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Persuasion, A Final Tearoom Chat

Anna and I are chatting about Persuasion by Jane Austen this month.  We hope that you’ll join us. 

Today’s discussion will be about the final part of the book — Vol. 2, Chapters 7-end.

Today, I’m drinking Orange and Cinnamon Spice tea, and Anna is having some water.

Serena:  The rain comes to Bath and there is some disagreement about whether Anne Elliot or Mrs. Clay will ride in Lady Dalrymple’s carriage.  Mrs. Clay seems to be motivated to walk with Mr. Elliot, but Anne seems as though she too wants to walk with him.  Is this a subtle rivalry for Mr. Elliot’s affections?

Anna: That’s how I took it, and it makes sense given what you find out about the two of them later. I thought it was interesting that there was even a discussion about it, but to me it also highlights Anne’s unimportance within her family. Mrs. Clay is no one to Lady Dalrymple, and Anne is a relation and definitely ranks higher than Mrs. Clay in social standing, so why was there even a question as to which one of them would get to accompany Elizabeth?

Serena: That’s what I find funny because in this situation, it wouldn’t matter what Mrs. Clay would want, Anne is of higher social standing. I do see this as the most blatant fore-shadowing of Austen’s books — well the one’s I have read.

I do find it interesting that in this little shop there is a moment when her sister, Elizabeth, can recognize and shun Wentworth, and Wentworth in turn can recognize Mr. Elliot as the man from Lyme, and he’s subjected to further gossip about him and Anne. That must have made him sad. I like that Austen is showing more of her hero even when he is separate from his heroine. What do you think about this in terms of her other novels? Do you think she had been developing her craft to this point throughout her other novels, so that she could show both sides more clearly?

Anna: From what I can remember, there is more about Captain Wentworth’s feelings, etc., than the other heroes. It may have been a sign of her maturity as a writer, to more effortlessly juggle both viewpoints, but I also think it serves as a contrast between him and Mr. Elliot. By letting the reader truly know Wentworth’s feelings and the way he handles himself amidst his jealousy and the awkwardness of their first meeting in Bath, you really get a sense of his feelings toward Anne being sincere, and it underscores the insincerity beneath Mr. Elliot’s charming facade.

What did you think of Mrs. Smith’s revelations to Anne about Mr. Elliot? I thought it was interesting how much she waffled about what to reveal. At first, she seemed to be saying nice things to Anne about him, and it was obvious she had an ulterior motive, and then as soon as Anne insists that she’s not going to marry him, then Mrs. Smith just lets loose.

Serena: I found Mrs. Smith’s waffling natural for not only someone of her position, but also of a dear friend. Friends always have a hard time telling the unvarnished truth to their friends because they don’t want to hurt their feelings, but they also don’t want their friends to be hurt by a scoundrel.

I think from Mrs. Smith’s point of view, the marriage was all but settled from the gossip she heard, which made her want to wish Anne well in her nuptials, even if it was to Mr. Elliot. And I’m sure her need for help with some land was also part of her motivation to say nothing bad about him, effectively turning her away from him on purpose, making him more reluctant to help even if Anne pleaded with him to do so.

I love when Anne and Wentworth meet in the Octagon room and they have a deeper conversation. I love that she finds strength in the stares from her father and sister. This is a true sign that she’s a stronger woman, ready to stand on her own, don’t you think?

Anna: I think you start to see Anne coming into her own almost from the moment that she finds out Wentworth isn’t engaged to Louisa, and as soon as she realizes Wentworth still loves her but that he’s jealous of Mr. Elliot, you see her go out of her way to try to let him know there’s nothing to worry about on that front.

I love Anne’s discussion with Captain Harville because, while Wentworth has made it clear in his references to Benwick and Fanny Harville that he still loves her, this is really the first time where Anne makes the strength and constancy of her feelings known to him. And of all the ways in which Austen’s heroes and heroines circumvent the rules limiting contact before marriage, the way in which Wentworth lets Anne know about his letter is by far the sweetest and most creative.

Serena: Anne in that conversation with Harville seems contrived to me. It’s almost as if Wentworth and he had a conversation about her and Harville helps him out by getting her to engage in conversation. But that could just be the skeptic in me.

I do know that their conversation incites Wentworth to write the letter to her, which is against social convention, and that it is a hurried letter. Even in a hurry, he’s very eloquent about his feelings for her. I do like how they are alone but not alone because he’s listening to her conversation and he is speaking to her in a letter. Austen must have loved that these two would go outside of convention to have this conversation.

I also love the contrast between the Musgroves and Anne’s own family — like when they unexpectedly show up to give everyone a card for an evening party at their place. It’s like an obligation that they all feel they have to comply with, and it’s surprising that Wentworth is given a card especially after how Elizabeth brushed him off in the shop. Why do you think he was given a card? Was that Elizabeth trying to get a better handle on his fortune so he could be a possible suitor, as Mr. Elliot seemed more interested in Anne?

Anna: I didn’t feel that way about the conversation. That may have been the case I suppose, but I took it as Harville, just like Wentworth, was surprised that Benwick was basically already done grieving for Fanny. I think Harville would take it even harder, given that she was his sister, and now he was tasked with getting the miniature that was intended for her framed for Louisa. Maybe I just got all wrapped up in the emotions, but I thought he was sincere about that, hence why Wentworth was taking care of the details and was at the writing desk in the first place.

Austen makes a point to show how the atmosphere in the room changes as soon as the rest of the Elliot clan arrives. They certainly suck the life out of the party. I don’t think Elizabeth was really interested in Wentworth; it was more that his social standing had risen and made him worth knowing, worth acknowledging, plus he also grabbed Lady Dalrymple’s attention at the concert.

I couldn’t help but notice at this point in the novel how very much the Musgroves, especially Mrs. Musgrove, enjoy having Anne around, even making a point to say that their box for the theater needed to be rescheduled so that Anne could for certain attend. I wonder what Elizabeth and Sir Walter would have said had they heard Anne so willing to skip the party at Camden-place to go to the theater with them.

Serena: Well I know what they would have thought, given how appalled he was that she went to see Mrs. Smith and not their “relative.” I love that they are so oppressive compared to everyone else. It makes me think that the Musgroves are the type of people Austen would have preferred herself, rather than the social climbers.

What do you think about the walk back where Anne and Wentworth get to converse?

Anna: What I find striking about their conversation after she reads the letter is that Austen gives them some privacy at first: “There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises … There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected…” And then there is the full accounting of what happened on his side so they can better understand one another.

Serena: Isn’t that true with most mature relationships. You already know who you are … more completely … and then you communicate with your partner and they understand you more completely. It’s like they loved each other, but Wentworth was not aware of how much, say, duty meant to Anne, for instance.

I like this more mature relationship, it’s better than that fairy tale that many expect.

This was fun! We’ll have to do this again for Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park.

Anna: There’s a richness and fullness to their relationship that we don’t see in Austen’s other novels because they have a history. And while it’s painful to take this journey with them, especially at the beginning, I think they come out better for it. I think the maturity of their relationship is why this is one of my favorite Austen novels. After everything they’ve gone though, I can be confident that theirs will be a happy marriage. I like to think all of Austen’s couples lived happily ever after, but I’m most confident about Anne and Wentworth.

Yes, we definitely need to have another chat for another Austen novel down the road!

Serena: I agree, I am most confident that they will be happy as a married couple.

What’s your favorite Austen novel? Which do you think we should chat about in 2015?