Pour a cup of tea, and join me and Serena for a leisurely discussion of Persuasion by Jane Austen. This week, our chat was held over a cup of Orange Passion Fruit Jasmine tea (me) and an Arnold Palmer (Serena)
Today’s discussion covers Volume II, Chapters 1-6. If you’re reading along with us, great! If you’ve read the book before and want to chime in, great! Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments.
Anna: So much happens in these six chapters. Anne leaves Uppercross to stay with Lady Russell, then heads to Bath. But what I find most striking about this section is the change in Anne. The improvement to her person is mentioned by both Lady Russell and even Sir Walter. There’s a hint that Captain Benwick may be interested in her, as well as Mr. Elliot. Do you think it’s safe to say that Anne is not as isolated as she was at the very beginning of the novel?
Serena: I think we see in these six chapters a change that even her self-absorbed relatives can see. She’s no longer wilted and in the background, but regaining some of the blush of her youth (my gosh, she’s only 27 or so). I think the glances of Mr. Elliot in the inn, the looks of gentlemen on the Cobb, and the attentions of Captain Benwick have restored her faith in her own worth as a person. Whether that means she’s better for it; I’m not sure. Should her self-worth be tied to what others perceive in her, or should it be something more internal?
I think she’s become more sociable as a result of being with the Musgroves and because of the Harvilles, et. al., but I also think seeing that Captain Wentworth is the same and no worse for her rejection, that she is feeling less guilty about how she was persuaded to break their engagement.
What are your thoughts about her as an Austen heroine, thus far? Do you find her to be one of the weaker ones?
Anna: Even if Anne keeps her composure when her family is so rude to her, it has to bother her. Yet, she remains strong and holds her ground where she can. She visits Mrs. Smith instead of Lady Dalrymple. Even though she’s tempted by the thought of returning to her home and taking her mother’s place as Lady Elliot, her good sense and suspicions of Mr. Elliot win out.
I don’t think of Anne as a weak heroine at all. (I wonder if I’ll say the same thing about Fanny Price when I re-read Mansfield Park at some point; she’s the one I’m not crazy about.) She may have been pushed to the background by her family and lost so much by breaking her engagement to Captain Wentworth, but she bears all of the burdens her family put on her with grace and dignity and strength. How she handled the whole Wentworth/Louisa thing, despite the pain it caused her, is admirable. Yet at the same time, Austen doesn’t portray her as too perfect.
What do you think?
Serena: I don’t think she’s weak, but she is definitely more subdued than say — Emma or Lizzy — in how she comports herself in front of family and others.
I did love seeing Anne stand up to her father and sister by seeing Mrs. Smith, rather than Lady Dalrymple, and while she sees Mr. Elliot as perfect in manners, she also realizes that there is something too good to be true there.
I haven’t read Mansfield Park in ages, but I don’t think Anne is as weak as she is. I find her to have a quiet strength, which is nice, but it also makes it easier for others to push her into the background.
I did note that some of Austen’s humor is lost in this one, except for the exchange between Anne and Mr. Croft about the number of mirrors in her father’s old room at Kellynch Hall. Are there other areas of her humor that I missed in this section?
Anna: There’s not as much humor in this novel, but there definitely are some humorous scenes and lines. I always crack up when Sir Walter asks how Mary is because she had a red nose last time he saw her. Admiral Croft’s going on about that painting of a poorly done ship made me chuckle. And that letter from Mary…well, Mary is pretty much ridiculous all the time.
What did you think of Louisa’s engagement to Captain Benwick?
Serena: Louisa’s engagement seems to be this random thing that comes out of nowhere, but I think the circumstances of being in such close contact all that time and they being their respective captive audiences may have helped them along. There really is no way to tell what transpired between them.
I do love that Mary is so happy to relay the news and that it’s so out of the blue, but her letters are just hilarious…especially since she contradicts herself at every turn. And Mr. Croft certainly does have a love for ships and the sea..it’s a wonder he ever set foot on shore.
Now what about Anne’s boldness in acting about Captain Wentworth, do you think she’s hoping that there will be a renewal of their acquaintance, or do you think she’s merely concerned because she has loved him in the past (and still does) even if they do not renew a friendship at the very least?
Anna: It definitely seems random to us readers because we’re not privy to the goings-on in Lyme. Louisa and Benwick’s romance would make for an interesting spin-off novel.
Of course, we knew something would happen with Louisa because she CANNOT end up with Captain Wentworth. She just can’t. I think I’d be okay with her marrying anyone but him, because the Elliots and the Musgroves being so connected would’ve really made that hard for Anne to handle, I think.
I do love that Anne was able to feel “senseless joy” when she learned the news. Being Anne, she seems concerned about how the engagement affected Wentworth and Benwick’s friendship. But whether she feels hope for a second chance or just joy that she doesn’t have to see him married to Louisa, or just joy that he’ll remain single for the time being, I don’t know.
Going back to Mr. Elliot. I was struck by the passage where Anne considers how everything he says is measured and how occasional slips of the tongue are more sincere and authentic. That made me wonder whether Anne and Emma could have ever been friends. What do you think?
Serena: I agree, Louisa and Benwick’s romance would be an interesting spin-off. Perhaps you should write that one!
Yes, I agree if Captain Wentworth and Louisa married, I don’t think Anne could have handled it, though I’m not really sure how she would have reacted to seeing them together all the time.
I did love that he said she experienced a senseless joy — that made her more human to me. Until that point, I felt like her emotions were too in check all the time. I was elated for her. Even if she doesn’t hold out hope for her and Wentworth to get back together, it was nice to see that she could be happy even senselessly.
I’m not sure if Emma would have wanted Anne for a friend — though except maybe to fix her up — but Anne would have enjoyed Emma’s company. That passage also makes me wonder about what Austen is trying to say about her own society — did it seem to stilted and measured to her? was she looking for more?
And does Anne mean that those who are measured in their thinking and speech are maybe more callous and calculating than they are perceived to be by others who simply find them delightful in manner?
Anna: I see what you mean about Anne’s emotions being too in check. Though I felt some of her frustrations being let out through the narrative describing her being pulled to and fro by Mary and the Musgroves wanting her to solve their problems with one another back in the last section, and it also shows when she compares the happy household of the Musgroves to the more stilted atmosphere at Kellynch.
I wonder if an Emma/Anne pairing would be somewhat like an Elizabeth/Charlotte friendship, a balance of the practical with the lively, though without Mr. Collins, of course. Given that Austen thought Emma was a heroine only she would like, I imagine that she herself would prefer a less stilted atmosphere. Emma is someone who comes out and says what everyone else is thinking.
I think Mr. Elliot’s manner of speech is delightful to people like Lady Russell because they are so focused on manners and social standing, whereas Anne is looking for some real conversation and companionship because all that matters to her to a lesser extent.
What do you think about Mrs. Smith and her importance to the plot? Do you think there’s more to her story as well? You sort of see that her story will intersect with that of Anne’s family, given her nurse’s connection to the wife of Mr. Elliot’s friend.
Serena: Agreed, an Emma/Anne pairing in friendship would be a balancing act of sorts.
I do think there is more to Mrs. Smith’s story, and I think that she is the cautionary tale for Anne who could have been swept up in a marriage — one not with Wentworth, but someone like him — and been left with nothing. While Austen wants us to believe in a happily ever after for Anne, she also wants to remind us that anything could happen and that she should be prepared for the worst. In Anne’s case, though, I think she’s well prepared given how little her family cares for her or her opinions, etc.
Yes, I think that was on purpose…Austen wants us to see the caution in believing in happily ever after, but she also wants to provide a way through which Anne can have it and not fall into a bad situation unwittingly, especially since she’s mostly relied on Lady Russell’s advice in love.
Now, here’s an idea for a spin-off: Anne’s life when she knew Mrs. Smith before her marriage took her off.
What do you think about Mr. Elliot’s paying attention to Anne rather than her sister? Do you think that her sister has noticed? And what is with Mrs. Clay and her hanging on even when it would be more polite to remove herself?
Anna: I know Mrs. Smith’s story from reading the book before, so I’m going to keep quiet about it for you. It definitely is a cautionary tale in a way. I wonder if there is a book out there about Mrs. Smith? You never know!
Mrs. Clay is a very interesting character because at this point, we don’t hear too much of her. There was all that flattery at the beginning and now she’s just there, with the speculation being that she wants to become Lady Elliot. If she’s desperate to get her claws into Sir Walter (and I’m wondering if her father has anything to do with that, too), she’ll never leave as long as Elizabeth desires her company. I don’t know if Elizabeth notices Mr. Elliot’s interest in Anne at this point, or whether it’s only Lady Russell’s observations so far. But since Elizabeth never found a man worth marrying besides Mr. Elliot, and since she already dislikes Anne, I’m sure she will be none too pleased!
I can’t wait for the last part of the book, even though I don’t want it to be over.
Serena: I don’t know if there is a book about Mrs. Smith or not. There don’t seem to be too many spin-off books of Persuasion. I cannot wait to read the ones that I do have now that I’ve nearly achieved my goal of reading this one.
Mrs. Clay does seem conniving, but she’s not outwardly so, which makes me wonder about what goes on behind the scenes. Why does she want to stay? It doesn’t seem like Sir Walter even cares that much about her being there or not, and he certainly doesn’t pay her that much attention, though maybe no other woman could catch his eye like Lady Elliot did — not sure how that happened when he’s so wrapped up in status and his own distinguished looks.
I cannot wait for the last part of the book either, and I, too, do not want it to end.
We hope you’ll help us continue the discussion in the comments!
Click here if you missed the first discussion on Volume I, Chapters 1-6, and here if you missed last week’s discussion on Volume I, Chapters 7-12. And please join us next Friday, March 28th, at Serena’s blog, Savvy Verse & Wit, to discuss Volume II, Chapters 7-12, which will bring us to the end of the novel. See you there!
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