This is a motley post about Persuasion, with mostly observations from other people. I make a couple of observations and ask two questions. At the end, I include the final scenes from the 1995 and 2007 adaptations, which make for an interesting contrast in interpretation.
1. In 2008, Sarah Frantz, an Austen scholar, reported on giving a paper on romance with several other romance scholars at the Jane Austen Society of North America. Among Sarah’s comments:
…for Janeites to disavow the romance label is, I think, at best disingenuous and at worst, willfully rewriting literary history.
This article, for instance, makes me crazy.
Of the new “chick-lit” style covers of Austen, Thompson argues: Of Persuasion: “Pure Mills & Boon, in fact; and sublimely inappropriate to the tone of this sad, shadowy novel.” Did she read the same novel I did? Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel because she takes a sad, autumnal tone and turns it into the most stunningly compelling expression of the power and optimism of romance you could ever hope to read: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.” Indeed.
2. I enjoyed reading Nandrea, Lorri G. “DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION IN AUSTEN’S PERSUASION.” Studies in the Novel 39, no. 1 (Spring2007 2007): 48-64. Some quotes:
At the very beginning, Austen defies such a narrative structure by repeatedly assuring us that everything is already over. The “history and rise of the ancient and respectable [Elliot] family” has been told already and has reached its “finale”; the “very awkward history” of Elizabeth’s courtship has ended, as has Wentworth’s courtship of Anne: “this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close”. No situation seems open to progress, complication, or development. Moreover, though most of the characters are in motion by the end of the fifth chapter, none seem to be moving toward anything.
Indeed, the plot of the novel will be composed of a complex series of repetitions.
Throughout this novel, Austen probes the relationship between foreseeable futures and unforeseeable events. The act of persuasion itself bears a special relationship to the future tense, often relying on the seductive articulation of a projected scenario.
Ultimately, the novel makes it possible to picture social hegemony itself as a continuously renegotiated product of persuasion, the result that obtains when many individuals are persuaded to share a particular point of view.
And yet the text also tells us that there is no such thing as too late. A sense of the ways in which present and future are underdetermined by the past works to preserve the chance of the future–especially its chance to differ from whatever has already happened–together with the revolutionary potential of every single “now.”
3. A controversy has arisen in recent weeks over Austen’s writing. From BBC News:
The elegant writing style of novelist Jane Austen may have been the work of her editor, an academic has claimed. Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University reached her conclusion while studying 1,100 original handwritten pages of Austen’s unpublished writings.
From Jane Austen Today, a good summary post of the recent brouhaha.
Sutherland is not new to controversy. In 2009 she accused another scholar of stealing her ideas:
Oxford academic and Austen authority Professor Kathryn Sutherland is claiming that a new book by award-winning biographer Claire Harman has copied her own radical ideas about the novelist, pulled together over 10 years of research and published by her in 2005.
“I have never accused anyone of using my material before,” said Sutherland this weekend, “but it feels a bit like identity theft. Claire has been very canny and she writes very well, but I am finding that I cannot write about my own research because people tell me it is too similar to the key arguments in Claire’s book.”
I liked what Jonathan Jones had to say at the Guardian books blog:
Jane Austen’s style is not a bit of polishing on the surface of her novels, it goes deep into their structure, which is why they are so satisfying. Elegant moral thought is embedded in the design of her characters, their comic voices, the ironies of her plots. At their most achieved, the effect is not just witty but profound. But they are not always perfectly achieved and that is significant. You can see evolution, improvement in her work and, some say, decline as well. It makes no sense to attribute her brilliance to the hand of a (male) editor when we can so clearly see her learning on the job, see her style grow. It is organic, it is not in fact a “style” but a voice. Jane Austen’s voice is special and it is unique.
It’s interesting to contrast Sutherland’s claims with the touching biographical notice of the author in Persuasion‘s preface her brother Henry:
The style of her familiar correspondence was in all respects the same as that of her novels. Every thing came finished from her pen; for on all subjects she had ideas as clear as her expressions were well chosen. It is not hazarding too much to say that she never dispatched a note or letter unworthy of publication.
4. “Austen’s triumph was to make everything connect” in “the kaleidoscope of her mind” (129) From Harris, Jocelyn. Jane Austen’s Art of Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989.
5. Not about Persuasion, but this synopsis gave me a huge giggle:
JANE BITES BACK (Ballantine. 2009. ISBN 9780345513656. pap. $14), Michael Thomas Ford sends up both Austenmania and the vampire craze. Turned into a vampire in the 19th century, Jane today owns a small bookshop in upstate New York. She watches other people capitalize on her name while she attempts unsuccessfully to sell her unpublished manuscript. Complications include her fellow vampire Lord Byron and confrontations with Bronte fanatics.
–from Jerrit, Jessica. “No Persuasion Necessary: Jane Austen’s Eternal Appeal.” Library Journal 135, no. 15 (September 15, 2010): 107.)
I don’t know what all of you are talking about. I found this book to be boring, bourgeois and completely unsympathetic. I can not imagine anyone relating to any of these characters, unless you are extremely rich and live in 19th century England. It was, however, well written.
7. I was struck again in reading Persuasion what remarkable insight Jane Austen had, and more than that, the ability to express it. That’s my true joy in reading Jane Austen. For example, when describing Anne’s father, she writes,
Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.
I think another writer would have ended her observation with “character”. But by adding “and of situation” Austen captures the way some people are born on third base and think they hit a triple.
Or when Anne is thinking about the Musgroves, and how happily married they are:
Anne always contemplated them as some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance, but still, saved as we all are, by some comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments…”
To me, the phrase “saved as we all are by some comfortable feeling of superiority…” elevates this into a very astute observation.
The early scene when Anne stays home with her injured nephew is one of my favorites, because of the way Austen captures the way people lie outlandishly to themselves for their own selfish ends. Anne’s sister convinces herself that she doesn’t need to stay home, that Anne should do it, because:
…I am of no use at home, am I? and it only harasses me. You, who have not a mother’s feelings, are a great deal the properest person.
See, being a mom makes you a poor choice to nurse your child … because you feel too much. That’s the ticket!
8. Everything about Chapter 23 is magic. I especially loved:
Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove any thing.
And of course, at that very moment, a man is writing something, that she allows to prove something very important.
9. A question: What do you make of Lady Russell?
10. And another one: Why did Captain Harville Wentworth say he had found Anne so altered?
11. There are many film adaptations of Persuasion. I watched the 1995 one with Ciarán Hinds, which I liked a lot. Here are two video clips of Anne and Captain Wentworth meeting after she reads his letter, the first from the 1995 version, and second from the 2007:
Although I think the 2007 Captain is better looking, I prefer Hinds in the role. how about you? Have a favorite (or least favorite) Persuasion adaptation?