Monday, 23 February 2015

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


  1. Sorry to hear this novel was slightly disappointing for ya. I still want to read it though and will definitely check back to your reviews here as a guideline.

    1. I was only disappointed because I have her other novels to compare it to. If I hadn't had a comparison, I think my reaction would have been more positive.

  2. I have to disagree with you on this one. I love Persuasion and Anne Elliot :-)

    1. Please tell me what you liked Cat. I would like to appreciate the novel more and I know that there are tons of people who like it.

      And as I said to Jason above, it's not that I disliked it per se, I just thought it did not live up to her other novels. Mansfield Park doesn't always get the best feedback but at least its structure is solid and its characters' actions are consistently plausible.

      I think with this one I got the feeling that the characters were being moved as dolls in a play instead of there being a more natural, symbiotic feel to the writing.

      In any case, I would love to hear your thoughts.

    2. Oh, and Cat, just to be clear, I did like Anne. She certainly doesn't have the spunk of Lizzy, or the delightful well-meaning but myopic views of Emma, but she is someone who is real ...... someone who thinks deeply and clearly and is loyal and constant. I think Austen makes her likeable because she is someone who seems to be taken advantage of, but her good behaviour and insight always put her on top. She isn't your usual character but I thought in her personality, Austen did a marvellous job.

  3. Austen's novels were often cloaked as love stories but were actually about debates like "is it better to be self-made or anachronistically aristocratic?" You can guess where she fell down on that one in Persuasion. Times were a-changing when this book published. People like Austen's military brothers were rising by brains and ingenuity, and people like Sir Walter Eliot were remaining stagnant on their inherited wealth and their book of titles. Persuasion is about a woman who was born on the wrong boat (inherited wealth), and has ingenuity enough to hike up her skirt and hop onto the boat that was headed for individual thinking. You see a HUGE transformation in Anne from start to finish in the novel. She is free-thinking by the end -- a "heroine" rather than a barely mentioned character, as she was at the start of the tale.

    Too, there's the ginormous feminist speech that precedes the letter!

    Anne Eliot COULDN'T have directly confronted Wentworth in those days. That's the point: a woman's lot was to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for the man to come around. Then her power was to either refuse him (which Anne does initially) or to accept him.

    Watch the way Admiral and Mrs. Croft interact: Mrs. Croft joins her husband on the boat, and she helps them drive the carriage (or whatever they're driving.) Carriages / conveyances are a HUGE symbol in Austen because for a woman, a carriage was her only means of travel. Otherwise she was tied to the house. Austen heroines are forever waiting for a man to come and move them in a carriage. In the carriage scene between Admiral and Mrs. Croft, where the admial picks up Anne and offers her a ride home, he is a BAD DRIVER, but he lets Mrs. Croft help him, you see? This scene symbolically suggests that in a military, self-made family, a woman can help drive the marriage. As in, equality!! Admiral and Mrs. Croft are a peek at Anne and Wentworth in the futire.

    I consider this one of Austen's finest works. Quite daring and feminist, in an oh-so-subtle way, as only Austen can do it.

    (There. I wanted to leave you a long comment since you seemed so sad not to get them over at Ruth's, ha!) :P

    1. Um, I wrote this fast. I make no sense in some of it. This is called speed-typing. What I mean above is that Mrs. Croft is given respect as a fellow thinker in her marriage: she is allowed on the boat when her husband is away, and she LIKES it. And when they drive around town, rather than gripping the carriage and hanging on for life, she takes the reins. She drives -- and so does Anne, by the end of the novel.

    2. Thanks, Marianne. Your thoughts help me to get a better grasp of the story. I do see all you say and it didn't pass me by BUT, I can't seem to feel that the development and the transitions weren't as seamless as in her other novels. I would be falling under the Austen spell and then something would whack me upside the head and I'd be wondering, "wait, where did that come from," or "ooo, that seems to be just placed there to move that part of the story along." I did miss the development of Anne that you speak of ------ because I just can't figure out what caused the development. I can see that she is somewhat different at the end of the novel, and by the end the narrative is certainly focussed on her, which it isn't so much at the beginning of the novel, but WHY? With Lizzy in P&P for example, you know that she's examining the relationship of her parents, the relationship of Charlotte and Mr Collins, her own behaviour (and she doesn't always look at these things with a wise eye) and from this you can believe her development, but with Anne ......??? And if Anne did develop from a quiet, dutiful woman to a free thinking women, how would Wentworth know this? Simply by observing her? Does he really know her when they marry? AND (sorry, you'll have to put up with me here) when you say that she's changed to be free-thinking ...... it still is very obvious at the end of the novel that duty trumps all. She makes it very clear that to follow Mrs. Russell and her father's wishes was right, even though she wished it otherwise, and no matter what Wentworth might have thought then, or what he thinks now. How do you wrap this up in free thought? All my questions are sincere ..... I'm very curious. Sorry that you get all my questions as I was reading, in one barrage of a comment! :-)

  4. Sometimes I think we need to be at certain stages in our life to appreciate some stories. The first time I read Persuasion I thought Austin was being unbearably self-righteous in her satire against upper crust English society. Years later, I appreciated her storyline and characters. I did think Mrs. Smith's explanation of Eliot's designs a bit convoluted and thought the BBC production did a better job by simplifying her narrative.

    On a side note, I used to live in Bath and often walked by the Royal Crescent as well as a couple of houses Austin lived in.

    1. I think you're right, Sharon. If I'd read this book when I was younger, I would have been more delighted with it.

      I completely forgot about Mrs. Smith from the movie, so now I'm going to have to go back and watch it again. And the second movie version I have. I can imagine Anne's character would be very hard to bring alive on the screen, as it's worth is quieter and more internal.

      Lucky you! Do you miss Bath? It looks lovely. I hope I'll be able to see it one day.

  5. Hi again! I loved Bath! It's the most educated city in England. There were bookstores everywhere! And tea shops. I would love to go back. Take care!