Friday, August 31, 2012

Austen in August: Persuasion Read Along (Chps. 19-End)

You pierce my soul... 

Read my responses to chapters 1-7 and chapters 8-18.

Ahhhh! Just when I think it is impossible for me to love Persuasion any more than I already do, I read it again and learn anew the unlimited bound of love. Here are Misty's questions for the last third of the book, inspiring my final thoughts for the Persuasion Read Along, part of the Austen in August celebration (can it really be over already?!?):
  • What was your initial reaction to Persuasion as a whole? Did you connect with Anne as a heroine, and Wentworth as a hero? 
  • Has your perception of Persuasion changed since reading it, especially if you've read it more than once?
  • The characters are constantly on the move in Persuasion (from Kellynch to Uppercross to Lyme to Bath, etc), so the reader gets to see a variety of scenes; did you like the constant changes of scenery? Did you have a favorite? Do you think the different locations bring out different aspects of the characters?
  • Discuss one of the biggest fangirl-inducing moments in Austen: "The Letter;" did you know the ending was originally written without "The Letter" in it? Do you think your overall perception of the story would change without "The Letter"?
  • What do you anticipate for the futures of any of the characters, but particularly Anne? Will her family ever come to accept Wentworth, or is she essentially disowning herself by marrying him?
  • On reflection, are you ever bothered by the fact that Anne is essentially put in the same position - to give up the life she knows and loves for Wentworth, and that the same is never expected of him? Does this bother your modern sensibilities, or do you think the right decision is made regardless?
  • What were your favorite parts of the novel? Your least favorite? Things you wish were different?
  • Any last thoughts on the book?
Has any author ever portrayed a romantic connection with more power than Jane Austen in her final novel? As readers, we can actually feel the magnetism between Anne and Wentworth as we struggle along side them, trying to communicate through the seemingly insurmountable barriers of social restrictions on interaction between the sexes. Even Anne, meticulously correct on all points of etiquette, eagerly casts aside prohibitions as she snatches up Wentworth's letter. Though she must know something of its content, she cannot believe her own eyes as she reads. I too must always read the letter at least twice:
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. 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. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.
After countless readings, how surprising to find in this letter something I had never noticed before! "For you alone, I think and plan." I had always assumed this referred only to his coming to Bath, but with this reading, I think I am beginning to believe that Captain Wentworth has put far more into the orchestration of this moment than I had previously imagined. What I am proposing is that Captain Harville comes to Bath specifically to aid Wentworth in his quest to win Anne. Let's call him a wing man: quite the same role Colonel Wallis occupies in relation to Mr. Elliot. Follow me through the chronology (my annotated edition by David M. Shapard, which I reviewed here, was indispensable in figuring this out):
  1. Captain Wentworth arrives in Bath on a Wednesday. He sees Anne in Molland's on Thursday and is snubbed by Elizabeth.
  2. On Friday or Saturday Captain Harville begins to talk of journeying to Bath on business. Mrs. Harville is very supportive of the notion, particularly if he is accompanied by Charles Musgrove (see Chapter 22)
  3. The Musgrove party arrives in Bath the following Friday, and the very next day Wentworth is able to propose, directly following Anne's revelation of her feelings through conversation with Harville.
Now I freely acknowledge that I am engaging in a great deal of supposition, but I do think there is enough contextual evidence to make mine a valid theory. It is very natural to imagine that Captain Wentworth would write of his frustrations to his friend Harville, especially if he had alighted on the notion of somehow getting the Musgroves to Bath, a circumstance which would necessarily provide Anne and he with far more opportunities for social interaction than they would otherwise have. I also think it reasonable to assume that Captain Wentworth, accomplished naval man that he is, would attempt to overcome the obstacles in his path through strategy, rather than aimless wandering the town, hoping opportunity just happens to find him. I always felt that the arrival of the Musgroves was a bit too convenient, though as it certainly would not be the only time Austen relied on a timely coincidence to further her plot, I had always dismissed the issue. Having examined the timing, however, and knowing that Austen was very careful in her chronology, I now attribute the entire party to the plotting of Harville and Wentworth.

Look at the behavior of the two men on the day the letter is exchanged. Mrs. Croft, perhaps in on the conspiracy, has garnered all of Mrs. Musgrove's none too perceptive attentions upon herself. The only two other people in the room are the gentlemen, and Captain Wentworth almost immediately positions himself at the writing desk, from where he can apparently attend to all that is being said in the room. Anne should, by the rules of polite society, either belong to the conversation of the ladies, or be entertained by Captain Harville, but "Anne felt that she did not belong to the conversation, and yet, as Captain Harville seemed thoughtful and not disposed to talk, she could not avoid hearing many undesirable particulars...". This includes Mrs. Croft's declarations against uncertain engagements, a comment that turns both Anne and Wentworth's attention to each other.

Suddenly, Captain Harville becomes desirous to converse with Anne. Though Austen tells us that he paid no attention to what the ladies had just been saying, I cannot help but wonder if Wentworth hasn't nudged him into action. Regardless, he leads Anne directly into a discussion perfectly suited to revealing her present sentiments towards Captain Wentworth. I do not claim that Wentworth planned to pen a declaration while the debate between Anne and Harville occurred, for such sentiments as he expresses MUST be spontaneous, only that Harville intentionally sought to reveal her sentiments before his friend. Anne, as anxious as anyone to expose her feelings, helps this endeavor succeed far more than either man could predict. Her passion is evident, and determines Wentworth on immediate action. At one point, Harville seeks to conclude the discussion ("We shall never agree upon this question"), but Wentworth drops his pen, gaining his attention and encouraging him to continue the sujbect, which he easily does ("let me observe that all histories are against you"). This leads her to the most emotional speech we ever hear from Anne:
"Oh!" cried Anne eagerly, "I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures! I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as--if I may be allowed the expression--so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. 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."

She could not immediately have uttered another sentence; her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.

"You are a good soul," cried Captain Harville, putting his hand on her arm, quite affectionately. "There is no quarreling with you. And when I think of Benwick, my tongue is tied."

Their attention was called towards the others. Mrs. Croft was taking leave.
Everyone who might be in on the plot seems to understand that enough has been said. For someone as elegant as Anne is, to be rendered out of breath by the passion of your words is no everyday occurrence. It would be marked by all sensible people in the room (i.e. everyone but Mrs. Musgrove). Captain Harville's response particularly emphasizes the intimacy of her outpouring, as a gentleman would not typically pat an unmarried lady's arm unless they were related, particularly not affectionately. It's almost as if is giving his blessing to the match, agreeing that here is the lady good enough for his friend. She has passed his test.

So what do you think of my theory? Does it hold water with anyone? I know I've strayed pretty far from Misty's questions in this Read Along post. If you would like to see them handled more conventionally, I highly suggest checking out the other participants' responses

It was a great indulgence to read this book again, and I am indebted to The Book Rat for the opportunity.


  1. I've never consciously thought of it as you have done but you are so right!!
    "I also think it reasonable to assume that Captain Wentworth, accomplished naval man that he is, would attempt to overcome the obstacles in his path through strategy, rather than aimless wandering the town, hoping opportunity just happens to find him." <---- That right there is true on so many levels. He IS a man of strategy isn't he, so of course he wouldn't leave it to chance!! Excuse the abundance of exclamation points. I'm having a 'duh!' moment here and I have you to thank for it. It makes sense that Mrs. Croft would be part of it too, of course. She does seem a very discerning character and I always thought she knew of Wentworth's feelings (even more than he did, at some points.)

    1. My dear Lady Disdain,

      I'm so pleased you are as excited about this as I am! At first, I too had a pretty severe "duh" moment, followed by a lot of self doubt. I was hoping someone would respond positively. Thank you!

  2. Not at all. In fact, your idea actually means that Wentworth's actions take on a whole new level of significance (which only makes me sigh even more with happiness for Anne). You've made me love my favorite Austen even more now. Thanks :D