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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Persuasion is all about Anne - her unrealized dreams, her goodness, her unique ability to make herself simultaneously invaluable and invisible, and the happy ending she finally gets (and so readily deserves). Anne (with an E - take note! we know of what importance the E is!) Elliot is the middle of Sir Walter Elliot's three daughters. Her older sister, Elizabeth, is pretty, but unmarried (GASP, I know!) and her younger sister, Mary, is of a delicate constitution (at least in her head) and is married to the pleasant, but eminently forgettable Charles Musgrove, with two children. Anne is a paragon of all that is proper and polite, but hers is a dream deferred. Our story begins with Anne and her family forced to let their estate due to declining finances (that be a problem for I, too, Elliots!) and the ensuing shift in geography brings Anne smack dab in front of her old lover, Captain Frederick Wentworth, a dashing sailor. Theirs was a deep-seated, true affection, but their coupling was heavily frowned upon (as is classic in these cases, AHEM, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, comments?) by Anne's family (namely her surrogate mother, Lady Russell) and put asunder. Anne tortures herself for months, wondering if Wentworth could possibly still love her after all this time and all his feelings of bitterness for her being persuaded (GET IT?) by Lady Russell. He confuses everyone (this reader included) by dating Louisa Musgrove, Charles's younger sister, but after an accident (serious, not fatal) Louisa's affections take a little turn (to everyboddy's satisfaction, I might add) in the direction of Wentworth's friend, Captain Benwick. Another confounding factor enters the scene (ahgahghagh policy wonk joke #onlyithinkit'sfunny) in the form of Sir William Elliot (not to be confused with Sir Walter Elliot, Anne's dad), the Elliot's cousin and heir to the Elliot's estate (remember that whole entailing business when it comes to only having daughters? I know, #lame). He is rather keen on Anne, but Anne, ever perceptive, knows that Something Wicked This Way Comes, and her suspicions are proved correct when her old school chum outs Sir William as a Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Boy. Classic Austen fare from there forward - agonizing wait, tantalizing moments of almost actualization, and FINALLY, reconciliation and mutual felicity. Wentworth + Anne 4EVA.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I'm pretty sure that I read this book once before, on the recommendation of Casey Johnson, former roomie and CY alum who is possibly the only other person I know who loves Ayn Rand and Jane Austen in equal parts. The book really held up, and it reminded me that while Austen does write about romance, her books are about so much more than just love. She truly deserves to be remembered as one of the greats, which is especially refreshing as she is one of the few females on this blog's list of authors. If you haven't read any Austen, I do recommend grabbing one - I am partial to P and P, and S and S, but this one has winkled its way into my affections, so if you want a brief romp in Austenland, I'll lend you my copy.

Austen's works tend to be strongly rooted in families and the relationships within them. I think, therefore (I AM! jkidding, ahgahghag) that I will provide you with a snapshot of the family (and extended cast of characters), a la (can't get the accents to work on this computer, sorry, French!) my Poisonwood post. Here goes nothing! 

Anne (with an E) Elliot, our tale's heroine
On her family's opinion of her: "Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character,which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way; - she was only Anne." Only Anne! Poor thing! We know she's not Only Anne. She is SomeBody! She was SomeBody when she came. She'll be a better SomeBody when she leaves. (inside Breakthrough reference, sorry!) 

On her appearance: "It sometimes happens, that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost." Fingers crossed - next year is 29 for me! ;0)

On her luck (or lack thereof): "But the usual fate of Anne attended her, in having something very opposite from her inclination fixed on." aka, ANNE NEVER GETS HER WAY. 

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

On music: "She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; no fond parents to sit by and fancy themselves delighted...She had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation of real taste. In music she had been always used to feel alone in the world." I must say I feel very lucky to have always had a most appreciative mother and extended family to 'fancy themselves delighted' by my cello playing. It is such a pleasure to know that my playing is pleasing to someone else's ears than my own. (I never learned to play, but if I had, I know I should have been a True Proficient!)

Sir Walter Elliot, Anne's not-so-proud papa
On his obsession with the baronetcy (aka family lineage), and despair at Anne ever marrying: "He had never indulged much hope, he had now none, of ever reading her name in any other page of his favourite work." BURN!

On having to let Kellynch Hall, and deciding whether to grant access to the grounds as well: "I am not fond of the idea of my shrubberies being always approachable." ahgahghaghahg. No one wants Approachable Shrubberies! Perish the thought!

Inquiring after his other daughter: "How is Mary looking? The last time I saw her, she had a red nose, but I hope that may not happen every day." ahgahghagh Mary the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

Mary (Elliot) Musgrove, Anne's younger sister
Indignant at the Musgrove sisters' suggestion that she might not be up to a vigorous stroll: "I cannot imagine why they should suppose I should not like a long walk! Every body is always supposing that I am not a good walker! And yet they would not have been pleased, if we had refused to join them. When people come in this manner on purpose to ask us, how can one say no?" ahghagha. I deserve neither such Praise, nor such Censure! I am not a great reader, and I take pleasure in many things.

Mrs My Husband - Mary is referred to at one point as Mrs. Charles, which I'm sure was fairly common at the time, but it made me want to ralph. I understand that technically if a woman takes her husband's name, she becomes Mrs. Insert Husband's Name here. But I find that so gross. I'm not Mrs You just because we got married! I'm me! Married me! He's not Mr. Insert Wife's name. Brad Pitt isn't Mr. Angelina Jolie. I mean, how ridiculous does that sound? 

Elizabeth Elliot, Anne's older sister
On whether Anne should go or stay: "'I cannot possibly do without Anne,' was Mary's reasoning; and Elizabeth's reply was, 'Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath." Thanks, Elizabeth. Reallll nice. 'Oh, your Father of course may spare you, if your Mother can. Daughters are Never of so much consequence to a Father." 

On why her father couldn't possibly be falling for her impoverished friend: "Freckles do not disgust me so very much as they do him: I have known a face not materially disfigured by a few, but he abominates them." O.M.G. Freckles? disGusting! Hideous! Might as well be a leper! ;)

Lady Russell, Anne's surrogate mother, and the architect of her original unhappiness
In contemplating whether to let Kellynch Hall: "Lady Russell was most anxiously zealous...and gave much serious consideration. She was a woman rather of sound than of quick abilities, whose difficulties in coming to any decision...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 any body of sense and honest 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."

The Musgrove sisters ('enrietta and LouWeezer)
"Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove were now, like thousands of other young ladies, living to be fashionable, happy, and merry. 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." You go, Anne! We ladies of the elegant and cultivated mind must stick together and cherish our difference. We'll get the guy in the end! (#fingerscrossed)

Admiral Croft, the tenant who lets Kellynch Hall (and coincidentally, Wentworth's bro-in-law)
When Anne first visits her old home now that the Crofts are letting it: 
Admiral Croft: "'Now, this must be very bad for you, to be coming and finding us here. - I had not recollected it before, I declare, - but it must be very bad. - But now, do not stand upon ceremony. - Get up and go over all the rooms in the house if you like it."
Anne: 'Another time, Sir, I thank you, not now.'
Admiral Croft: 'Well, whenever it suits you. - You can slip in from the shrubbery at any time." This was so endearing. He is one of the only people who's just plain always nice to Anne, and he's so thoughtful about how she must feel in this delicate situation. Plus, the shrubberies are so APPROACHABLe!

Sir William Elliot, heir to Kellynch Hall
Oh-so-perceptive Anne's suspicions of him:
- "She distrusted the past, if not the present."
- "He was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable." Anne's good opinion once lost is lost forEver! Sound familiar to anyone?
- "Mr. Elliot was too generally agreeable." an OBVious flaw. Nobody's that nice all the time. 

Well, consider yourself introduced to the Elliots and their intimate circle! Now for a few other thoughts...

An Austen Christmas
This picture of Christmas was so delightful. It reminded me of the way Louisa May Alcott describes Christmases in Little Women. Neither family is swimming in riches, neither family has a large circle of acquaintance. And yet, such palpable joy and vibrant energy. Doesn't it make you want to be there?
"Immediately surrounding Mrs Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others." I'll have a cold pie and roaring fire, please!

Disinterested in its true form
My undergraduate thesis advisor (with whom I had a very complicated relationship - think thousands of triangles drawn on my papers to indicate where I "needed better transitions") had a personal mission in life. This mission was to save the world return the word disinterested to its true meaning, and bring an end to the word's misuse. Do you know what it means? Did you guess 'not interested'? WRONG. #fail Just Kidding! No failing here. But it actually means "unbiased, free from selfish motive or interest". The current use has been added to the dictionary (which simply feels like Caving to me #ahem #Literallyusedasmetaphoricallyisacceptednowapparently) but just in case you were curious, the 'unbiased' definition is the original meaning. I thought of it because Austen uses 'disinterested' frequently.

Some classic Austen-isms
Michaelmas - everything always seems to center around Michaelmas in Austen novels. If Mr. Bingley does not return to Netherfield by Michaelmas, I shall Eat my Hat! In case you were wondering, Michaelmas is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel that occurs on the 29th of September. (We are just in time to celebrate! Dig out your Michaelmas decorations!) "It is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days. In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and the beginning of the husbandman's year - 'at that time harvest was over, and the bailiff or reeve of the manor would be making out the accounts for the year.' In Christianity, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honored for defeating Lucifer in the war in heaven. (Did You know there was a war in heaven? I didn't. #badChristian) He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence."  Pretty neat, huh? We should start a campaign - #bringingMichaelmasback. Also, I would like to be known henceforth as "protector against the dark of night and administrator of cosmic intelligence." MMkay? Thanks.

Felicity (not as in Keri Russell's 90's show, but as in happiness) - Austen loves to use this term, and it makes me so happy. (haghagh pun not intended) It always makes me think of Felix Felicis.

Mr Wentworth is married (I made free to wish him joy) - Austen LOVEs to play the whole 'same name confusion game' and try to trick characters into thinking their long lost loves are already married. She pulls it again here in the beginning, and for one dreadful moment, we think Wentworth married someone Else! 

Anne(/Austen) on feminism 

"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." Damn straight, Anne! Women must continue to tell their story and bring their perspective to the world. Here's a great (brief) speech Emma Watson recently gave on feminism at the UN. 

Anne + Wentworth Sitting in a Tree, P-L-A-Y-I-N-G Love Tag. You're It!
I thought it would be fun to give you Anne and Wentworth's romance in a nutshell. Here's their love in snapshots: 

Anne, on their first meeting since the original separation: "It is over! it is over!' she repeated to herself again, and again, in nervous gratitude. 'The worst is over!'... Eight years, almost eight years had passed, since all had been given up. How absurd to be resuming the agitation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness!"

Anne, on the coldness between them: "Once so much to each other! Now nothing!"

Anne, after Wentworth does something kind for her: "She was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle; but so it was; and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover her."

Anne, on realizing Wentworth might Maybe may love her: "For a few minutes she saw nothing before her. She had enough to feel! It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery."

I loved the interaction when Wentworth returns for a second (and final time) to Anne's life:
Anne, after Wentworth offers her a seat in a carriage: "'I am much obliged to you, but I am not going with them. The carriage would not accommodate so many. I walk. I prefer walking.'
Wentworth:  'But it rains.'
Anne; 'Oh! very little. Nothing that I regard.'

For some reason, it reminded me of the moment in The Great Gatsby when Gatsby is getting ready to meet Daisy for the first time in a long time at Nick's house: 
"When Gatsby realized what Nick was talking about, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. 'What do you think of that? It's stopped raining.'" I love the tenderness in both of these scenes, and the way such a small action related to the mundane can feel immensely charged and ripe with emotion.

Wentworth, to Anne, in a letter: "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening, or never."

On the walk that finally leaves the lovebirds together to profess their affections: "There could not be an objection. There could be only a most proper alacrity, a most obliging compliance for public view; and smiles reined in and spirits dancing in private rapture."

Sentences that struck me:
  • "Husbands and wives generally understand when opposition will be vain."
  • On letting Kellynch Hall: "A beloved home made over to others; all the precious rooms and furniture, groves, and prospects, beginning to own other eyes and other limbs!"
  • "We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days."
  • "Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence of the mind of taste and tenderness." Yes, Anne - Autumn IS the best season!
I'll leave you with this line, a classic Austen SO LONG AWAITED nugget of happiness: 
On Anne's school chum, Mrs. Smith - "Her spring of felicity was in the glow of her spirits, as her friend Anne's was in the warmth of her heart. Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in Captain Wentworth's affection."

I wish you tenderness, felicity, and crisp autumn breezes with the changing foliage of the last smiles of the year. Come visit me in NH if you have the time/inclination, and if you can't, join me for The Hired Help's Saga. Happy fall!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent! And in Latin the name Lucifer means "light-bringer", referring to him as a fallen star…

    I too love autumn, with its last smiles of the year :)