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Persuasion
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Persuasion Fall'16 Discussion > Chaps. 1 thru 9

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message 1: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (last edited Oct 22, 2016 10:00AM) (new) - added it

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Discussing this section of the reading. I have added a synopsis, mainly exposition, although may be a **spoiler** if you want to start from scratch. I had thought it might be helpful if you have read in the past, but would like reminders in tracking our discussion. Skip if you want a clean start!

A synopsis of where we are:
Sir Walter Elliot, a widower and a very self-important baronet in Somerset, has mismanaged the family finances. He and oldest daughter Elizabeth, a self-involved 30ish single woman, decide to lease the house, Kellynch Hall, and go to Bath to afford grandness on a lesser budget. Second daughter Anne, in her late 20's, is tasked with making this move happen. Anne lives a more inner life and deals with personal disappointments of the past. To increase her difficulties, the new tenants of Kellynch will be the sister and brother-in-law of her former fiance, now naval Captain Wentworth.

Ann goes to youngest Elliot daughter Mary's home for an extended visit before going onward to Bath. Mary's husband's family, the Musgroves, are a large landed family, and friendly with the neighborhood. They adore Anne and appreciate her kindness, level mind, and her patience. During Anne's visit, the Musgroves befriend Captain Wentworth, visiting Kellynch Hall, and he becomes a frequent visitor of the Musgroves as well. He and Ann have not met in almost 10 years.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments I liked the opening of your synopsis where you said Sir Walter was a self-important baronet. It is odd that the oldest and youngest daughters relished in that self-importance and gloried in it. Whereas Anne, overlooked and neglected was the one that made things happen. She tried to fill her mother's place but with an indolent father [toward things of business or of the estate], was not able to rein him or her older sister in with their over spending and neglect of the Kellynch estate. Lady Russel was her only comfort.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 480 comments It’s interesting the relationship between Lady Russell and Anne. You’re right, she’s Anne’s only congenial friend; but at the same time, she was responsible for influencing Anne to make the worst decision of her life so far! There must always be a bit of ambivalence in the attachment, I would assume.

I notice in these early chapters how long it takes the author to focus on Anne. Everyone else is described, and speaks, and Anne is just there. It’s kind of emblematic of Anne’s position in the family. It isn’t till the end of chapter 3 that we really get a glimpse of who she might be. Is anyone reading the book for the first time? Did you realize at first that Anne was the heroine, or were you unclear about that?


Mary Catelli | 50 comments It may be longer and less witty than the opening of Pride and Prejudice, but the opening sentence of Persuasion is one of the great openings of novels.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments Lady Russell apparently didn't have children, so here she is giving advice to her goddaughter. She felt an obligation to her deceased friend Lady Elliot to give the advice she thought her friend would have given.

I can't help but refer to Austen's Mansfield Park where the 3rd sister married a navy man [Price] and produced more children than they could care for. That one didn't work out so well.

Would Captain Wentworth have done so well as a married man as he did as an angry man determined to show everyone that he was worthy?


Mary Catelli | 50 comments Remember, OTOH, that they would not have married. He would still have had to make his fortune; Anne reflects that she might have had a very long engagement.

(view spoiler).

He would have had an incentive. Though, perhaps, not as much of one.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments Captain Benwick and Captain Harville's sister had a long engagement as he attempted to make his fortune to satisfy her family.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
The family interactions and the friendships are such an important part of this story ....and the relationships that fall between family and friend (L. Russell). J.W., it seems to me that Sir Walter and Elizabeth have the most compatible view toward self-importance and status and a grand way of living. Even though younger Mary has a similar outlook also, as we see in later chapters, she is also largely ignored by W and E. So, I wonder if the middle and younger female children did become ignored easily, especially to someone with a personality as Sir Walter's. And likely Anne was more influenced by her mother's death and her outlook as been formed by real emotion (grief) and more real things in life.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Abigail,

That is an interesting observation. The first 3 chapters feel like I am sitting with a friend explaining a detailed story of of someone I have newly met. I don't know if Jane would have intended that or not, but that is fun to ponder. Maybe we reach the level of involvement with Anne because the backstory and the current situation is explained so well. And at the last passage of chapter 3, we transition so easily to becoming Anne's confidante, as so many literary analysts have written about.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 480 comments Nowadays, of course, that kind of expository opening would get a book instantly rejected by agent or publisher! But I like the way old-fashioned books ease into the story; they let you get your bearings before action starts pinging around. Perhaps it’s more surprising that Pride and Prejudice does NOT open with exposition (at least, it has only two paragraphs of exposition before the curtain is raised on a scene) than that Persuasion does.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Abigail, I can only answer: what a shame if novels should be reviewed in such a formulaic method these days. It is only around 20-25 pages of text, depending upon editions, and I am onto the story like glue in this section -- curious about where we are headed in these people's lives.

Aside from what took place in Anne's personal life at age 19, the other past story of importance is the former relationship between the Kellynch Elliots and young Walter Elliot. I feel that Austen had some way of making the Walter Elliot story just shadowy enough that we don't know what to expect throughout, setting up a good anticipation.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments Anne, the heroine, is the second daughter. I imagine the father's disappointment with her not being the hoped for son, and yet [unlike Bennet in P&P], Elliot's favorite was his first born daughter. When they lost the son, that was a blow to the family.

When Mary was born, that had to be a great disappointment, as they still clung to the hope of a son. Poor Mary, not being born the needed heir for the entail. And then they lost their mother. As a child, Mary probably saw that she received more attention when she was ill or feigned illness. Elliot and Elizabeth couldn't be bothered so Anne [in lieu of their mother] helped take care of little Mary. Thus, establishing a pattern that lasted into adulthood.

Each girl seeking attention in their own way. Mary through illness and being unwell and Anne through her attempts of being useful.


Louise Sparrow (louisex) | 301 comments I think it's also worth remembering that Elizabeth and Mary resemble their father in personality where as Anne favours her mother. Sir Walter only really values people that agree with him, neither he nor Elizabeth understand Anne.

Mary likely got the attention from Anne that their mother would have provided, and still looks to her for that affection even if she can't return the genuine interest she craves herself.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments Louise Sparrow: Oh, very good. Poor Anne. I always felt for her.


message 15: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (last edited Oct 24, 2016 12:55PM) (new) - added it

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
I find myself, of course, having many reasons to dislike Sir Walter, but it is a mixed emotion due to the fact that these families who worked within this legal method of land entailment knew that without sons -- their whole world would shift to someone else in the family. In Sense and Sensibility, Jane describes how risky it is for women even when the landholdings shifts to a half-brother (...and a Fanny). So, like so many of these families, they lived within a system that was good for the land, but not much good for the individuals. So they certainly did a lot of manuevering to make it work out best.

Did anyone pause over the description of Elizabeth's disappointment with past dealings with William? There is an implication that maybe it wasn't heartbreak so much as disappointment of her likelihood of losing her home. Is it another case where an arranged union of this type could not be called what it is? Walter and Elizabeth too prideful to call it honestly? I wonder if it was common or not to come right out and talk about such unions? Any thoughts?


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Rachel (randhrshipper1) | 674 comments Mod
Sarah, I also got the feeling that the earlier situation with Mr. Elliot was more a case of Sir Walter and Elizabeth assuming that a marriage should take place, and being disappointed, than anything else.

Like others, I also like the way the beginning of this novel eases the reader into the various personalities and relationships here until the very end of chapter 3 when the audience is given the first hint of Anne's past with Wentworth. I also love how this section ends, when Wentworth helps Anne by taking her roughhousing nephew off of her.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments Rachel, I agree with you on the earlier assumptions of Sir Walter and Elizabeth thinking that William would be ever so anxious to make the match. However, I see his blanching at the notion of saddling himself with the pompous unrestrained Sir Walter, a debt ridden estate, Elizabeth [a female version of her father], and he simply bolted. His marrying wealth [although throwing him beneath the favor of his relations] saved him from his worst nightmare... poverty. Had he married Elizabeth, would he have any control over Sir Walter? He would have watched in horror as the estate fell further into debt.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
J.W. and Rachel, William's behavior, past and present (as we move ahead into the coming chapters) is certainly enough to make us ponder. Yes, his past decisions may have not been so much an aversion to the personalities of Walter and Elizabeth, but maybe his feeling that he would not have any control over them. Good points.

Austen terms it "this very awkward history of Mr. Elliot" and I love how she gives it that setup. For a potential heir, he did make a marked choice in marrying far below himself socially, so clearly choosing money -- I almost equate this to straight gambling. Making us wonder about this guy immediately. Not only that, another questionable point (and the unforgivable one in Elizabeth's eyes) is that he spoken disrepectfully and contemptuously about them in the social circles. This seems to an unwise and unnecessary risk in any case.


QNPoohBear | 600 comments copy/pasted from a previous buddy read. Don't have time to reread my novel right now. FYI: Amanda Root may appear at JASNA 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. At the very least, a taped interview with her will be shown.

Sir Walter is a great character. He reminds me of my dad but my dad is not THAT self-absorbed. This opening scene is funny because a baronet is a commoner. Though he can pass the title on, he can't have a seat in the House of Lords. He doesn't really have any power and I think he thinks his baronetage gives him more consequence than it actually does.

The opening scene is telling because it shows what his relationship with his daughters will be.

Some parts I bookmarked as sticking out at me in terms of Anne and her character:
Ch. 5 "Anne had better stay for nobody will want her in Bath." This is just so horrible. They're MOVING and they don't want her help yet SHE is the one who proposed the move in the first place and would be the best person to have around. I wonder what this is doing for her sense of self worth? the Musgroves are kind but they don't really appreciate Anne or know her very well. They take her for granted.

Mary cracks me up. She reminds me so much of my sister, except now my sister focuses her hypochondria on the kids. She's not as bad as Mary and I don't have Anne's patience. I think Anne is based on Cassandra. Cass was the patient, nurturing family member. Jane died in her arms and Cass was always the one called on to help with the babies. Jane liked telling the kids stories and playing with them but when it came to baby care, she wasn't all that interested. (I think that played a part in her decision not to marry. If she had wanted children, she would have stuck with Harris Bigg-Wither). Anne is patient, nurturing and kind. She's a little too patient. She needs to tell Mary to get over herself.

Poor Anne dreads seeing Frederick again. She is still in love with him though trying hard to forget.

I do think he's punishing Anne. He deliberately looks at her "THAT was in the year 6" and other references to that particular year in their lives. He loves her still but his pride was wounded and he won't admit it. So he's willing to flirt with the silly little Musgrove girls because they are the opposite of what he believes Anne to be. He doesn't really know her as a mature woman. His sister is a very perceptive woman. I think she thinks he's being stupid, which he is.

Anne is such a great character. She's actually quite remarkable for her time period. Elizabeth's snobby, entitled attitude is more normal. I think though this novel really requires an understanding of the time period to fully appreciate Anne and the decisions she makes. I highly recommend Professor Amanda Vickery's series At Home with the Georgians. I found some of it on YouTube and the DVD on Amazon. If you want to know what life was like for a spinster you must see this series.

The Musgroves are kind to Anne even if they don't quite value her as they should. A spinster's life would be taking care of her parents and/or siblings' children, obeying her brother's every command (if she had one) and basically being an unpaid servant. If she was lucky enough to have some money, she might hire a companion and a small house in Bath or somewhere else spinsters and widows reside. She just doesn't have the option to stand up to her family and say "No I don't feel like taking care of your horrible sons, Mary!" (The way I can do to my sister, even though she sometimes ropes me into it anyway).

cH. 8 is so heartbreaking!
A quote I underlined is very telling ". Once she felt that he was looking at herself, observing her altered features, perhaps, trying to trace in them the ruins of the face which had once charmed him; and once she knew that he must have spoken of her..." She's so aware of him and what he thinks of her. Her sense of herself is heartbreaking. She doesn't dance which indicates she thinks of herself as no longer marriagable and the Musgroves don't even notice.

This kills me: "Anne did not wish for more of such looks and speeches. His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than any thing." She wants to forget him but she can't and longs for his good opinion.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
That would be lovely to hear Amanda's Roots thoughts on the character. I did love her portrayal.

I wanted to comment on part of your compiled thoughts on the family situation. I have not done the background research on the spinsters of that period, but I am sure there was a general consensus on what their role was within the larger family. I derive some different things from Austen's portrait here though. I do think the Musgroves had a warmth and appreciation for Anne, the person. I mean the larger family though -- not Mary, because Mary is different as her actual sister, and an Elliot.

I actually see the Musgroves as welcoming Anne in as one of their own. This will come out in the later sections of reading also, but we will find that Anne has been the preferred Elliot, well, probably always.

And Anne does accept the "role" there in the family -- the traditional "aunt" role to her total disadvantage I think. I think she may have embraced this slightly kooky family -- because they do have a genuineness that the Elliots will never. I think Anne welcomes that. And that makes an interesting contract with Mary. Mary doesn't embrace this type of group -- as we continue to see in later chapters -- Mary still wants to be revered, and her wishes as an Elliot be put before everyone else's. The Musgroves are a less formal family -- Anne seems to roll with that -- Mary thinks they are inferior. She talks on about her aches and pains, which may be real (I still wonder), but she uses them as a guilt factor as to why the other women do not "pay their calls" regularly as she thinks is due her (very Walter Elliot talking here). I think in the novel there are many more Musgrove children than portrayed in the movies, right?, so Mary is naturally not the focus of these people's lives. Mary has long become tiresome to them with her complaints.

Like you said, QN, the baronetcy as the Elliots see it is really a kind of fiction. They play it for all it is worth. That I am sure was very typical when families had titles, it could go to their heads. I think Anne is looking for the more real things in life, and actually takes a good bit of pleasure in being around the nephews and caring for the kooky family (compared to the hall of looking glasses that is Kellynch). I think inside though, she had not accepted it as who she is. I think the younger, free-wheeling Musgrove daughters would normally look at Anne as the "older aunt" and that she surely wouldn't be marrying (young girls would probably still think that today) but I don't see that Anne has accepted that internally. I think Anne is a very quiet volcano.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Thanks, too, for recommending the At Home with the Georgians series.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 480 comments I’m not sure how much the role of spinsters in a family has actually changed. In my life, I was always considered a negligible quantity (despite a higher IQ than any of the males) and relegated to the care of elders in failing health or with failing minds—which I did, but only because they would have been completely abandoned had I not, while everyone else got to pursue their lives as they chose. And then, of course, the same people who had stuck me in that role turned around and thought they were better than I because they have careers, children, etc. I think that plays out in a lot of families, and it has a lot to do with why so many women cleave to Persuasion for touching a deep chord.

Very astute comments as always, QNPoohBear! I’m sorry you have to live life as an Elliot! ;-) Anne is indeed a very unusual character, radical under her surface compliance with the status quo. I believe at the time she would have been seen as embodying some of the “rights of man” radicalism of a Thomas Paine, though spared associations with Jacobinism by her loyalty to the Navy. On a purely personal level, aside from the political overtones, she seems to see the free-and-easy manners of the naval people as an escape from the stultifying falsities of her family life. And she ties in nicely with a constant theme of Jane Austen’s, the supreme value of good character over social position. Having a good heart, genuinely caring about others, seeing the best in others were everything to her.


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Mary Catelli | 50 comments J. W. wrote: "Rachel, I agree with you on the earlier assumptions of Sir Walter and Elizabeth thinking that William would be ever so anxious to make the match. However, I see his blanching at the notion of saddling himself with the pompous unrestrained Sir Walter, a debt ridden estate, Elizabeth [a female version of her father], and he simply bolted. His marrying wealth [although throwing him beneath the favor of his relations] saved him from his worst nightmare... poverty. Had he married Elizabeth, would he have any control over Sir Walter? He would have watched in horror as the estate fell further into debt. "

Of course, that means as much that it is not really an insight into his character. The down-side of it would repel just about anyone.


Karen Sofarin | 27 comments Qn, I had never thought about Anne Elliott being based on Cassandra, but now it makes perfect sense. Having read biographies and Jane's letters, who was more patient and wonderful than Cassandra in Jane's lifetime. And Anne is such a model of a character, the best and most generous sister in all circumstances.

I love this novel and claim it to be second only to Pride and Prejudice. Then I reread it and wonder if it maybe sneaking into first place. Enjoying this discussion so much already and the thought of meeting Amanda Root in 2018 if I could go -- loving it already!


Karlyne Landrum Karen wrote: "Qn, I had never thought about Anne Elliott being based on Cassandra, but now it makes perfect sense. Having read biographies and Jane's letters, who was more patient and wonderful than Cassandra in..."

Look out! It snuck into my first place years ago!

And I, too, would love to meet Amanda Root - I thought she was perfect as Anne.


Megan The JASNA AGM of 2018 will be in Kansas City and its focus will be the novel Persuasion.

QNPoohBear - which region are you in?


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Mrs Benyishai | 227 comments I would like to hear(read) bout the conference in Washington from the lucky participents. Maybe someone can open a discussion devoted to wht you learned there (Mrs) Miriam


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Mrs Benyishai | 227 comments If I may add I am enjoying the comments so far.It is giving me a new perspective on the first chpters. I have very definite views of Wentworh but that is for later. If I have seemed to disappear-I haven't. I am a purist a nd don't read the spinoffs ,hence the silence


Karlyne Landrum Megan wrote: "The JASNA AGM of 2018 will be in Kansas City and its focus will be the novel Persuasion.

QNPoohBear - which region are you in?"


Kansas City? Well, at least that's central! Do you have the dates?


Megan September 28-30, 2018. You have to be a paid up member of JASNA to attend. Registration is usually in early June. Most AGMs sell out within 48 hours.


Megan I've always felt the word "vapid" should have a picture of Sir Walter next to it in the dictionary.


QNPoohBear | 600 comments Megan wrote: "I've always felt the word "vapid" should have a picture of Sir Walter next to it in the dictionary."

LOL so true!

I'm in the Northeast/New England region. Not close enough to Boston though to attend meetings right now.

You all have provided some new insights into Anne's character. I'll have to think about that when I'm not so tired.

Persuasion has been my favorite Austen novel since I first read it as a young college student years ago. Somehow I fully sympathized with Anne though our lives are quite different.
I think the role of single women in a family has changed a lot in the last generation or two... if I count as a different generation from my cousins and younger siblings. I'm expected to get a job and help out around the house but my parents are eager to get rid of me. More young adults live with their parents now and/or move in and out.

Single women can be independent and not necessarily caretakers. I have a choice whether I want to listen to my hypochondriac sister or care for her sometimes obnoxious children. (I usually say no but get railroaded into staying with them for an hour and a half if no one else is home. Like Mary's children, all hell tends to break loose when they hear the words "no" and "Clean up time." ;-) )


message 33: by Brit (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brit What I really like about Jane Austen's writing is her ability to develop the characters. Some are foolish, some are praiseworthy, but none are perfect.

In P&P we have the somewhat sensible Mr. Bennett and the silly and foolish Mrs. Bennett. In Persuasion, the parents were the opposite:

“Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot's character; vanity of person and of situation”

“Lady Elliot had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable; whose judgement and conduct, if they might be pardoned the youthful infatuation which made her Lady Elliott...”

Just like Mr. Bennett, in a moment of weakness she had fallen in love and made a foolish marriage. Of course Lady Elliott does not figure in the story, except being remembered a couple of times.

Persuasion has been my favorite Austen novel, so I am going to re-read it again. I am enjoying the discussion.


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Brit SarahC wrote: "J.W. and Rachel, William's behavior, past and present (as we move ahead into the coming chapters) is certainly enough to make us ponder. Yes, his past decisions may have not been so much an aversio..."

I am going to play the devil's advocate a little bit here and question whether we can assume Willam Elliott to be a scoundrel based on what we read in the first chapter. He may turn out to be one, but not quite yet.

He chose not to marry Elizabeth Elliott, but rather chose to marry a rich woman (of inferior birth). Maybe he married for money, but he may have married for love. It is the Elliott view that he did wrong in marrying this "inferior" lady. His character is more determined by how he treated his wife, not in marrying her.

Mr. Elliott had attempted no apology for his marriage. Once married, his loyalty should be to his wife and to apologize would have been an insult to his wife.

According to their friends, he had “spoken most disrespectfully of them all, most slightingly and contemptuously of the very blood he belonged to, and the honours which were hereafter to be his own.” Now he may said some nasty things about them. On the other hand, the Elliott's were conceited and vain people (at least some), so he may merely have pointed out their folly, which they would not appreciate. Truth sometimes hurt.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
Brit wrote: "SarahC wrote: "J.W. and Rachel, William's behavior, past and present (as we move ahead into the coming chapters) is certainly enough to make us ponder. Yes, his past decisions may have not been so ..."

Yes, Brit, this "awkward story of Mr. Elliot" is told to the tune of Elizabeth and Sir Walter. We don't know his motives yet, but we have them supplied for us through the narcissistic eye of those two. (And with that sublime writing tone that is Austen.) They were miffed and upset by William and added to their justification by making much over whatever it was that he said among their friends. Right, apologizing to them (about the new Mrs.) would not be something that would be done. And it was more that they wanted continued reverence than apology probably? His actions toward them does seem like he was gambling on his chances of any future socializing with the Walter Elliots. Was he reckless to burn bridges? The story awaits.

The Elliots mostly go from being exquisitely entertaining to being too based on people in real life!


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 480 comments The one whose dialogue I enjoy the most is Mrs. Clay. So preposterously slimy, and not smart enough to do it well! The whole long speech in chapter 3 where she is carrying on about the merits and challenges of different professions, and in the middle “she stopt a moment to consider what might do for the clergyman”!! So much fun.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments I think William Elliot decided that he would inherit the title no matter what he did and so married to secure his fortune. There certainly was no fortune at Kellynch Hall. Only when it was suggested that Sir Walter might remarry and possibly produce an heir, was William prodded to move to action. Mrs. Clay was an obstacle that needed to be considered and/or eliminated.


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SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
I will go back to that Clay part specifically Abigail, because yes, we haven't mentioned Mrs. Clay. There's a whole story! And good point, William is his own agent, not seeming to care about playing the role of attached family member -- at that time -- he had his own plans to carry out.


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Mary Catelli | 50 comments And Elizabeth's shining confidence that Mrs. Clay is no danger to Sir Walter, romantically:

"Mrs Clay," said she, warmly, "never forgets who she is; and as I am rather better acquainted with her sentiments than you can be, I can assure you, that upon the subject of marriage they are particularly nice, and that she reprobates all inequality of condition and rank more strongly than most people."



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Brit Abigail wrote: "The one whose dialogue I enjoy the most is Mrs. Clay. So preposterously slimy, and not smart enough to do it well! The whole long speech in chapter 3 where she is carrying on about the merits and c..."

I actually think Mrs. Clay does a good job talking to Mr. Elliott! Between her father and herself, they get the job done in talking Sir Walter into doing what was right or necessary. They both do a lot of smooching in order to get Sir Walter to come around.

I would not really want to listen to that kind of brown nosing myself. I have sat through it in the past and it was tedious, but the Elliott's seem to like it.


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments Brit, you are right, 'the Elliot's seem to like it'... that's only the half of it. It strokes their feathers, soothes their emotions, inflates their ego, and fluffs up the aristocratic nuances with which they flavor their daily lives. Oh, good grief.


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Brit I am slowly making it through this first part and I am finding some real zingers at times. Richard Muscgrove does not figure much in the story as he is deceased by this time. Evidently, he must have been a difficult child. So we read, the Muscgrove's had the ILL FORTUNE of a very troublesome and hopeless son and the GOOD FORTUNE to loose him by his 20th year! Wow! That is some way of talking about a person. Is it Jane Austen's voice or the voice of her times that permit such cold and crass statements?


J. W. Garrett (jeannewallacegarrett) | 59 comments This could just be me...however, I don't think she meant it as cold and crass. Jane often wrote to amuse and entertain her family and from an early age. So she was talking to her audience, the reader. This was just her observation and not meant to hurt or damage anyone's sensibilities. She often made observations... statements... conclusions with the reader and she was simply sharing with us that this was sad, but not too great a regrettable situation as he was such a disagreeable person.


Karlyne Landrum I agree with you, J.W., and have to add that our times have changed our sensibilities a lot. It used to be a virtue to tell things the way that they actually are, and Austen is inviting us to have a smile with her at the Musgrove's expense. They also, as we do today, do not want to speak ill of the dead, and so they innocently concoct a fairy tale life for him. While their son was alive, he was a real pain, but now that he's dead, they can concoct a nice fairy tale life for him. It makes me smile, because I've certainly seen people do the same thing.


Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 480 comments That is a startling passage, and I think J. W. is right to put it in the context of JA amusing and entertaining her family. She takes this kind of bracing, sarcastic tone a lot more in her personal letters than in the novels (though I remember something from P&P about Sir William Lucas and his daughter being listened to with about as much pleasure as the rattle of the chaise). When this tone is used to refer to the death of a child it feels especially jarring.

I don’t think she means us to read it so literally: she’s pointing out the inconsistency, the manufactured element of the grief being expressed by the elder Mrs. Musgrove. We should also take into account a difference in the way children were viewed in the eighteenth versus the nineteenth centuries. People were still having numerous children because they lost a lot of them to illness and accident in childhood, and they maintained a certain detachment about them, perhaps for that reason. People still referred to young children as “it” in those days, not even using “he” or “she” until they were at least six. Also, highlighting the faux aspect of Mrs. Musgrove’s grief is consistent with the highlighting of the faux aspect of the younger Mrs. Musgrove’s (Mary’s) hysteria over her son’s accident. A lot of this book seems to be about the genuine versus the faux—how to discover what is real in life and cleave to it.

Perhaps we are meant to gasp with shock at those words. (I suspect Jane Austen believed she was writing a fairly shocking novel in Persuasion. Certainly the political views embodied in it were bordering on the radical in their day.) Maybe she’s expecting us to go beyond the initial shock and wonder whether there hadn’t been something the Musgrove parents could have done when the boy was younger to make him less unsatisfactory, so that he could have merited more genuine affection—Gawd knows they are pretty lax with their daughters’ upbringing! In P&P we also have a pair of parents who shirk their duty of guiding and shaping their children; maybe JA is returning to that idea.

All that said, the passage does feel a bit like a misstep, or at least an overreach.


message 46: by SarahC, Austen Votary & Mods' Asst. (new) - added it

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 1473 comments Mod
I see it as Jane is telling us, her confidant, the closer truth of Richard Musgrove -- that he had been a challenge at home and difficult for his military commanders. It would not have been spoken in that way openly in the drawing room, but we are told the real story so that we can see the importance of Wentworth addressing the subject with Mrs. Musgrove. It shows Wentworth and his attention to good manners and speaking as respectfully as possible to the mother who would feel something at Richard's death either way.


Megan SarahC wrote: "I see it as Jane is telling us, her confidant, the closer truth of Richard Musgrove -- that he had been a challenge at home and difficult for his military commanders. It would not have been spoken ..."

Agree! It shows Wentworth's ability to be diplomatic and sensitive to other people's feeling. Unlike Sir Walter...


Karlyne Landrum There's definitely a feeling of sense vs sensibility in these accounts. Mrs. Musgrove and Mary, both, are full of feelings - but neither of them are very bright. I don't see that Mrs. Musgrove gives full rein to her passions, though, as Mary definitely does. The death of her son did give her grief, and she channeled it into a mild belief that he was better than he actually was. If Mary had lost her son, her passion for herself and her loss would have been immense. But I doubt that it would have been anymore real than Mrs. Musgrove's - in fact, a lot less real, because it would have been a much more selfish reaction.


QNPoohBear | 600 comments The comment on Dick is ironic. I see it as the sort of thing gossips would say behind fluttering fans. "They say... I don't mean any offense you know but... he..." It shows what sort of people the Musgroves are -indulgent parents who think highly of their children even if their children don't deserve it. Dick sounds like a nasty sort of person. Wentworth, my favorite hero, knows how to ease the pain of grieving parents. He's probably had to do it many times and not always for angelic sons. Problem children were often sent away from home to let someone else discipline them.


Karlyne Landrum QNPoohBear wrote: "The comment on Dick is ironic. I see it as the sort of thing gossips would say behind fluttering fans. "They say... I don't mean any offense you know but... he..." It shows what sort of people the ..."

Right! And even today, in these enlightened times (ouch! bit my tongue in cheek), problem children are often dealt with by being sent away and such.


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