Pour a cup of tea, and join me and Serena for a leisurely discussion of Persuasion by Jane Austen. (We pretty much failed at the whole “tearoom” thing, with our email back-and-forth happening over a glass of lemonade (me) and an Arnold Palmer (Serena), but whatever gets you through, right?)
Today’s discussion covers Volume I, 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: I hope you are enjoying Persuasion so far. When I finished it the first time, I declared it my favorite Jane Austen novel…and then I read Emma and said that was my favorite Austen novel, so I obviously can’t decide, but upon beginning this re-read, I remembered exactly why I loved it the first time.
How did you feel about the first few chapters? You don’t really get a hint that the book will center on Anne until Chapter Four, when her relationship with Frederick Wentworth is made known to the reader.
Serena: I’ve always liked how Jane Austen sort of leads you into the setting and the characters’ lives without really pinpointing at the outset who the main heroine is. She does that so well here, with Anne in the background observing everyone and quietly offering her advice.
I was wondering why you think she makes a point to have Anne seem so meek in the beginning without really explaining her relationship with Wentworth until Chapter Four?
Anna: Anne hardly speaks at all in the first few chapters, but so much is revealed about her when Lady Russell consults her about Sir Walter’s finances and how he could get out of debt. Keeping her in the background allows Austen to unfold the events that will bring Wentworth back into Anne’s life. If it wasn’t for Sir Walter’s debts, he wouldn’t have to let Kellynch, and the Crofts wouldn’t have been found as tenants.
I’m surprised by how much Austen reveals about her characters, especially Sir Walter and Elizabeth, in just a few short pages. What do you think about Sir Walter, in comparison to the other patriarchs you’ve encountered in Austen’s novels?
Serena: I agree, Austen’s approach in Persuasion gives her a lot more latitude in unfolding Anne’s story.
It seems like Sir Walter is even more inept than some of the other patriarchs she’s depicted. Mr. Bennet is a reader, and while his home and finances are entailed away from the female line, he still cares for all his children, even if he thinks some of them are ridiculous, while Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse, is mostly preoccupied with his ailments and his own comforts, though his house and estate are still doing well. Sir Walter seems to just presume that everything will take care of itself because he’s titled, though a Baronet is not in the upper echelons of the aristocracy. Although, I just thought that perhaps Sir Walter is an even more ridiculous version of Mr. Woodhouse.
It’s odd that Sir Walter would favor Elizabeth who is so like him in her vanity and privilege, though I suppose in many ways, she’s like his own personal “yes” man, agreeing with whatever he wants. It makes me wonder how the mother would have fit into this family and what role she would have played between the sisters and between the sisters and their father.
Lady Russell seems to play a role in keeping Anne’s interests alive, but I wonder if she too has a selfish streak, particularly given her persuasion of Anne against an alliance with Wentworth.
Anna: It seems like Sir Walter and Mr. Woodhouse are complete opposites in that Sir Walter is so full of himself when it comes to appearances (both physical and status-wise) and Mr. Woodhouse goes way overboard in worrying about other people. In a way I’m reminded of General Tilney with the focus on wealth and status.
Austen does say Lady Elliot modeled restraint and kept him in line. I’m curious as to what prompted her “youthful infatuation” with Sir Walter? That would make for some interesting scenes, I’m sure!
Lady Russell is hard to get a finger on. There might be some selfishness there, but she also seems truly upset that Anne is deemed unimportant by Sir Walter and Elizabeth, in particular.
Serena: Yes. I see your point about Sir Walter and General Tilney, though I haven’t read that Austen book yet; I’m going on scenes in the movie.
Lady Elliot must have had a hold on Sir Walter to keep him in line…she must have been a charmer for sure. Wonder what kind of persuasion she employed! I really cannot imagine how she would have been attracted to him in the first place though.
Lady Russell is an enigma. She seems preoccupied with status, too. But I still wonder if she just wanted to keep Anne close for her own reasons, and that’s why she wanted to persuade her against Wentworth.
Do you think Anne rejected Charles Musgrove because she was still heartbroken?
Anna:Well, I hope I got the General Tilney thing right; now that you mention it, I did watch the movie again a couple of weekends ago, so maybe that’s what I’m thinking of. [Added after the discussion: I think our next Tearoom Chat should be Northanger Abbey! I can’t believe you haven’t read it yet!]
Hmm, that’s a good question about Anne and Charles. I think anyone who would turn around and marry her sister, Mary, really wasn’t the right kind of guy for Anne.
From the description Austen gives of Anne and Wentworth’s personalities when they first fall in love, they really were well suited to one another. That in itself would be difficult to get past, but then to see that all he’d predicted for himself in terms of career and fortune came true…well, I don’t know how Anne could not blame Lady Russell for her role in separating them. Given that she was 19 at the time and lived a relatively sheltered life, it’s not surprising that she would be so easily persuaded.
Serena: I can see how she would be persuaded given the family life she’s led with her father favoring her other sister, Elizabeth, and not thinking much about her at all. And with only Lady Russell’s guidance, it would be hard to know that she should stand up for what she wanted.
While I find it interesting that she would reject Musgrove, it is telling that he would so soon after offer for her other sister.
That’s a whole other ball of dysfunction over there at the Great House, isn’t it? What do you think was going on there that Austen was trying to show? And how does that family’s dysfunction compare to Anne’s family?
Anna: Anne considers Henrietta and Louisa “some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance” and even laments that they have an affection for one another that she never knew with Elizabeth or Mary. The whole Musgrove family seems so far removed from the world of the Elliots, yet Mary married into it and doesn’t seem all that happy about it.
The description of them being “friendly and hospitable, not much educated, and not at all elegant” makes them sound like they are so far beneath the Elliots, yet the Musgroves are the closest to them in social standing in the neighborhood. It makes me wonder, if Sir Walter is so obsessed with being a Baronet, why Mary married into that family, even if they were landowners? Is there any significance in that?
Serena: It’s also raises an interesting point about why Mary was allowed to marry into this family that is “below” the Elliots, and Anne was not allowed to marry Wentworth. Merely owning land means that you are eligible, or is it because Sir Walter really only cares about what is best for Elizabeth and not the others?
I think Anne loves the Musgroves because they are affectionate — something she lacks at home — and Mary has never been pushed so far in the background like Anne, and may find it stifling to be in such an affectionate family.
Anna: Well, you saw Sir Walter’s poor opinion of the Navy men when Mr. Shepherd approached him about renting to one of them. And Wentworth, at the time, had no money to his name, no status, just ambition. At least Charles will inherit his father’s property. But wasn’t it said that Anne could have overcome whatever objections Sir Walter might have had; it was Lady Russell’s opinion that really mattered? So if Sir Walter could be overcome, then maybe it didn’t really matter so much who Anne and Mary married.
And what does it say that at 29, Elizabeth is still unmarried? Yes, she was disappointed by Mr. Elliot, and yes, she didn’t find any one else as suitable as him for a husband for someone of her standing. But if she’s as handsome as she’s described, and the Elliots have some standing in society, why wasn’t there talk of someone else at least showing interest in her?
Serena: Yes, that’s what I wonder about too, why hasn’t Elizabeth had any other men coming after her if she’s so beautiful? I mean after all, Jane Bennet was considered a beauty, and she had admirers, and even Darcy thought she was pretty. Here, Elizabeth is supposed to be angelic, almost.
I guess it does mean that Lady Russell’s opinion mattered more to Anne, perhaps because they are friends.
I cannot wait to see what develops next, though at this point the book seems pretty close to what I’ve seen in the movies for the most part.
Anna: And, of course, she views Lady Russell as sort of a mother figure. I wonder if her mother had lived, what would she have said about her engagement to Wentworth?
I am looking forward to the next part as well. Even though I’ve read it before and haven’t forgotten the story, it’s like I’m reading it for the first time. I’ve had that feeling every time I’ve read Pride & Prejudice, and I think that’s part of the magic of Austen for me.
We hope you’ll help us continue the discussion in the comments!
And please join us next Friday, March 14th, at Serena’s blog, Savvy Verse & Wit, to discuss Volume I, Chapters 7-12. See you there!
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