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[271] Persuasion – Jane Austen

” She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning. ” [4; 29]

” Surely, if there be constant attachment on each side, our hearts must understand each other ere long. We are not boy and girl, to be captiously irritable, misled by every moment’s inadvertence, and wontonly playing with our own happiness. ” [22; 207]

The novel opens as Sir Walter Elliot, master of Kellynch-house, finds himself in financial strait. The baronet, who is vain, self-involved, and insensible, is to quit the house, which is to be let to a naval captain, and relocates to Bath without involving the loss of indulgence in taste and pride. Elizabeth, the elder daughter, resembles her father in temperament and assumes superciliously her deceased mother’s former position in the house. More than seven years prior to the events in Persuasion, upon the advice of Lady Russell, close friend and mentor, they are dissatisfied with one Captain Frederick Wentworth, with whom Anne Elliot falls in love rapidly after a short acquaintance. Lady Russell persuades Anne, whom she loves beyond her own circumstances, to break off the match because there is no hope of attaining affluence.

. . . seem so totally free from all those ambitious feelings which have led to so much misconduct and misery, both in young and old! [22; 204]

The entire narration of Persuasion on Anne’s re-encounter with the captain, who has yet to forgive her for rejecting him. Despite “an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding,” [1; 7] Anne is an unobtrusive participant in social scenes (whether she is in her own home or among the confusion of domestic hurricane at the Musgroves, her sister’s in-laws). In fact, almost everything is seen from Anne’s perspective—she is the subtle consciousness of the novel, to the extent that it’s sometimes impossible to distinguish between Anne’s inner concerns (stream of consciousness) from straight narration. Always reminiscent of her lost love, she is quietly amused at her own expense and thinks freely though her actions are curtailed.

She now felt a great inclination to go to the outer door; she wanted to see if it rained. Why was she to suspect herself of another motive? Captain Wentworth must be out of sight. She left her seat, she would go, one half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was. She would see if it rained. [19; 165]

She almost never betrays her mental drama to anyone else, rendering it invisible. She obliges a very placid countenance even when her emotions boil inside her. The growing confidence of her insight, as the novel progresses, and her capacity for meting out judgment on social behavior and unraveling schemes mean that the free indirect style of Anne’s thoughts can offer a satisfactory scope though without the rich ironies of Emma.

Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the [ball] room. Her happiness was from within . . . She was thinking only of the last half hour, and as they passed to their seats, her mind took a hasty range over it. His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light . . . —sentences begun which he could not finish—his half averted eyes, and more than half expressive glance,—all, all declared that he had a heart returning to her at least; that anger, resentment, avoidance, were no more; and that they were succeeded, not merely by friendship and regard, but by the tenderness of the past; yes, some share of the tenderness of the past. She could not contemplate the change as implying less.—He must love her. [20; 175]

Persuasion shifts the Usual major themes of class rigidity and social status to the background and allows Anne Elliot’s consciousness to reign—to examine and reflect on these values and traditions. While she is adept at persuading others in time of trial (her long-lost school fellow Mrs. Smith and a widower Captain Benwick), she allows Lady Russell talk her into giving up the engagement. Throughout the novel, she is torn about whether she had been right to succumb to the persuasion, out of duty and respect to traditions. In her ability to disentangle the ethical and emotional implications of this act of persuasion to her own satisfaction, both her happiness and the purpose of the novel to promote a social flexibility are fulfilled. In this regard, Persuasion is very complete in both presenting a full character study and light-textured story.

236 pp. Penguin Classics edition. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

[254] Emma – Jane Austen

“Oh! had she never brought Harriet forward! . . . Had she not, with a folly which no tongue could express, prevented her marrying the unexceptionable young man who would have made her happy and respectable in the line of life to which she ought to belong—all would have been safe; none of this dreadful sequel would have been.” [387]

Devoting to guard the comfort of her father, beautiful, rich, and clever Emma Woodhouse is resolved not to marry. After self-acclaimed success at matchmaking between her governess (Miss Taylor) and Mr. Weston, a village widower, Emma, who thinks too highly of herself, as her friend Mr. George Knightley repeatedly admonishes, with insufferable vanity and arrogance, believes she beholds the secret of everyone’s feelings and superintends happiness. She takes it upon herself to find an eligible match for her new friend, Harriet Smit, who, in Knightley’s opinion, is “not a sensible girl, nor a girl of information, and has no experience and little wit.” [60] Knightley disfavors their association, believing that vanity working on a weak head produces every sort of mischief. Indeed.

She desired nothing better herself. Till you choose to turn her into a friend, her mind had no distaste for her own set, nor any ambition beyond it. She was as happy as possible with the Martins in the summer. She had no sense of superiority then. If she has it now, you have given it. [61]

As Emma advises her friend to reject a farmer (Robert Martin) who appears to be of a different social disposition, a comedy of errors ensues, causing zigzags of embarrassment and exposing a secret engagement on behalf of others. When her plans go awry, suspicion, misunderstanding, and intrigue arouse—all as a result of her stubbornness and vanity. While she is well-meant, she doesn’t possess the humility and common sense that are conducive to fully understand the nuances of relationships. After Harriet’s matchmaking flop, which is yet her worst mistake, she perpetrates more error of imagination, flirting and allowing herself to be tempted by someone she doesn’t care for. Most of all, rather than being committed to remaining single,

I have never been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. [82]

she is in love with the one whom she willfully opposes and whose advice she slights, often intentionally. She never concedes because he would not acknowledge her false and insolent estimate of her own—and her pride needs to be tamed.

Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken… [404]

As much the novel is about marriage and status, and the power given to woman on marriage, it offers critical illustrations of the ways in which personal biases, prejudice, or desires (such as a preference over social disposition) impede objective judgment. Even the most impartial, infallible person could not pass an unbiased judgment when romantic feeling is involved. Inventions of emotional engagement contribute to the comedy of errors that are revealed to readers by way of the ironic detachment of the narrator. Social propriety, which often discourages open expression and keeps public show of emotion at bay, also plays a role in furthering the misunderstandings. The dialogues, which often afford multiple subtexts, fuel the misunderstanding, but also play a role in the possibility of revealing too much at the wrong timing. Half the fun is trying to find out exactly what is going on behind the embarrassment, and the truth of everyone’s feelings.

453 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

Reading Notes: Emma (2)

Emma possesses “the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.” [Ch.1 p.7] Emma’s stubbornness and vanity produce many of the novel’s conflicts, as Emma struggles to develop emotionally. her struggle aside, there appear passages that provide a sort of comic relief that distract me from the characters’ biased and blind judgment.

Constantly Mr. Knightley corrects and guides Emma Woodhouse who is not always on charity with him. On hearing the news of a ball thrown by the Westons in honor of their son Frank Churchill, about whose motive Knightley is skeptical, he noted:

Very well. If the Westons think it worth while to be at all this trouble for a few hours of noisy entertainment, I have nothing to say against it, but that they shall not choose pleasures for me.—Oh! yes, I must be there; I could not refuse; and I will keep as much awake as I can; but I would rather be at home, looking over William Larkins’s weel’s account; much rather, I confess.—Pleasure in seeing dancing!—not I, indeed—I never look at it—I do not know who does.—Fine dancing, I believe, like virtue, must be its own reward. Those who are standing by are usually thinking of something very different. [Ch. 30 p.239]

Of course, Emma is upset at this gloating remark, which Knightley has very well been throwing at her all along. She retaliates:

This Emma felt was aimed at her; and it made her quite angry. It was not in compliment to Jane Fairfax however that he was so indifferent, or so indignant; he was not guided by her feelings in reprobating the ball, for she enjoyed the thought of it to an extraordinary degree. It made her animated—open hearted—she voluntarily said;— [Ch.30 p.240]

Another comic moment arrives when the new Mrs. Elton, wife of the man to whom Emma tried to match Harriet earlier, indulges in some tiredly long monologue about engaging Jane Fairfax to her society. To this Emma bears:

‘Poor Jane Fairfax!’—thought Emma.—‘You have not deserved this. You may have done wrong with regard to Mr. Dixon, but this is a punishment beyond what you can have merited!—The kindness and protection of Mrs. Elton!—‘Jane Fairfax and Jane Fairfax.’ Heavens! Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Emma Woodhouse-ing me!—But upon my honour, there seem no limits to the licentiousness of that woman’s tongue!’ [Ch.33 p.264]

Jane Austen Fever

Jolted to realize that I have yet to read any Jane Austen this year, I picked up Emma. Actually I receive a copy of Jane Austen: The Complete Novels for Christmas and I shall be reading Emma from this beautiful volume. It’s a comic novel about the perils of misconstrued romance. The title character, Emma Woodhouse, is quintessential of Austen’s characters: genteel woman who is rich, clever, and winsome. But she has a pitfall: her blindness to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives and is often mistaken about the meanings of others’ actions. Equally interesting are the numerous film and television adaptations, including the 1995 a loose modern adaptation Clueless and the 1996 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma. The comedy, starring Alicia Silverstone, who plays a superficial high-school girl in Beverly Hills, has spun off a television show (also named Clueless) and a series of books. By the way, does anyone know the novel about this girl who walks into the closet, travels in time and comes back out to Jane Austen’s time?

[149] Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

“Vanity, while seeking its own guilty triumph at the expense of another, had involved him in a real attachment, which extravagance, or at least its offspring necessity, had required to be sacrificed. Each faulty propensity, in leading him [Willoughby] to evil, had led likewise to punishment.” [234]

“…that Marianne’s affliction, because more acknowledged, more immediately before her [Mrs. Dashwood], had too much engrossed her tendered, and let her away to forget that in Elinor she might have a daughter suffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation, and greater fortitude.” [252]

Forced in leave their home after their father’s death, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood must rely on making good marriages as their means of support, especially when Fanny Dashwood, the sister-in-law, all envy and avarice, steals their inheritences and leave them unprovided for. Sense and Sensibility thus, lying between tragedy and comedy, owing to romantic reversals that render a sombre tone, follows the social and romantic adventures of the sisters who possess opposite mental constitution. Elinor, who in time morphs into Elizabeth Bennet—for she asserts a suspicion that human wishes are vain and unreliable, represents privacy and discretion. Marianne, a quintessential case of Romanticism and sublimated adolescent sexuality, represents emotional openness. While Marianne seems to be completely torn apart at the tiding of Willoughby’s marriage to a wealthy Miss Grey whose fortune will re-establish his circumstances, Elinor suffers the punishment of an attachment without enjoying its advantages and endeavors to appear indifferent. That Marianne’s affliction has been more pronounced and has engrossed everyone’s tenderness, that the very person who has been clandestinely engaged to Edward Ferrars for four years breaks the astonishing news to her have given the sense that Elinor is not suffering as much, for she chooses, out of consideration to not incur any more sorrow in her mother, to cope with less self-provocation and great fortitude. The composure of mind with which she has brought herself to consider the hapless romance and the consolation she is willing to admit have been the effect of constant and painful exertion.

Closer inspection will afford the truth that Elinor is not the only one who is withholding something—everybody has got a secret, everybody has got a scheme. Elinor is revealing that she’s brokenhearted about Edward. Marianne leaves everyone to the conjecture that she’s engaged to Willoughby. The conflicting goals are salient though unspoken in the scene where Elinor and Lucy Steele talk over Lucy’s secret engagement to Edward. The cunning opportunist in Lucy, who sinks her claws into one Ferrars brother and hangs on, lying and cheating, until she achieves the position in society she has set herself to win. She is to warn Elinor off, and the latter is to extract information about Edward while maintaining her composure. But ironically, all these self-interested calculations, including those schemes of Mrs. Ferrars and Mrs. Fanny Dashwood out of vanity and avarice, don’t get anybody anywhere except to cause confusion and misconception. Conjectures, inference, and downright miscommunication dominate the interactions of these characters who really have little or no idea of what is going on around them, and much less of what will come next. Jane Austen delights in such epistemology—the limit and validity of knowledge of the characters, for she employs marriage and money as means on which she hinges her stories of deception.

The most insistent irony of the novel is Elinor Dashwood, who supposedly represents the “sense” in the title. But her “sense” leads her astray in almost every one of her plausibly reasoned conjectures. She doesn’t seem to follow her own advice regarding the notion of character:

“I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes, in a total misapprehension of character in some points or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why, or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge.” [67]

Character does not refer to the natural disposition and inclination, which are eclipsed by affected sensibility. That Marianne Dashwood has relentlessly slighted Colonel Brandon and whose love she treats with ungrateful contempt, and showers faint praise on the spiritless, insipid Edward is the reason Elinor is pluming herself on her own superiority for valuing goodness and sense more than her sister does. But she is foolish enough to let herself be guided more often by this sensibility, in the form of wishful thinking, as she should know better, or her sense should have warned her that nothing is ever so certain and dependable, let alone the business of romance, which is capricious and fickle.

*I shall write a separate exploring the idea of “attachment” and Willoughby’s character.

Further Reading:
Reading Sense and Sensibility

Reading Sense and Sensibility

Sense \ˈsen(t)s\ Noun. 3: conscious awareness or rationality —usually used in plural 6 a: capacity for effective application of the powers of the mind as a basis for action or response : intelligence b: sound mental capacity and understanding typically marked by shrewdness and practicality
Sensibility \ˌsen(t)-sə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ Noun. 2 : peculiar susceptibility to a pleasurable or painful impression (as from praise or a slight) 4 : refined or excessive in emotion and taste with especial responsiveness to the pathetic
[from Merriam-Webster Online]

In order to fully comprehend Austen’s meaning, I have to look up these two words of which the meaning I often confuse. No, they cannot be used interchangeably or one will perpetrate an usage error. Sense pertains to common sense, rationality and practicality and sensibility emotions. No sooner has one delved into the first few pages of this novel than one would perceive that Elinor Dashwood is the more sensible sister and Marianne the emotional one:

“Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister’s sensibility; but by Mrs. Daswood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction.” [6]

“To satisfy me [Marianne], those characters must be united. I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same books, the same music must charm us both.” [13]

“Their taste was strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolised by each—or, if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm…” [34]

The novel follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, where they experience both romance and heartbreak. The contrast between the sisters’ characters is eventually resolved as they each find love and lasting happiness. This leads some to believe that the book’s title describes how Elinor and Marianne find a balance between sense and sensibility in life and love. Marianne’s biggest flaw is her blinding sensibility—her being too rash and preoccupied with opinions she thinks are most important in relationship. Not waiting until Willoughby’s sentiments are fully known, she proceeds to her partiality for him. Her anxiety of expectation and pain of disappointment know no bound. Her prejudice against Colonel Brandon for being neither lively nor young, which seems resolved to undervalue his merits, leaves her no sympathy from me. I gloat over love’s woe that will descend on Marianne who so much on the strength of her own imagination has decided on the imperfections of a sensible man.

[147] Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” [15]

Written at a time of political tumult, on the heels of the French and American Revolution at the turn of century, Pride and Prejudice is devoid of such politics of Austen’s era. But she has chosen to investigate, to elaborate, and to illuminate the enduring issues of social pressures and gender politics that only not are not outdated but also seems as vital and relevant as ever. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” So begins one of the finest and most cherished novels written in the English language. This famous opening line magnificently serves to satirizes the society Elizabeth Bennet lives in, a world in which personal relationships are based more often on gain than on love and respect. For when the young, well-to-do Mr. Bingley takes residence in town, the truth of that first aphoristic sentence is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families—that he is considered as the rightful property of someone or other of their daughters.

This is the world of the five Bennet sisters and their friends the Lucas, growing up in the English countryside who must find husbands if they are to make their way in the society. Mrs. Bennet hopes to secure him as a husband for her beautiful, eldest daughter, Miss Jane Bennet. The growing relationship, however, is sabotaged by the young man’s haughty friend, Mr. Darcy, who regards the match as unsuitable. When Mr Darcy in turn falls in love with the second Bennet daughter, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, his condescending offer of marriage is rejected by Elizabeth with scorn and the connection seems over. Elizabeth’s being idealistic and cynical of the milieu she lives in has rendered her prejudiced. Her discernment of Darcy leaves her without any reserve and scruple in sinking his character. The irony is that as wise and mature as she believes she is, so assured of the inconsistency of all human characters, she has courted prepossession and ignorance. She adopts first impression of Mr. Darcy, rashly decided by the community, and sharpens into a particular resentment. But she is foolish enough, almost jaded, to be taken in temporarily by a seductive scoundrel Wickham, whose state of poverty she holds Darcy responsible.

Mr. Darcy is also an irony. He learns to trust his heart and mute his arrogance. The truth is, as Austen might have intentionally delayed to reveal, is that he despises civility, deference, and officious attention. He does not go along with what society expects of a wealthy young man and is thus running low on everyone’s esteem. Some people call him proud, as the house-keeper acknowledges, but to her fancy it’s only because he does not “rattle away like other young man.” Darcy is disgusted with the women who are always speaking and looking and thinking for his approbation alone. That Elizabeth’s behavior to him is at least always bordering on the uncivil, and that she never misses the occasions for teasing and quarreling with him as often as may be actually strike him as sincerity. For most of the book, these two, one mutes the arrogance and the other resolves not to make hasty judgments, spar verbally and contentiously; as Elizabeth says, “We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with the eclat of a proverb.” Indeed they are on common ground about true and false moral values, except that the vanity of one and the pride of the other have thwarted the communication. Granted it is Elizabeth who eventually awakes from her prejudice and absurdity, Darcy has hardly undergone a transformation except for one through her prejudiced eyes, for his behavior only seems altered to her, as underneath his pride there has always lay a true and generous nature.

The assessment of human nature—so acute and unforgiving—would not be complete without the presence of minor characters who are as ridiculous and entertaining as they are ironic. The breeding of the well-breed, of which the haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who disapproves of Elizabeth and Darcy’s engagement, is a prime example, is revealed as every bit as bad as that of the low born. The judgment of the intelligent, like Mr Collins, who believes Elizabeth’s refusal of his proposal must be a female ploy, is sometimes stupid. What ensues are hysterical responses and exchanges. The absurdity and authenticity of humane nature, spawned from social and gender issues, indeed makes this novel a classic and one that will be re-visited by many.

The Sunday Salon: An Affair With…

The Sunday Salon.comJane Austen! To show my repentance of not having read Austen, I curled up on the couch reading Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility yesterday. On the day the unbelievable mishap that descended on me, I was left with just my wallet and iPod. I walked into the Goodwill store and found an almost brand new copy of Modern Library Classics Pride and Prejudice. I actually debated for five seconds if I should replace Sense and Sensibility, which was inside the stolen bag. A flicker of hope, or a stroke of luck, I entertained myself, that I might retrieve the bag.

So here I was, plunging into the world of the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet, a witty and jaded observer of her milieu, a society that sometimes seems to find value only in great fortune and high position. She is contemptuous of the ways of the world in which she lives, a world in which accomplishment for a woman means being able to “paint tables, cover screens and net purses.” She is wise enough to decline a marriage offer from a man who believes her refusal of his proposal must be a female ploy. But she is foolish enough to be taken in temporarily by a seductive scoundrel. It’s heap of fun to read how she and Darcy spar verbally, and knowing later she realizes the most erroneous of an assessment she has incurred on Darcy. I read 147 pages in about 2.5 hours.

“From the very beginning—from the first moment, I may almost say—of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.” [141]

“How despicably have I acted! I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly.” [151]