Happy bloggiversary to us! Well, actually, our two year anniversary is this coming Thursday, but we figure it’s best to celebrate now. Rather than do a recap of the past year as we did for our first bloggiversary, we’re using the occasion to launch a new series—a live reread of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
So, why Persuasion? It not my favorite Jane Austen (that would be Emma) or J’s favorite (that would be Pride and Prejudice), but Persuasion has been on my mind a lot lately as it seems to keep popping up on my social media. Also, it’s a brilliant novel, which receives less love that the two mentioned above, and that’s just not right. Although, I have often found that the people who love this book, really love it.
Now, the idea of this live reread is that one of us will read a chapter (or two? we’ll see) of Persuasion and blog our reaction in as real time as it’s possible to do while reading. Or we’ll do all of our thoughts at the end of a chapter. Whatever strikes as us interesting at the moment. We’ll try not to neglect this reread and post a little something at least once a month, but we don’t want to neglect other topics, especially with NaNoWriMo just around the corner.
And here goes nothing. My thoughts on Chapter 1 of Persuasion.
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 hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.
Not what usually comes to mind when thinking about the first sentence of a Jane Austen novel. It doesn’t have the sly humor of Pride and Prejudice or tell us something apt and amusing about our heroine, a la Emma and Northanger Abbey. No, it’s setting up the family at the center of the story, much like Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park, Austen’s two least novels. Yet, it’s the right opening for this book. The tone of Persuasion is more subtle and somber than Austen’s others, and as much as the reader grows to adore Anne Elliot, opening with someone so modest and unassuming would feel exactly wrong.
For several paragraphs, Austen continues on with Sir Walter, and every word makes the reader like him less. It’s a bold way to open a book.
Following the introduction of Sir Walter, we hear about his deceased wife and her best friend, Lady Russell. Then Austen mentions Sir Walter’s oldest, and favorite daughter, Elizabeth, as well as the youngest daughter, Mary. Only then does the reader finally meet Anne. But why should we have met her sooner? “[S]he was only Anne.” If you haven’t read the novel before or know anything about it, you might not even realize this is the introduction to the novel’s heroine.
That is until the next paragraph. Austen makes the reader think highly of the dead mother, so that as soon as her best friend sees a likeness to the deceased in Anne, the reader knows this will be a character we care about. And yet, all we get here is this single paragraph, before Austen sets off on Elizabeth and the Mr. Elliot who shall inherit, since Sir Walter has no son.
The chapter ends with a discussion of the Elliot family’s financial problems, and the reader still learns no more about Anne. But why should we worry about her? She “had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.” Actually, how much more does this tell us about Sir Walter than Anne? Come to think of it, given how vain and unlikable he is, do we even believe him? Perhaps Anne has her own sort of loveliness. Whatever the answer, it’s a fascinating way to begin a novel, not even allowing the reader to be certain of what few “facts” we know about the heroine.