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Persuasion, A Tearoom Chat Week 2

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

Click the here for our first discussion post of Vol. 1, Ch. 1-6.

Please see below for part 2 of our discussion for Vol. 1, Ch. 7-12

Today, I’m sipping a Mint herbal tea blend tea, accompanied by 2 Samoa Girl Scout cookies.  Anna had some lemonade.

Serena: Anne assumes that Wentworth has been avoiding her as plans change between the Musgroves and him for where and when they meet.  Do you think that’s the guilt and shame she feels or do you suspect his avoiding her?

Anna: Maybe he was avoiding her, but I noticed more that she was avoiding him, being happy to take care of little Charles so his parents could go to dinner with Wentworth at the Great House. I did get a sense of her anxiety about their initial meeting, and at least when it happened, it was over fairly quickly for her.

Serena: I found it ironic that she thought that he was avoiding her, but in point of fact, it was really the other way around. She wanted to nurse Charles or feign a headache more than she wanted to meet with Wentworth among company. I wonder if she was afraid of her reaction or his?

Anna: I think Anne has a good grasp of holding in her feelings, having lived with Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Mary for so long and being neglected and isolated. I wonder after their initial meeting and learning that Wentworth barely recognized her, her having lost the “bloom” of youth and all, that it was his reaction she feared. It’s not long before she’s lamenting that they used to mean so much to one another, and now nothing.

Those passages really tugged at me. And throughout this section, as Anne meets Wentworth’s Navy friends, for instance, she’s struck by all that she’s lost. Do you remember anywhere else in Austen being so moved, or do you think this is a sign of Persuasion being a more mature novel, as it was written toward the end of her life?

Serena: I agree that Anne’s avoidance of Wentworth seems to be borne of the fear that he will react in a way that will unease her, and in fact, she does. And meeting those friends and seeing how in love the Crofts are, I think that too weighs heavily on her. As if she didn’t feel bad enough about her decision. I can’t recall anything so blatantly depressing as this in Austen’s other novels. Those still seemed to have a bit of the youthful play in them; this novel is not only more mature in feeling, but also in dramatization.

Anne is still in the background of most everything that happens plot-wise here, but she is in the middle of it just the same. She the observer, but she doesn’t merely observe because everything that happens affects her in some way, particularly when Wentworth enters the picture.

What did you think of her when she says that she could take no revenge because he was the same?

Anna: I think the Musgrove sisters are the youthfulness in this novel. A more elegant and better behaved Kitty and Lydia, even if they do get a little excitable over Captain Wentworth.

I agree that she is an observer and deeply affected as well. Of course, while we see all the emotions and sadness going through her mind, everyone else is oblivious to her pain. Austen does let readers into Wentworth’s head, if only a moment, early on when he’s first introduced, and then there are a few actions here and there that make you see his opinion of her is slowly changing. It’s obvious to us because we know their past, but it’s very subtle when you think that their companions have no clue.

I loved Anne for saying she could take no revenge because I know that I personally, even if just internally, would not have been that nice. That really emphasizes her strength of character and her kindness toward others. After Louisa’s accident, when they’re deciding which of the women will stay at the Harville’s, there’s a passage that indicates that she would care for Louisa for his sake. Imagine watching the only man you ever loved, whom you could have married, seemingly falling in love with another woman, and you would do that for him. Of course, she’s pretty much part of the Musgrove family, so that plays into it as well, but still.

These are things that make it obvious why Wentworth has never found another woman better than Anne. What do you think about him showing attention to both Henrietta and Louisa, without even really caring for either of them? Part of it must surely be his desire to make Anne jealous to an extent, but in that day and age, he was playing a dangerous game.

Serena: I’m not really sure that he was paying attention to them consciously. I think he was baffled by Anne’s presence there and really didn’t want to be rude to the Musgroves. But his attentions never seem overtly in favor of either girl, except when it comes to the incident at the Cobb. There is that one intimate conversation that Anne overhears between Louisa and Wentworth, but I think that was more Louisa’s machinations than his.

While maybe he enjoyed having the attention of two young women and his intentions may be to find a wife, I feel like he was still sorting through his feelings for Anne and not intentionally partial or even aware that he was demonstrating affinity for either of the Musgroves — in some ways, the perception that he is in favor of one or the other or even interested in either seems to be the ideas put forth by Mary, Charles and the Crofts without any real indication on his part.

Speaking of the Cobb, what do you think motivated Louisa to jump from such a height? Was she trying to prove something or was that merely youthful folly on her part?

Anna: Having been so long at sea, he may also just enjoy the sisters’ attention. But he does spend an awful lot of time at Uppercross, so it’s not wrong of those around him to wonder what he’s about, even if he’s not completely conscious of it. There are some things in that conversation he has with Louisa — and he doesn’t know that Anne’s listening — that if I were Louisa, I would’ve thought he liked me.

As for Louisa’s jump, there are several places in the narrative where it shows Louisa being more determined about doing things since that conversation with Wentworth, where he talks about strength of character and not being easily persuaded. So I think that played into it somewhat, but mostly, I think she was being flirty and playful and thought it would be fun. Even when I shake my head at Louisa’s folly, I actually do admire her high spirits.

Now I’ve been dying to know, my dear poetess, what do you think of Captain Benwick’s fondness for melancholy poetry? And what do you think about Anne telling him he should read more prose?

Serena: I knew you would ask me that question.

I think that Captain Benwick is wallowing in his melancholy and poetry — certain kinds of it — can help you do that. Perpetuate a state that you either find yourself in, helping you to see that its a universal feeling, but it also could be perpetuating a mood that he feels obligated to remain in given that he lives with the Harville family. He feels that his mourning should be palpable to them and that while he may be over his “fiance’s” death, he does not want to hurt the feelings of those he is staying with.

Anne’s remedy of prose could be her way of telling him that it has been long enough and that it is ok not to mourn anymore and to think about moving on with life. Whether prose would produce that effect, is another questions. I suppose if he were determined, he could find prose that would help him wallow too.

I find it interesting that Anne thinks about continuing her acquaintance with Benwick even as she’s still feeling saddened by Wentworth’s dismissive attitude toward her. What do you make of that? Is she becoming resigned? What does that say about her character?

Anna: I noticed that his grief seems overplayed, and he was excited to talk with Anne about something I’m sure no one else cares to talk about with him. He seems to want to get out and about more with people, which I thought was evident when the group leaves the Harvilles behind before taking one last walk on the Cobb, and Benwick goes with them.

I didn’t think Anne’s thoughts about Benwick meant she was resigning herself to anything. I thought maybe it was the first time in a long time that someone merely wanted to talk to her in a real discussion. Her sister and the Musgroves want her to just agree with them or to vent their frustrations about one another. She also understands Benwick in a way; they’ve both suffered a deep loss. One might argue that losing one’s fiance to death is more serious than a broken engagement, but he has the chance to find happiness again, and her prospects are dim on that front.

What were your feelings at the end of this section about how things had changed between Anne and Frederick? Do you think Anne has any reason to hope at this point?

Serena: I think that Austen wants us to think that all is lost for Anne, but I think there are enough glimmers — which Anne can see given how well she knows him — that she can still hope for some form of reconciliation. Perhaps a romantic reunification is a bit far-fetched given all that’s transpired with Louisa, up to this point, but I think she should have reason to hope that they could be friends again.

He clearly esteems her, and she clearly still admires him. While I think there are still obstacles to be overcome, many of these — like in most of Austen’s novels — of their own making. His abrupt departure of at the end of volume one seems to be very telling — like he’s now got a lot more to think about with regard to his future and about Anne. I think he’s seeing a more mature woman than he remembers.

What are your final thoughts about his exit? Seems a little like the end of an act in a play, doesn’t it?

Anna: Well, if Louisa’s carelessness was good for something, it was for Wentworth to see Anne take charge and show some of that strength of character he thought she didn’t have way back when. Austen also shows two extremes — Anne being persuaded to break their engagement and Louisa being determined to do something foolish and refusing to be persuaded otherwise.

Yes, it does seem sort of like the end of act. The characters showed some alterations, then of course they’re going to be separated for a time with everything still uncertain, and then the curtain closes.

I must say that I’m loving this book even more the second time around!

Serena: I cannot wait to see what happens in the next section, though I have seen the movies. There is a bit of a flare of the dramatic in this one, that I think was not as prevalent in her other novels. I do like that the characters are changing slowly, and that they have time to think about all that has come to pass.

We hope you’ll help us continue the discussion in the comments!

And please join us next Friday, March 21st, at Anna’s blog, Diary of an Eccentric, to discuss Volume II, Chapters 1-6! Grab a cup of tea!