Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Spring Read - Persuasion by Jane Austen

From Sir Walter Elliot’s copy of the Baronetage –

"Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791."

In this respected, landowning group is Anne Elliot.  And Anne is a woman with a past. 

Not an immoral or profligate past, but one in which she shared a great love with a young man of bright promise.  But this overlooked middle daughter of a vain and shallow father failed to be faithful to her own heart.  Instead she listened to her trusted confidant and the family’s close advisor, Lady Russell, her late mother’s best friend.  To Lady Russell, wealth and rank were essential for a good match.  The young man’s social status was considered unacceptable and his fortune nonexistent. And so Anne and her young man parted.

Now at 27 years old Anne lives a quiet life at her selfish family’s beck and call… but in the quiet of her mind… she remembers….

Published 1818, Persuasion was the last completed novel by Jane Austen. It was released about six months after her death, bound together in the same volume with another novel, Northanger Abbey, also centered in Bath. Since Jane became ill during the writing of this work, it did not receive some of the polishing and fine tuning that Mansfield Park and Emma had received, and readers sometimes find it less developed than her earlier works. It really had no designated title although Jane Austen referred to it as The Elliots.  The title of Persuasion was most likely given to the book by Jane’s brother, Henry before publication.

Even though they were bound together in publication, there are marked differences between Persuasion and Northanger Abbey… and for that matter, all of the other Jane Austen works.  For one, the heroine, Anne Elliot is - at 27 years old and according to her time period – considered to be past her prime and a “confirmed spinster”, unlike Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse or the Dashwood sisters.  And the hero of her story has no landed estates, no history of wealth or privilege behind him…. just a will to succeed in his life and chosen career.

Jane Austen included much of her own life experience in Persuasion. She knew fashionable Bath well – both the good and the bad of it - and richly captured the intense social atmosphere, the superficiality of values and the not too subtle pressure to measure up.  Having two brothers who reached the rank of admirals in the navy, she also understood the world of Royal Navy and what it offered young men of the day in the way of social and economical advancement.  The ability for a young man to advance himself in society and enter the sphere of gentility was a new thing in Jane Austen’s world. For once a self-made man could change his future.

But it seems that the real heart of Miss Austen is found in the concern that she reveals for the plight of young women of her time who were pressured to accept uncomplimentary connections based on social level or wealth or to refuse those based only on love and respect where social status did not measure up.  The helplessness of young women without wise champions was dear to her heart and shines through her particular treatment of Anne Elliot.
"Elizabeth had succeeded at sixteen to all that was possible of her mother's rights and consequence; and being very handsome, and very like himself, her influence had always been great, and they had gone on together most happily. His other two children were of very inferior value. Mary had acquired a little artificial importance by becoming Mrs. Charles Musgrove; but 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.”

- Jane Austen,
Persuasion Chapter 1

 The Jane Austen Tea Society has happily returned to a study of our beloved Regency author’s works in the order in which they were published. Our sixth and last selection will be Persuasion with a Spring Book Discussion to take place on Saturday the 26th of April 2014 at 10am.

There is plenty of time – start reading!

1 comment:

  1. Good morning - I came upon your group while searching for fellow tea lovers and travelers and thought your ladies might be interested in hearing about a tour to England we have scheduled for September. We'll be visiting London, Kent, Brighton, Hampshire and Windsor and visiting stately homes and places of interest along the way. One of the places we'll be visiting is Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey, tickets for which have otherwise sold out until 2016. The Duke of Wellington Tour will be a fantastic way travel hassle free to the UK and experience British history through many eras and to enjoy a cup of tea at some of England's most historic sites. Complete itinerary and tour details can be found here:
    Best – Kristine