Thursday, July 31, 2008


What does it mean to be a Janeite? Does it mean I can go to the convention as a journalist and interview Janeites for an alternative paper? (The conference is sold out.)

Austen fans have uniformly good taste and all seem to have a favorite novel. Some argue for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; others for SENSE AND SENSIBILITY; still others for EMMA; others for MANSFIELD PARK. I cannot tell you how many writers have written about MANSFIELD PARK : A. S. Byatt and Ignes Sodre in IMAGINING CHARACTERS, Nabokov in one of his lectures. No one seems to like MANSFIELD PARK much, so one wonders why they bother.

This was my year of PERSUASION. I read this as satire, though many read this as a conservative novel reinforcing class and rank.

Anne Elliott, quiet except for her inner voice, is almost too demure at 27, and is unlikely to marry, having already turned down two proposals. Wentworth, the man she loved, was disapproved of by her family and by Lady Russell, her arbiter of taste; Charles, whom she didn’t love, settled for her sister, Mary. When Captain Wentworth shows up in her life again, he almost sadistically flaunts his preference for another woman. Yet the two are not unaware of each other. We experience Anne's agony personally; we hear Wentworth addressing Anne's weaknesses when he talks to his new love interest, Louisa, obviously still more than a little obsessed with Anne.

There are so many triangles in PERSUASION, too many to chart. Anne, her brother-in-law, Charles, and Mary, her sister; Anne, Wentworth, and Louisa (Wentworth’s new love interest); Anne, Captain Benwick, and Louisa, etc.. Anne is much in demand for a demure and pale beauty.

There are also parallels between PERSUASION and other books. Mrs. Smith and Miss Smith in PERSUASION and EMMA (there is even a Smith in MANSFIELD PARk); the trip to Lyme with day trips in other books; etc.

Have heroes ever been so cranky? Captain Wentworth, Knightley, Darcy, etc.? Love can tame them.

Anne does learn in the novel. She has compromised in the past, but learns more about asserting herself and flirtation. She is occasionally snobbish, but mostly inwardly mirthful over her father's and sisters' obsession with class (espcieially Mary's inappropriateness: of the sisters, she is the one we like the best). Anne has made mistakes, but is so likable, heroic (the only one not to panic when people get sick), though it doesn't always show on the outside: again, she hangs back, useful in the household, like a maiden aunt, never putting herself forward, a brilliant woman who can read Italian, appreciate music, who knows the social forms, but in the end knows the forms get in everyone's way.

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