In case you missed it, Amanda and I are reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the first time as part of the 2015 TBR Challenge, and we’re having a read-along with Eva at The Paperback Princess, because she loves it and because she’s lovely and funny.
It’s a relatively short novel (which means you have plenty of time to catch up and join us!) and we’re discussing the book in three parts. Today: Chapters 1-8, in which Anne Elliot ends up in the most awkward of circumstances.
But first, let’s back up a second. The novel opens with Sir Walter Elliot studying the Baronetage (basically Who’s Who in English Nobility) and admiring the listing with himself and his family – his deceased wife Elizabeth, and his daughters, Elizabeth (age 29, mistress of her father’s household, and a stone cold bitch – thanks to Eva for that perfect descriptor), Anne (our heroine, age 27), and Mary (age 23, a drama queen, and the only one married of the three).
Sir Walter Elliot, we quickly learn, is an idiot, and without his wife’s good judgment and influence, their estate at Kellynch Hall is falling apart. “While Lady Elliot lived, there had been method, moderation, and economy, which had just kept him within his income; but with her had died all such right-mindedness, and from that period he had been constantly exceeding it.”
The financial troubles have reached a crisis point, and so family friend Lady Russell, and lawyer Mr. Shepard, talk Sir Walter into leasing the estate (“he would never condescend to sell”). Despite Sir Walter’s objections to the Navy as an institution “as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of,” Mr. Shepard finds an acceptable tenant – Admiral Croft and his wife.
You know who Sir Walter reminds me of? Vernon Dursley – you know, Harry Potter’s Uncle who is horrified at the thought of the existence of witchcraft and wizardry? Everyone goes to great lengths to tiptoe around Sir Walter, lest he get upset, and really dude is just an insufferable blowhard.
Sidenote: as Eva pointed out, there is quite the cast of characters in Persuasion: Maybe this cast is just noisier than Emma but it feels like there are more people connected to each other in this book than in any other. I also find that because the characters are older, as in it’s not a group of sisters of a certain marriageable age (P&P, Sense and Sensibility) or a pair of young friends (Northanger Abbey or Emma), they know themselves better and you get a better look at the day to day life of people at the time, rather than a romantic run-ins that are meant to service the ultimate goal of marriage. If you’re trying to keep up, here is a helpful list of characters.
So, the tenants. It just so happens that Mrs. Croft is the sister to Captain Wentworth, who, it turns out, had lived for a year and a half with his sister, back when our Anne was 19. And Anne and Wentworth had been in L-U-V. “He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.” They had this “short period of exquisite felicity,” and then…
And then Anne listened to the concerns of her family and friends – “with all her claims of birth, beauty, and mind, to throw herself away at nineteen; involve herself at nineteen in an engagement with a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, but in the changes of a most uncertain profession, and no connections to secure even his farther rise in the profession, would be, indeed, a throwing away…Captain Wentworth had no fortune.”
So Anne has to give up her Captain and break his heart, though her heart is equally broken. I was angry at Anne for making this decision, but Amanda and Eva pointed out that she did not really have much (any?) choice in the matter herself.
Eva: I have never been angry at Anne for breaking off her engagement. He was poor and everyone made it very clear to her that they would not be helping her should she marry him. If he had been lost at sea at some point or had never made any money, what then? A woman born in her time didn’t have a lot of options and the way she had grown up, not being cared about by any of her immediate family, I understood her hesitation.
Amanda: I have to agree with Eva. I’m sad for her! I think at 19 in that situation you can’t put too much blame on her. She was advised by Mrs. Russell who she loves and trusts, not just her jerky family.
However, even if Amanda and Eva are not missed at Anne, Captain Wentworth himself is still pretty ticked off, eight years later.
You see where this is all leading up to, right? Sir Walter and Elizabeth take off for Bath while the estate is let, while Anne stays on temporarily with sister Mary and her family at their nearby home. The Crofts arrive, along of course, with Captain Wentworth, who is as dreamy and charming as ever. Oh, and successful too. He’s made good on everything he had promised he would turn out to be, and poor Anne is described as having “lost her bloom.”
The Crofts and Wentworth are welcomed by Mary’s in-laws, including her two sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa (aged 19 and 20), who are quite taken with the Captain. Anne tries for a time to hold out from these social engagements, but she can only make so many excuses.
Chapter 8 ends with Anne and Wentworth having a rather icy interaction in which he offers her back her seat with a polite, “I beg your pardon, madam…
His cold politeness, his ceremonious grace, were worse than anything.