Jane Austens last completed novel,Persuasion, was begun in August 1815 and finished by 1816, eleven months before she died and published in December 1817 along with Northanger Abbey. Critics have characterised Persuasion through its "autumnal tone" and assumed that Annes autumn and Austens are complementary. In other words they feel that Persuasion, like many other novels by women, is the authors own love story, composed with little aesthetic difference as Austens last and most mature word about love and the changing world.
Fallible as the assumption that author and hero are the same is, we can observe a matured tone in this novel. This is perhaps because the heroine, Anne Elliot is not the usual seventeen or twenty of Marianne Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse romping around the countryside. She is twenty-seven and values quietly the melancholy, introspective pleasures of the autumn. It does not exude the same qualities of cheerful security as Emma and its narrative progression is unusual when compared with that of Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice as the lovers have failed before the opening. Anne and Wentworth have already met and declared their feelings: it is a love story that starts in the middle.
Unlike Austens other heroines, Anne is almost entirely isolated. She lacks close sisterly relations, friendships or respectable mentors. She is instead relegated to role of listener, advisor, patient carer, alienated from her own family where her word has no weight ("she was only Anne"), she is a quiet heroine ("her convenience was always to give way") and she moves from community to community. The novel traverses England from Sir Walters Kellynch Hall, Uppercross Cottage, Uppercross Great House, the Hayters farm, the Crofts Kellynch Hall, Lyme and Bath. We see a society of disparate parts and separate communities and of social mobility as the Navy ascend in social standing; the Crofts take over Kellynch and Wentworth is recorded in Sir Walters Baronetage.
The title of the novel also highlights issues of public and private life, the dual ties of personal wishes and social responsibility as characters are delineated in terms of their persuadability. Anne suffers from being dutiful and being convinced by Lady Russells over socially scrupulous advice. Sir Walter and Elizabeth can only be convinced to depart from Kellynch by the solicitors appeals to their considerations of self-interest and flippant lifestyle. Louisa Musgrove is too dogged in her whims and refuses the advice of others at Lyme and jumps off the Cobb ("I am determined I will") and cracks her head. We are then confronted with the issues of authority and mentors: led to see the gaps where the traditional patriarchal figures of authority used to be. As head of a ruined estate and paragon of vanity Sir Walter provides little moral guidance, as he chooses personal comfort and extravagance over the duty of paying his debts and keeping up the family home. The Musgroves and their provincial and traditional mentality, "friendly and hospitable, not much educated, and not at all elegant" (Chapter V) provide little command or influence towards their two daughters. Captain Wentworth in his speech to Louisa in chapter X highlights the her inflexible nature as a positive quality because he is embittered by the memory of Annes pliant nature bending to her mentors wishes against her own inclinations and ruining both their happiness. He counsels firmness in the face of social pressure and expectations:
"It is the worst evil of too yielding and indecisive a character, that no influence over it can be depended on ... Let those who would be happy be firm. Here is a nut ... to exemplify: a beautiful glossy nut, which, blessed with original strength, has outlived all the storms of autumn. Not a puncture, not a weak spot anywhere ... " (Chapter X)
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