So, I got sidetracked with other writing projects and never continued with my Persuasion Live Read. Well, I just finished reading the novel for my book club at work, so here’s the live read for chapters 9-24. Not terribly live, especially since I was often reading at work, so let me just dump my feelings. Perhaps if I try a live read again in the future I’ll figure out a way to make it more regular and spontaneous.
That Passage I Love
I’ve mentioned before here on the blog a passage I particularly love in Chapter 9 where Captain Wentworth rescues Anne from her naughty nephew. I have tried to figure out just what it is I love so much about this passage, but my guesses have never felt completely accurate. It turns out I’m a very lucky woman, and I’ve made some wonderful friends on Twitter since I wrote that blog. One of these friends, Erin, is an English prof and all-around Austen smartypants, and she brought up an amazing point about the shift in the narrative voice in the passage. Here’s the passage as a reminder:
There being nothing to eat, he could only have some play; and as his aunt would not let him tease his sick brother, he began to fasten himself upon her, as she knelt, in such a way that, busy as she was about Charles, she could not shake him off. She spoke to him, ordered, entreated, and insisted in vain. Once she did contrive to push him away, but the boy had the greater pleasure in getting upon her back again directly.
“Walter,” said she, “get down this moment. You are extremely troublesome. I am very angry with you.”
“Walter,” cried Charles Hayter, “why do you not do as you are bid? Do not you hear your aunt speak? Come to me, Walter, come to cousin Charles.”
But not a bit did Walter stir.
In another moment, however, she found herself in the state of being released from him; some one was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much, that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.
Erin focused on the bolded: “she found herself in the state of being released.” Here Austen shifts from an account of what is happening to Anne to Anne’s own disoriented thoughts. It gets the reader so much closer to Anne, which Erin explained to me quite vividly: “think about how different ‘she found herself in the state of being released’ is from ‘suddenly the boy was lifted off her shoulders’ or ‘Wentworth appeared and took the boy off her back,’ etc. All describing the same action, but Austen’s really puts you in Anne’s body in a way the others don’t.”
The Rest of the Kellynch Stuff
Chapters 10-14 cover the rest of Anne’s time in the neighborhood she has lived in all her life. The most moving part to my mind is in Chapter 10 when all the young people take a long walk in the direction of Charles Hayter’s, the cousin Henrietta eventually marries. Anne overhears Captain Wentworth talking to Louisa Musgrove, the possible object of his affections, about the kind of woman he is looking for—one who thinks for herself and is strongly resolute. If your heart doesn’t break for Anne in that moment, I suspect your heart is, in fact, a potato.
Off to Bath
Overall, I’m not sure that I don’t prefer the first half to the second. The cast in the Kellynch area is more engaging, as I think becomes clear at the relief felt when the Musgroves arrive in Bath in Chapter 22. Yes, I enjoyed the discomfort and tension and longing between Anne and Captain Wentworth at the concert. And Mrs. Smith’s revelations about Mr. Elliot, the heir of Kellynch, are as interesting here as the revelations about the cad often are in Austen. Yet, I would still exchange it all for more time with the slightly less socially polished but more interesting cast of the first half. Well, I wouldn’t exchange all of it.
Is there anything left in the world to say about Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne? Seriously, if you don’t meep and sigh as you read it, you probably don’t even have a potato where your heart should be.
What stands out most about Persuasion compared to other Austen is just how vicious the narrator can be. Granted, Austen’s narrative voice can always be sly—look how she views Lady Catherine or Mrs. Elton. But the narrator of Persuasion has a brutal honesty even about characters who on balance the reader should ultimately like more than dislike. The finest example is surely where the discussion turns to Richard Musgrove, brother of Charles, Henrietta, and Louisa. When he was young, Richard joined the navy, and at one point sailed on a ship commanded by Captain Wentworth.
The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross, two years before.
He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him “poor Richard,” been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead.
If Austen was ever meaner, I missed it.
So, all in all, I love Persuasion. It’s an incredibly delicate work, written with a surprising edge, and featuring an incredibly sympathetic heroine and attractive hero. And yet, I never reach the end without thinking, “Gosh. It’s over already?” One wonders if Austen had plans to flesh out the characters and story more in places, or if this was essentially her intention. Whatever the case, while I love it, I can’t love it as I do Pride and Prejudice or Emma. Will I read it again someday? Most likely. Will I be happy to do so? Absolutely.