in was vastly different from ours. Back then people's roles were strictly circumscribed and their positions were rather static. Jane was no different from her counterparts: She adhered to Society's rules, but she rebelled as much as she could within those confines. First, she did not marry, despite the pressures she must have felt to do so. And second, she observed human nature with a droll eye, pointing out inconsistencies and making sport of sublimely ridiculous behavior.

eric3000 said...

It's an honor (or honour) to be mentioned on this wonderful blog!

That's a good point about Austen not being able to revise the novel very much. I find some of the characters to be a little inconsistent in their attitudes and behaviors and that could explain it.

I understand Austen was simply reflecting the social hierarchy of the time, but I just think both she (as the narrator) and Ann are excessively harsh at times about people of inferior social ranking, while simultaneously criticizing other characters for doing essentially the same thing. I don't remember noticing that in Pride and Prejudice.

Thanks again for including me in the discussion. Are there not many male Janites?

Hasenauer said...

Anne Elliot is not snobby about people of 'inferior rank'. Coming from a baronet's family, there are few people above her station. Yet she is very fond of the Musgroves, the Harvilles, the Crofts, Captain Benwick, Charles Hayter and Mrs Smith, and in love with Captain Wentworth, technically all people 'below' her. She is never blind to the faults of Lady Russell, her father and sister, and is repulsed by the Dalrymples and her cousin, all people of her own rank. The main objection to Mrs Clay is not so much her inferiority of rank but inferiority of mind, her insincerity and powers of manipulation.

Austen often attributes very bad behavior to people of the upper middle class and makes references in most of her novels to sensible, intelligent servants, something almost never done before Dickens.

eric3000 said...

Yes, I agree with most of that. But could Mrs. Clay's inferiority of mind really make her ill-suited for Anne's father, one of the most inferior minds in England? But I understand there are other well-founded objections to Mrs. Clay.

Damselfly said...

By the way, I'm two thirds of the way through Persuasion. It's an odd book compared to Pride and Prejudice. Austen mocks people for their excessive class pride but she seems so class conscious herself it seems a little hypocritical.

---They say that this was the closest book to her life..so it may seem very personal in it's style of writing.---

And Ann seems a little confused, too. She's embarrassed that her family was forced to rent the manor and move to Bath but her original idea was to rent the manor and move into a cottage in their own village? That's such a bizarre idea.

---I feel she is more embarassed of her father and sister's conciet and judgemental style than having to move th Bath. It always struck me that Ann was more aware of societies cultural rules than her father and sister who were more wrapped up in themselves, not wanting to sacrifice for propriety...a bit like Mrs. Bennet in P&P who was a complete embarassment but never recognised that in herself and still strived for a better place in the surrounding class structure.----

I tend to wonder why they didn't move to Bath sooner; the father and sister seem to be perfectly suited for that lifestyle.

---I could be wrong but Bath wasn't really a primary residence for most of the upper crust, it was more a place to vacation and socialize and that most the elbow-rubbers has manors elsewhere.---

And I had forgotten that the sisters were quite as old as they are. Still on the market in their late 20s? Shocking!

---Shocking indeed...lol!---

I know Elizabeth's age is made into a joke (she doesn't seem to understand how she has gotten so old). But Ann is certainly piling on the suiters, isn't she?

---That's the part of the story I struggled with. The number of suiters she had at her age, as well as the suiter's she had (her sister's husband) prior. I think here Jane Austen was really going against the society she uses so well in all her books...the idea that Jane, not being the more beautiful sister, was full of personality and kindness and ultimatly that will win out over all....gasp!-----

I really hope you enjoy it Eric and there are more...I've loved them all!

Damselfly said...

I mean...

"the idea that ANN, not being the more beautiful sister, was full of personality and kindness and ultimatly that will win out over all."

sorry

eric3000 said...

"---That's the part of the story I struggled with. The number of suiters she had at her age, as well as the suiter's she had (her sister's husband) prior. I think here Jane Austen was really going against the society she uses so well in all her books...the idea that Jane, not being the more beautiful sister, was full of personality and kindness and ultimatly that will win out over all....gasp!-----"

Yeah, it's a little difficult to determine exactly how attractive Anne really is. Is she just pretty with a great personality or is she really beautiful? I understand that she gets prettier as her spirits lift, but still...

But the really difficult one to figure out is Mr. Elliot (the cousin). At various points he's either extremely good looking, average but with a good personality to make up for his lack of looks, or he has a horrible underbite. Again, part of that is the subjective view of who is looking at him but I still wonder how attractive he really is.

Sorry, Ms. Place. I'll try not to completely take over your blog!

Ms. Place said...

But the really difficult one to figure out is Mr. Elliot (the cousin). At various points he's either extremely good looking, average but with a good personality to make up for his lack of looks, or he has a horrible underbite.

Like hasenauer, I believe Persuasionis Jane’s critique of the British class system, but I don’t think she condemns the values of the upper classes entirely. She mocks its narrow minded rules through the characters of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, and condemns social ambitions at the expense of others through the actions of Mr. Elliot, who will say anything and do anything, including lying and manipulating, to achieve his ambitions. Anne’ character, and this is my personal take, more closely represents Jane’s own viewpoint in that Anne clearly sets a high value on friendship, constancy, and loyalty regardless of class or social standing. Anne chooses to visit Mrs. Smith, a friend whose social rank means nothing to Sir Walter. Ironically, Anne is rewarded for her good deed by learning about Mr. Elliot’s true character from her friend.

Mr. Elliot, I believe would look handsome or not depending on who viewed him – those who could ‘really’ see him probably saw the internal flaws expressed externally, and those who fawned over him likely saw a handsomer figure.

Thank you hasenauer and damselfly for your thoughtful comments.

Ms. Place said...

Eric, you are not taking over the blog. I love you using this forum for discussion!

Icha said...

I think the 'odd' thing about Persuasion (and also Northanger Abbey if you ever read it) is because it's hidden semi-autobiographical. See Ashton Dennis' interpretation of it.
http://www.theloiterer.org/ashton/dancer2.html#P

Basically, Anne Elliot was Jane Austen, and Capt Wentworth was Tom Lefroy (JA's youthful, and long-term I dare say, love). Many things in Persuasion mirrored the real thing that happened to Jane and Tom. It's unlikely for you to have Radovici's A Youthful Love, which is out of print now:
http://becomingjane.blogspot.com/2007/07/radovicis-youthful-love-jane-austen-and.html

But the book explored many similarities to JA/TL; and also talked about Northanger Abbey.

Like Anne, Jane was ambivalent with her own society. For instance, she loved Mrs. Anne Lefroy, her friend and also Tom Lefroy's aunt. But Mrs. Lefroy was also a bit Lady Russell here; she basically orchestrated the removal of Tom from Hampshire back to Ireland.

Stephanie said...

I think Jane also created the number of suitors for Anne more as a reflection of her superiority of character over her sisters than anything else.

She was obviously a nicer, better person, and therefore more attractive than her proud and snotty sisters. At least that's how I interpreted it.

Anne is my favourite JA heroine. She's humble, keenly observant and intuitive and very smart. She also knows her flaws.

@Eric
There are a few male Janeites, however they are definitely the minority.

Miss Anne said...

In fact, Jane Austen herself disliked Bath intensely. But artistically speaking, she would have to put Anne Elliot into a larger society than that of her village, because Anne had to have sufficient opportunity to break away from her dreadful (vain and silly) father and sister. She is not the snob her father and sister are; she visits often her old school friend now fallen upon hard times, a woman her father dismisses as a mere Smith (names reveal a lot of family background in English novels. Someone with the commonplace Smith for a surname is definitely from inferior lineage.) What is interesting about Anne is her coming into her own, being valued for her intrinsic merit. This is not something either her father or her sister understand.

The social commentary is there is PP; Lady Catherine de Burgh is the worst of snobs, and Mr. Collins is the toady, sucking up to her high status. The Bingley sisters are not only nouveau riches, they also are climber of the worst sort. It takes some knowledge of that era, but Bingley is probably the heir of a merchant or banker, since the family has no estate. It is a subtle insight to understanding the complexity of Fitzwilliam Darcy that a landed gentleman such as he is would have Bingley as a close friend. The Bennets are of a better place in English society than are the Bingleys, even though the entail will pass the estate to a collateral branch.

Much was changing in English society during Jane's lifetime. A lot of it was uncomfortable to her, but she did show it in all her books and with a pretty clear, if not always consistent, eye.

Mags said...

Actually Anne was not ashamed that they had to leave Kellynch, she was ashamed that her father had acquired so much debt that he had to leave Kellynch. She didn't care how they had to debase themselves for him to get out of debt. Lady Russell moderated her suggestions, because she knew Sir Walter and Miss would never go for it. Hard to believe in our charge-everything modern world, but there was a time when having more debt than one could discharge was shameful.

Persuasion is about class, but from a different perspective; she saw the old inherited money class declining (Sir Walter) and the new self-made man rising (Wentworth).

There's a wonderful book by Brian Southam called Jane Austen and the Navy, that has a lot of interesting stuff in it about Persuasion. The timing of the book is interesting, both when it was written and when it was set. It was set in the time while Napoleon was confined on Elba, before Waterloo, but written after Waterloo, so Jane knew the outcome of the war. She saw Wellington and the Army being feted and celebrated when after 1805, it was Nelson and the Navy after Trafalgar, a victory so decisive it took the French navy out of the equation for the rest of the war and allowed the public to "forget" the Navy. Southam opines that Jane wanted to remind the public that the Navy had done a lot for them, too.

And Wentworth was not Tom Lefroy. Jane Austen's writing was not so simplistic. You might as well say he was Tom Fowle, for Cassandra was probably more constant to his memory than Jane was to Tom Lefroy's. But Wentworth is a much more complex character than that, I think.

Ms. Place said...

One of the reasons I adore Persuasion is the complex, multi-dimensional characters Jane created in Anne and Captain Wentworth. I think so many of us can relate to having been influenced in an important decision and regretting it, like Anne, or still yearning for the person who rejected you, like Wentworth.

I agree about Jane's feelings about Society. Some of her most biting observations since Pride and Prejudice are directed at Sir Walter and Elizabeth and Mr. Elliot. Neither they, nor Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, and the Misses Bingley would recognize themselves in these novels: they would be too full of themselves to acknowledge their failings.

And Mags, thank you for directing us to Brian Southam's book, which I shall look up at the library posthaste.