Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.”

While Northanger Abbey was the first novel written by Jane Austen and sold to a publisher by her brother, Henry, in fact it was repurchased by the author and not published until six months after her death in December 1817.  Austen’s parody of 17th century Gothic novels is told with a good-natured humour, but a valuable lesson lies beneath the surface of its narrative.

Catherine Morland, the daughter of a vicar, is given the chance to travel to Bath with a respectable family called the Thorpes.  Isabella Thorpe is her particular friend and the two absorb the delights of the town with an eager anticipation.  Yet Catherine’s sheltered upbringing has perhaps made her more artless than your average girl of her age, and her innocent and credulous nature allows for a manipulation of her desires by those with more experience in the arts of enterprise and self-interest.  Her steady diet of Gothic novels, combined with her somewhat protected existence, contribute to her highly erroneous perceptions of the motivations and behaviour of others.  When an answer does not immediately present itself, she speeds off in wild internal ramblings of imagination, that rarely represent reality.  Likewise, when she is faced with obvious circumstances, she fails to perceive them.  Her lack of discernment with regard to John Thorpe’s infatuation of her remains puzzling until her understanding is brought into context.  What experience does this young sheltered girl have to bring her presence of mind and an ability to discern attitudes outside of her usual element of a protected existence and romantic Gothic narratives?  With her uncritical naivetĂ© and wild flights of fancy, initially one wonders if Catherine will be able to navigate through the pitfalls of her own mistaken perceptions to arrive at an outcome that will benefit her innocent, and yet misguided, nature.

source

In many ways, Northanger Abbey is a comedy, as Austen treats her character with a gentle type of humour. Catherine, while having admirable qualities, is living a delusion, cultivated by her reading material, yet her mistakes are of innocent intent due to ignorance rather than willful human folly. Her awakening, while somewhat arduous, is brief, and she soon demonstrates her innate ability to put into action the values instilled by her family and, with the guidance of the young gentleman clergyman, Henry Tilney, both her instincts and maturity grow, while her wildly unrestrained imagination is harnessed, and diminished into a sensible and mature culmination of happiness and contentment.  

While this book doesn’t necessarily showcase Austen’s usual brilliance, it is solidly developed and an engaging story until the last chapter. Then the book falls all to pieces. Somehow Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s sister, makes a brilliant match with a character, “a man of fortune,” who has never been mentioned by anyone, including the bride herself, until four paragraphs from the end of the novel; the General (Henry’s father), who has been somewhat gruff and stringent, yet ofttimes displaying a pleasant character, turns into a mercenary, blustering, (and may I add, foolish) tyrant; and Catherine and Henry’s success in love looks in jeopardy.  Yet all is tied up in a sentence or two, and the reader is left feeling like they just hit a brick wall.  It’s not Austen at her finest, yet the book is a charming experiment and an example of Austen at the origin of her art.

Ruin of Kenilworth Castle – a gothic-type building
source Wikipedia

Northanger Abbey has the unique distinction for being known as the novel that alludes to a number of Gothic suspense novels.  If you are a Gothic connoisseur, here is the list for your enjoyment:

  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
  • Clermont by Regina Maria Roche
  • Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
  • Mysterious Warnings by Eliza Parsons
  • Necromancer of the Black Forest by Ludwig Flammenberg
  • Midnight Bell by Francis Latham
  • Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath
  • Horrid Mysteries by Carl Gross (translated by Peter Will)
  • The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis

Emma by Jane Austen

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings in existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Young Emma Woodhouse of Hartfield has been the pet of her father and governess, and perhaps indulged by both to a faulty degree.  However, her character is one of kindness and charity, but enhanced with a healthy interest in the business of others, especially if it includes the subject of marriage.  Mr. Knightley, a close family friend and owner of Donwell Abbey, attempts to correct Emma and steer her on a more prudent path, but Emma’s high spirits require the correction of life experience. As she stumbles through her attempts at matchmaking based on her faulty reasoning, we see Emma grow from a willful, impressionable, decisive girl into a more careful, thoughtful, and empathetic woman.

From the first sentence we can see that this is a type of coming-of-age novel. The struggles and challenges of life are what develop strength of character. Because Emma has lived a relatively trouble-free and pampered life, we initially see in her character a willful blindness which often only serves to punctuate the errors in her thinking and of her actions.  The tension in the story is the uncertainty of Emma’s transformation.  We know that she is able to learn, but with her stubborn nature, will that be possible?  Her personal tenacity does not allow for an instant conversion, and instead we see small steps of correction in Emma’s character, even while she gets into more scrapes and misunderstandings.  Yet Emma realizes, or is forced to realize, the value of the advice of those closest to her, admitting her faults and seeking to amend them.

Hartfield
(Squerryes Court)

As I contemplated this read, I felt that it was not simply Emma who was often mistaken. Not only is Emma completely blind, but all the other characters exhibit their own sort of blindness to varying degrees.  Not only does no one know their neighbour or accurately guess their motivations, often people don’t even know themselves.  Each person is often attempting to hide their observations, either out of personal gain or out of societal politeness, but in each case, these decisions are shown to be unwise. Does this tell us that by understanding our fellow human beings that we will gain a deeper knowledge of ourselves?  However, perhaps Mr. Knightley had a more accurate indication of the issue, when he stated, “Mystery; Finesse —- how they pervert the understanding!  My Emma, does not every thing serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?”  We need to be truthfully transparent with one another, even if it is difficult or uncomfortable, to truly cultivate relationships with minimum complication.

By the end of the novel, Emma is a much wiser woman.  Are all of her faults erased?  Not at all, but many of those faults are what make part of her character so delightful.  It is the opening of her mind, the willingness to admit her wrongs and the receptiveness to bettering herself, that makes her a truly likeable heroine.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

“The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.”

Mr. Dashwood of Norland Park has passed away leaving his wife, Mrs. Dashwood, and three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret to the mercy of their half-brother, John Dashwood, now owner of their ancestral home.  While John had promised his father to care for his step-mother and sisters and settle money on them for their comfort, he is quickly and deftly talked out of giving them anything by his mercenary wife. The Dashwood family is left to accept Barton Cottage, a small cottage in Devonshire, offered to them by a distant cousin, Mr. Sir John Middleton.  Yet before they leave Norland, Elinor forms an attachment with Edward Ferrars, the brother of her callous sister-in-law, a good-natured young man, who appreciates Elinor’s sense and temperance.

At Barton Cottage, the family meet their benefactor, Sir John, a rather buffoonish cordial man, with a wife with a character as warm as winter. Despite their reduced circumstances, the Dashwoods accept their new life with, more-or-less, a cheerful resignation and begin to move about in society, meeting the dour and grave Colonel Brandon.  Brandon is attracted to Marianne, but at thirty-five years old, he seems rather ancient to her, and his disposition does not exemplify all the sensitivity, feeling and passion that she considers essential in a man.  During an accident in the rain, Marianne is rescued by a young gentleman, Willoughby, and his nature, in contrast to Brandon’s, appears to be everything her heart desires.  His love of books, music and poetry correspond identically to hers; his impulsiveness and his carefree love of pleasure; his immoderate abandon in the face of love.  Their marriage soon appears to be a surety, but when Marianne learns of his engagement to another, her heart and all her preconceived ideals are damaged.

Meanwhile, Edward Ferrars pays a visit, yet while Elinor feels an ardent connection between them, Edward appears indecisive.  She soon learns of his engagement to a Miss Lucy Steele and, contrary to Marianne’s disposition, she is forced to suppress her natural feeling for the sake of convention, but also self-respect.

Gathering Flowers in a
Devonshire Garden
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

The juxtaposition of sense and sensibility is played out and embodied in the characters of Elinor and Marianne.  Elinor’s sense is soon made apparent.  “Elinor, the eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgement, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to impudence.  She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.”

Marianne, in contrast, is all unbridled sensibility, and shows a contempt for those who are not as passionate.  While her sensibility is a sensation of passion induced by positive emotions and experience, such as love, poetry, music, and a response to beauty, it is a wild impulsive, unrestrained, vehement emotion, and Marianne allows herself to be governed by it entirely.  As young colt strains against the teaching rein, so Marianne pulls against the constraints that society places on her as a young woman in Georgian England.

London (1808)
William Turner
source Wikiart

Yet while Austen shows the differences and consequences of the two character traits, with her usual insights and character crafting she does not put either sister in a tidy box.  While Marianne is wild and impulsive, she also show glimmers of sense.  As her character develops, Willoughby’s true nature is revealed to her, and through him her own nature is reflected back into her eyes.  She recognizes her faults and strives for change.  Conversely, it is not that responsible, pragmatic Elinor doesn’t feel; she has similar strength of emotion and attachment as her sister, but her emotions are bridled.  Elinor’s sensibility is there, but it does not overpower her sense and therefore allows her to see situations in a clearer light, and from that she is able to govern her life in a way that not only brings respect and contentment to herself, but is beneficial for those people around her.

As usual, Austen gives us a kaleidoscope of characters and while there is strict delineation between the different levels of society, she also shows the colourful interactions that cross those boundaries between them.  She juxtaposes two situations, one were engagements are incorrectly assumed for both sisters, and then the turmoil of both sisters when it is known that Willoughby and Edward are engaged to other women.  Yet it is the characters that offer us a lesson, as their behaviour determines the outcomes of each situation, and gives us an intimate look at the correct balance of both “sense” and sensibility”.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hours, and consolation in a distressed one ……”

Persuasion was the only major Austen novel that I had not read, so I was thrilled when Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine announced her read-along.  I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the novel quite as much as Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, but I’d heard enough positive reviews to whet my curiousity. And so I plunged in.

Anne Elliot is one of three daughters of Sir Walter Elliot, a vain baronet who is obsessed with the peerage.  While her sister, Elizabeth, is somewhat bossy, and Mary proves a proud, yet questionable, invalid, Anne shows a quiet reserve with more than average good sense and judgement.  Eight years ago, her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth was almost certain, but without a mother for guidance, and influenced by a respected friend of the family, Lady Russell, she broke off the engagement with a deep regret.

Manor House, Somersetshire (Halsway Manor)
source Wikipedia

Now, eight years later, Anne is confronted with a number of upheavals in her life. Not only does she and her family have to leave their ancestral home, Kellynch-hall, because of reduced finances, but Captain Wentworth has returned, and to further complicate matters, his sister and her husband are the new tenants of Kellynch-hall.  The blows would have reduced a weaker woman to despondency, but Anne is not only resourceful, she has learned to suffer life’s troughs with resilience, and her positive attitude brings her through the stormy seas.

Initially, Captain Wentworth is all resentment and cool responses, but gradually, as he sees Anne’s quiet sacrifices, calm demeanour, and strength of character, his acrimony softens towards her.  Yet, at the same time, he appears to be playing the eligible bachelor, and it is uncertain as to which woman he will chose to be Mrs. Wenworth.  Both of Anne’s sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa, vie for the title and Anne must watch the perceived courtships with an uneasy mind.  A near-tragedy causes introspection in more hearts than one, Mr. Eliot, Anne’s cousin and heir to Kellynch, enters the picture to further obscure the matters of courtship, but the final culmination exemplifies that a steadfast love is strengthened by misfortune and time, and the past lovers reunite in a now more matured and seasoned alliance.

Lyme Regis

Persuasion is a tale of new beginnings and second chances, not only for Anne and Wentworth, but for the characters surrounding them. Anne’s family, because of their financial straits, must begin a new life in Bath; both the Musgrove girls will be looking forward to the start of their married lives; and even Mrs. Smith, who has found herself in poverty after her husband’s death, is given a second chance at the end of the book as, with help from Wentworth, she recovers money from her husband’s estate that will help her to live more comfortably.

While Austen, as per her usual method, allows the reader to examine certain segments of society, in this book especially, she seems to be highlighting the movements between the social classes, either by marriage or by economic necessity.  Within Anne’s family, we not only have the family as a whole dropping in perceived standing by the lack of money to maintain their position at Kellynch, we also have the numerous characters dealing with the descent with different outlooks.  Sir Walter is obsessed with his Baronetage book and the importance of his place within the realm of society.  At first, he employs denial as to their new position, but thanks to a rather blind self-importance, is able to be persuaded to accept their new situation as if nothing has practically changed.  Anne’s sister, Elizabeth, too, acts as if nothing has altered, yet you can see at certain points in the novel that she is aware of the disadvantage of their new situation and that they must have a heightened awareness of appearance to maintain the respect and dignity that they view as a societal necessity.  Anne does not seem to be bothered by the family’s reduced circumstances, as position to her comes secondary to character and honesty and integrity.  In the old governess, Mrs. Smith we can examine what has come from her rise in stature upon her marriage, and then her subsequent fall upon her husband’s death when she finds herself in financial troubles.  Finally, cousin William Elliot falls from his seat of grace with his scandalous behaviour at the end of the novel.

Pulteny Bridge, Bath
18th century
source Wikipedia

We are given the title of Persuasion for the book, yet Austen did not choose this title; instead her beloved brother, Henry, gave the book its name, as it was published posthumously, and there is no indication of what Austen’s preferred title would have been.  Cassandra Austen, Jane’s older sister, reportedly said that a name for this novel had been discussed, and the most likely title was “The Elliots,” but as Austen passed away before selecting a definitive title, no one will know for certain her final choice. Nevertheless the word “persuasion”, or a derivative of it, occurs approximately 30 times in the novel, a good indication that it is one of the main themes.  Yet as I finished the novel, what metamorphosed out the “persuasion” was the stronger theme of duty.  While Wentworth still appears to be disgruntled by Anne’s choice to follow her family’s wishes in breaking off their engagement eight years before, she however appears to have a different sentiment.  At the end of the novel, Anne concludes:

“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.  To me, she was in the place of a parent.  Do not mistake me, however.  I am not sayng that she did not err in her advice.  It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.  But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience.   I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.”

In the book Anne is consistently dutiful, to her friend, Mrs. Smith, to her family and, more importantly, to her own conscience; and so we learn that a strong sense of duty and obedience to it is more crucial than any personal inclinations or aspirations.

Sandhill Park, Somerset (1829)
J.P. Neale/W. Taylor
source Wikipedia

Persuasion deviates from Austen’s usual style and content.  By having a hero without ties to nobility, Austen explores in depth an area of society that had to date been given only a cursory treatment by her. Anne, as an older heroine, is presented in a new way; the reader learns of her character not necessarily through how she actually behaves, but more through her silence and by seeing her in contrast to the intensely flawed people around her. Contrary to other Austen novels, the romance develops almost in isolation, as the characters hold little conversation with each other until the end of the novel.  While the novel was interesting for these new features, I felt it to be weaker than Austen’s previous novels, lacking a certain plausibility at times and a solid cohesiveness.  As she was writing Persuasion, Austen was ill with the disease that would eventually kill her, and because of this fact, her usual detailed pattern of revision was not completed; in this light, the diminished quality of the novel can certainly be understood.  However, while not shining with her usual brilliance, Austen still produced a jewel in its own right, and perhaps more intriguing because of its flaws, as these flaws contribute to its uniqueness.  As the character of Anne experiences a new beginning in Persuasion, so does the novel indeed appear to symbolize a new beginning by Austen, this beginning sadly cut short due to her untimely death.

Further reading:

Persuasion Read-Along Update #4

This read-along is hosted by Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine.

Book II – Chapters 7 to 12


Wentworth arrives in Bath without any perceptible prodding and meets Anne. Later at a concert party, they are able to engage in deeper conversation, seemingly to the pleasure of both parties.  She tries to speak with him in depth again during the evening, yet Mr. Eliot, her cousin, interferes with her plans and Wentworth finally abruptly takes his leave.  Anne concludes that he is jealous of Mr. Eliot.

The next day Anne meets with Mrs. Smith who is curious as to her feelings towards Mr. Eliot, whereupon Anne reveals her complete disinterest in him. Mrs. Smith proceeds to label him a cad and a bounder and tells a damaging story of how he was instrumental in ruining her dear husband and driving him to his death.  Mr. Eliot had married only for money and had planned to sell Kellynch.  Yet upon hearing that Mrs. Clay has designs on Sir Walter, he rushed to the family’s bosom in hopes of preventing the match and a possible future heir from stealing his inheritance.

Charles, Mary, Mrs. Musgrove, Henrietta and Captain Harville arrive in Bath and Anne spots Mr. Eliot, who should be out of town, speaking with Mrs. Clay. A mystery!  While visiting with the crowd of friends and relatives, including Captain Wentworth and Mrs. Croft, Anne spots Wentworth writing a letter. Imagine her shocked surprise when she is given the letter, a love letter to her confessing his enduring love in spite of the obstacles between them.  When she meets him in the street and he accompanies her home, he expresses all his passionate feelings which he has been keeping pent up.

They marry and everyone is either happy or resigned, except Mr. Eliot who runs off with Mrs. Clay and sets her up as his mistress, proving himself a despicable character.  Which, of course, we all knew, whether he be called Eliot, or Wickham, or Willoughby, or Mr. Elton, or ……..?

Lady Dalrymple & Sir Walter Eliot
source Wikimedia Commons

Thoughts:  Hmm …….   Honestly, the way Austen writes, it’s hard to find fault with her, but I think this novel was certainly one of her weaker ones.  I was left a little puzzled by Anne and Wentworth’s romance.  Okay, so they haven’t seen each other in eight years …….. shouldn’t one at least have changed? Shouldn’t they both have changed?  Does it seem wise then to brood at each other from a distance, throw out pointed comments on occasion, slyly observe and then, right at the end, have a gushing profession of undying, unchangeable love?  How will they know in which ways each other has changed if they don’t talk, if they don’t spend some time together in circumstances that aren’t constrained and uncomfortable?  I realize that their observation of each other told something of their present characters and I realize the emphasis was that their love for each other hasn’t changed but, honestly, is that realistic?

Mrs. Smith’s sharing of her information about Mr. Eliot also made me uncomfortable.  Initially she seemed to be teasing or almost encouraging Anne to confess her favourable feelings towards him, but when Anne confesses her indifference, she lets loose with a torrent of accusations against him.  I would have expected her friend to be cautionary at the beginning, if she knew so much to hold against him, but instead she appeared coy.  I found Mrs. Smith’s behaviour somewhat distasteful.

Now Austen had sickened with the disease that would eventually kill her when she was writing this novel, so one doesn’t want to be too hard on her, but compared to her other novels, this one certainly didn’t measure up, but understandably, I think.

The Royal Crescent in Bath
source Wikipedia

Persuasion Read-Along Update #3

This read-along is hosted by Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine.

Book II – Chapters 1 to 6

Well, well, well.  Wentworth appears frantic about Louisa’s condition and will barely leave Lyme, where she is convalescing.  Anne, however, has returned home to meet Lady Russell who has arrived from Bath.  Charles and Mary finally return from Lyme and Charles announces that he believe Captain Benwick has a fondness for Anne and hints at the possibility of a visit, yet it does not materialize.  Lady Russell and Anne travel to Bath, though Anne’s enthusiasm for the trip and new lodging is tepid.  A warm welcome from her father and sister, surprises her, and she learns that their cousin, Mr. Eliot has been introduced and is a frequent visitor to the house in Camden-place.  Mrs. Clay, daughter of the solicitor and Elizabeth’s companion, worries Anne, in case her father is considering a new wife, yet she is pleased with the manners of Mr. Eliot, though eventually decides that he appears too proper and passionless for her tastes.  A renewed acquaintance with her old governess, once made wealthy by marriage and now poor by widowhood, is a pleasure to Anne but a horror to her family, though Lady Russell supports her visits.  An unexpected and astonishing letter arrives from Mary declaring that Louisa is engaged to Captain Benwick and Anne is pleased, although she muses as to their attraction to each other.  Mr. Croft declares that Captain Wentworth has been visiting friends too long and must come to Bath.  Will he?  And what delights or sorrows will his arrival bring?

Camden-place, Bath


Thoughts:  Okay, there are a number of loose ends in the narrative so far.  Louisa’s impending marriage to Captain Benwick for one; what does it do, other than give us a possible suitor for Anne for a period of time, and allow musings on how suffering can improve one’s character?  Interesting musings, but not particularly tied to the plot, or at least not obviously.  And what about her governess?  Again where are the threads joined to the plot?  It shows Anne’s goodness, but as yet, nothing else.  And something must happen that involves Mrs. Clay or I’ll be astonished.  So far she has hovered outside the action, yet Anne has suspicions towards her designs on her father.  Will Anne have to step in with some clever strategy to save her father from this devious woman?

I’m quite enjoying the examination of the different aspects of society, from the haves to the have-nots.  The perceptions of people and their treatment of others, depending on their social class, is particularly illuminating.

And I’m still fascinated by the way Austen handles Anne Elliot.  We continually see her, not necessarily through self-examination and personal actions, but through the perceptions of others and her actions towards them.  I’m still mulling over whether this unusual characterization is purposeful or not.  Does it add to her personality of retiring shyness and quiet nobility?  Or is it employed to make a commentary on the society of the time?  As English society grew and metamorphosed, were people seen less as individuals and more as a collective, almost wholly viewed and constructed through the eyes of others?

British Lighthouse – Chartmouth
source

Persuasion Read-Along Update #2

This read-along is hosted by Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine.

Book I – Chapters 6 – 12

Anne settles into living with Charles and her sister, Mary, and the Crofts settle into housekeeping at Kellynch-Hall.  At Captain Wentworth’s arrival, Anne is nervous to confront him again, but their meeting is delayed by an accident that incapacites her nephew, and Mary, content to abandon her motherly duties, leaves him in Anne’s care.  Charles’ sisters, the Miss Musgroves named Henrietta and Louisa, vie for Wentworth’s attentions, and the other young ladies of the area are taken with his soldierly bearing and, no doubt, his fortune made during the Napoleonic Wars.  When he and Anne finally meet, the exchange is cool and there appears to be no hope of a rekindled romance. The re-appearance of Henrietta’s beau, Charles Hayter, appears to complicate matters, as Henrietta’s interest has cooled towards him and warmed to Wentworth.  Yet with a visit to the Hayters, the tides turn again and Louisa is the favourite for winning Wentworth’s hand in marriage.  There are glimmers of a returning regard in Wentworth’s manner towards Anne, and as the party travels to Lyme for an outing, we are introduced to the characters of Captain and Mrs. Harville, and Captain Benwick, a man engaged to Mrs. Harville’s sister, but with the death of the unfortunate young lady, he is left in mourning.  Yet a tragic accident on the waterfront of Lyme focuses Wentworth’s attention on Louisa, who remains in a type of coma, while the drama swirls around her.  Once again, Anne is a strong nurturing force within the tumult and her strength of character shows her worth.

Well done, Miss Anne!
Chapter 6
source Wikimedia Commons

Thoughts:  Austen treats us to lively accounts of the characters.  She really gives equal attention to them all, and in keeping with Anne’s retiring character, (in the first three chapters of this section at least) it sometimes felt that Anne was confined to the periphery of the story.  Yet as these final chapters wrap up, she is shown as having an ability at lively conversation and empathy, as evidenced by her chats with Captain Benwick and her sympathy towards him at the loss of his affianced.

I did find the situation of Louisa’s tragic fall and the subsequent confusion of the men surprisingly obvious for plot development and somewhat forced, lacking the pacing and the insightful subtleties that I’m so used to experiencing with Austen’s novels.  I could understand Charles being paralyzed by the situation, as he tends to avoid conflict in any case, but the fact that Captain Wentworth was in a dither rather diminished his character for me.  He is a captain, used to being in charge and commanding during critical situations. For him to need lean on Anne was rather implausible, unless he is head over heels in love with Louisa, which then could logically make his good sense fly out the window.  But we know that he’s not, which makes the scene very un-Austenesque.

Otherwise, there is a mystery that crops up during the end of the last chapter ……. a vaguely familiar person passes them in Lyme and they determine that it is Mr. Eliot, their cousin and heir to Kellynch Hall.  Just what is he doing there and how will his presence affect further outcomes in the novel?

Anne & Wentworth
“Here is a nut,” he said, to exemplify.
source Wikimedia Commons

Persuasion Read-Along Update #1

Read-along hosted by Heidi from Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine who, I must say, is doing an amazing job with her chapter updates!

Book I – Chapters 1 – 6

Sir Walter Elliot, widower, and the father of three young ladies, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary Elliot, is the proud owner of Kellynch-Hall in Somersetshire.  Due to financial difficulties and, perhaps a too liberal economy, Sir Walter is forced to come to the realization that the family must tighten their purse strings in order to retain their respective position in society and avoid ruin.  Through a manipulative type of convincing by Lady Russell, an old family friend, and Mr. Shepherd, his lawyer, Sir Walter abandons his principles and agrees to let Kellynch to Mr. and Mrs. Cole, a mere admiral and his wife.  It just so happens that the brother of Mrs. Cole, Captain Wentworth, at one time had had an understanding with Anne and they were set to marry.  Yet when both Sir Walter and the respected Lady Russell rejected the match, Anne backed down and the engagement was broken.  As we reach chapter 6, Sir Walter and Elizabeth have removed to Bath to find a new lodging, Anne is visiting Mary who is ill (it seems perpetually ill), the Coles take possession of Kellynch Hall and there is the impending visit of Captain Wentworth to his sister.

Thoughts:

I use the word “manipulative” in describing Lady Russell’s and Mr. Shepherd’s behaviour, but honestly, nothing less would work with Sir Walter.  His wife had been a model of tact, economy and amiability and her beneficial character traits had tempered Sir Walter’s trying ones, but since her death his vanity and pretentiousness had not only re-emerged, but grown to gigantic proportions. His value is for outward appearances, and inner qualities are completely discounted in his arrogance.  He is not a pleasant person.

Anne is not yet well-sketched.  We sense she is quiet and moderate but she gives us little insight into her private thoughts or emotions.  In fact, I find that the other characters act as a foil to hers:  Sir Walter’s selfishness and elitism, Elizabeth’s snobbiness and sense of entitlement, Mary’s ill health and complaining, Mr. Shepherd’s manipulation, etc.  In comparison, Anne is set in a golden halo of goodness.  Sadly I have not quite bought into her character yet. And heavens, it doesn’t help that I had watched the movie years ago, before I’d read the book, and was so disappointed with Amanda Root’s portrayal of Anne.  I had hoped that Anne would have some unique qualities that set her apart but, aside from being an extremely good person, I’m still waiting to find that true and special flower among the weeds of her companions.

Lady William Henry Cavendish Bentinck
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
source Wikiart

Persuasion Read-Along

Beginning January 5, 2015, a read-along of Jane Austen’s Persuasion begins and, in keeping with my Austen Project for 2015, I’m one of the participants! Hosted by Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine, this will be one of two read-alongs that I’ll be doing for the month of January.

Persuasion is the only Austen work that I’ve never read and I hear that I’m in for a treat.  I’d watched the movie years ago and wasn’t particularly fond of it and therefore had avoided the book.  It just shows that you can’t judge a book by its movie!

If you’re interested in joining us, please pop over to Heidi’s blog and sign up!