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She Was Only Anne – On Anne Elliot in Persuasion

Anne Elliot
This article about Anne Elliot is by Rosario Mesta Rodríguez


When we think and talk about Jane Austen’s heroines, we tend to associate characteristics such as happiness, bravery, resourcefulness or intelligence to their personalities. And we are right: Jane created numerous female characters such as Emma or Elizabeth Bennet that make us smile everytime we read their feats. We don’t usually associate Jane Austen with sadness or depression. And this time, I have to say, we are wrong: Jane didn’t always write about happy women. In fact, there is a special character that has always stood out within her literary women: Anne Elliot. Although distant, different, melancholic, resigned and sad, she has been rewarded with the recognition of the public, that, undoubtedly, fell in love with her extraordinary personality.

I’ve always wondered why Jane Austen created someone so different from the sort of characters she usually did. Melancholia and sadness construct the development of the whole novel. Undoubtedly, we should point out that the personal circumstances of the writer at the time is one the main reasons why this book is so different from the others, but also the changes that English society was going through at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. 

The Nineteenth Century Woman

Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the middle classes started to grow due to changes in commerce and economy, and so did the level of literacy among people. The novel began to become popular, especially among women. For the first time, people wanted to read, they demanded books, they had a desire to be more conscious about the world, their surroundings, and themselves. By reading, people became more aware of their own feelings, personalities and for the very first time, the internal landscape started to gain ground on the material things in life and on outward appearances. Romanticism showed the disappointment of the society with the rationalization of the Enlightenment. People looked for other concepts such as feelings and emotions. As such, pessimism prospered and the whole range of the negative feelings began to be explored with Red and Black by Sthendal and the Letters of the young Werther by Goethe as standard bearers.

At this moment in history we must analyze how these new currents affected women, who had (as always) a more difficult time. Not only did their access to popular literature arouse doubts among the most conservative sectors, but they were also frowned upon for the introspection and sentimentality that flooded them.

And this is because there was a well-established ideal female model in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, and everything that went beyond its limits was called abnormal, dangerous, unnatural. This model was largely propagated by the manuals of conduct, which were hugely popular among society. Jane Austen herself could even be an assiduous reader of some of them, as shown by the inclusion of Fordyce’s Sermons in Pride and Prejudice

The Manuals of Conduct

The manuals dictated rules that ranged from the appreciation of one’s own body to female education, domestic economy or even behavior and body language in social gatherings. The woman was limited by an ideological corset that asphyxiated her reality. One of the premises that has struck me most has been the concept of melancholy. The authors of the manuals (always men), were repulsed by the revolution that brought with it Romanticism, and they affirmed with vehemence, and sometimes with violence, how the melancholy, sentimentality and depression that began to be treated in the wake of the increasingly popular readings, was inappropriate for women.

In fact, this didactic literature begins a huge campaign in favor of the perfect woman, and, among its qualities, joy stands out. A woman could not afford to be sad, depressed or taciturn, since women should be the nucleus of the family unit; always attentive, willing and energetic to meet the demands of children and husbands. Joy, for John Bennet, was “a most desirable quality in a woman” (41), “a striking quality is her constant cheerfulness” (On a Variety of Useful and Interesting Subjects calculated to Improve the heart, to form the Manners, and Enlighten the understanding, 40).

A Father’s Legacy by John Gregory presupposes that a spirit always on the rise “will make your company much solicited (36) and in the sermon XIII by Fordyce it is said that “the woman considers herself here a saint who must support everything. Men should look for a shy, complacent, sweet and patient woman who must be at home, not fighting outside and getting her clothes dirty” (112).

According again to John Bennet, women had no reason to be sad, since “men are perplexed with various anxieties of business and ambition, are naturally, more thoughtful, profound and melancholy; They were certainly formed to sooth and to enliven. It is one of the greatest blessings we derive from their society, and from the most sacred of all connections “(42). He goes on to affirm that “men melancholy is as remote from the true point of gracefulness, in the sex, as ill-natured wit, or ironical pertness” (43). 

Perfection in Persuasion

I find it quite curious to see how this theme contrasts with the novel Persuasion. Jane builds a character that rebels against all modeling of women. Anne Elliot allows herself the luxury of being sad, of not hiding it from others, as well as getting angry. She does not care for what society might think of her. The death of her mother during her youth and the loss of her true love certainly leave their mark on Anne.  Since then, she resigns herself to living as the person in charge of the welfare of her family, without anyone worrying about her, she becomes blurred with time, and this leaves her vulnerable, opaque:  “but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people with real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way, she was only Anne “.

In addition, the saddest of all the heroines faces a family opposition that leaves her even more alone. We can see the indifference of her family within Elizabeth Elliot’s speech before travelling to Bath: “Then I am sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath”. She is aware of this treatment and apparently, she is resigned. “excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste”.

Step by step, she becomes more and more invisible: “She could do little more than listen patiently, soften every grievance, and excuse each to the other; give them all hints of the forbearance necessary between such near neighbours, and make those hints broadest which were meant for her sister´s benefit”. Paradoxically, Austen also uses music to show Anne’s lack of connection with those around her.  “Anne had been always used to feel alone in the world”.  Although the other “girls were wild for dancing” (48), Anne is isolated from the group, sitting removed from them at the piano – in music she had been always used to feel alone in the world.

But she does not want to cause grief, she knows that she is the first cause of this situation and her mistakes, and carries with them her whole life. She no longer holds grudges, melancholy transcends her life. She does not follow the examples of perfection that manuals and society try to instill in women, she is a woman who suffers, who has anxiety crisis’, “she was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle, but so it was; and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover it”. 

It’s OK To Be Sad

With the example of Anne Elliot, Jane Austen vindicates the imperfect woman, the one who also suffers, because through suffering comes self-growth. Jane claims in Persuasion that sadness is also part of women’s lives and that it fulfils an essential function. Sadness reduces attention in the external world to focus on the inside. This favors self-examination, reflection, analysis. Anne goes through a complete exploration of her own knowledge of herself throughout the novel, and in a way that few Austen’s other heroines do. Anne was not just Anne, Anne shows us her act of bravery by letting us know that sadness is just another emotion. It is the emotion that most leads us to intimacy with ourselves and with others. 

*****

About the author

Rosario Mesta Rodríguez is a Spanish librarian who is obsessed with Jane Austen and with the Victorian Era. She’s currently studying a PhD in Conduct Books for women in Eighteenth Century England. Books are her passion. 

 

Enjoyed this article about Anne Elliot? Take a look at our copies of Persuasion available in our online gift shop.

 

Persuasion hardback

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Jane Austen News – Issue 152

The Jane Austen News has some new reading material

What’s the Jane Austen News this week? 


An Upcoming Recommended Read…Or Maybe Not? 

The British Library’s collection of ‘obscene writing’ will shortly be available to view online.

The ‘Private Case’ of sexually explicit books dating back to 1658 ranges from the hijinks of Roger Pheuquewell to pioneering gay porn in the 19th century, and will shortly be uploaded so that they will be available to be read by a wider audience, and not just those who request to look at them at the library (the collection has been available to the public through the British Library’s rare books collection since the 1960s).

Among the books going online are an 18th-century directory of sex workers in the Covent Garden area of London, copies of John Cleland’s 18th-century novel Fanny Hill (or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), and Teleny (or The Reverse of the Medal). Teleny, for those who may be curious, tells of the tragic relationship between a young Frenchman and a Hungarian pianist, and authorship of the novel has been attributed to Oscar Wilde and members of his circle in the late 19th century.

In total there are over 2,500 volumes in the British Library’s Private Case collection, dating back as far as 1658! These volumes have now been digitised, and are being made available online by the publisher Gale as part of its Archives of Sexuality and Gender academic research resource.

There was essentially a series of cupboards in the keeper’s room from the 1850s, where material that was deemed to be unsuitable was kept locked away – usually because of its obscene nature, so pretty much anything to do with sex. It was added to throughout the 19th century, and this carried on until around 1960, when attitudes to sexuality were changing.

Maddy Smith, curator of printed collections.

At the Jane Austen News we thought that this digitisation news would be of interest to some of our readers due to its historic value as a glimpse into the past. It may not be for everyone though!

Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 152

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Why Jane Austen’s Persuasion Still Captivates Audiences

Jane Austen's Persuasion

This Spring 2018, Theatre6 is producing a touring production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Artistic Director Kate McGregor discusses why they’ve chosen to adapt the work for six actor musicians, and why Persuasion remains so captivating for today’s audiences.

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Adapting a novel like Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the stage, from the earliest planning stages until the opening night, is a project that absorbs your days and nights for at least two years. In making the decision to dedicate such time to a piece, it has to be one which you’d like to explore visually, conceptually, emotionally and intellectually. Most importantly, it has to be a story that will excite, captivate and be relevant for your audiences. For Stephanie Dale (the novel’s adapter) and I, our biggest inspiration for working on the piece was the character of Anne. We envisioned how the themes in Persuasion could transcend time and space, and imagined how Jane’s ideas could breathe and thrive in our modern world.

 

A novel must show how the world truly is, how characters genuinely think, how events actually occur, a novel should somehow reveal the true source of our actions

– Jane in Becoming Jane.

 

Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, this is a story about heartbreak. It’s about making decisions you regret, about trusting the right people for the wrong reasons. It asks questions about the inner workings of why we love and who loves the longest. Most importantly it’s an expression of Anne inner thoughts and what pressures being parted from those you love can put on the mind. Out of all of Jane’s novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion is the one that speaks with the most sincerity, frankness and digs deepest into the fragility of the human spirit. In the film, Becoming Jane, Jane expresses why she writes and what type of stories she’ll strive to create. In this, her last completed novel before her untimely death at 42, Jane was writing a book which dealt with some of the darker themes in her life, possibly a combination of her own experiences and definitely an example of her confidence and skill as a published writer.

In producing a faithful adaptation of the novel, we wanted to take her intention of truthfulness and honesty as far as we could, to explore Anne’s thoughts and feelings in a way that Jane would have applauded. No matter that 200 years exist between Jane and ourselves, we all have the same feelings. We all love and wish to be in love at some point in our lives. Most of us have felt the magic of being in love and many of us have felt the loss of it. As human beings we are accustomed to the agony of heartbreak and being vulnerable. Everyone can identify with what it feels like to struggle with loneliness and regret and concealing those feelings from those around us. Anne is a protagonist who speaks to us all, somehow free of the restrictions of time and history.

Our biggest challenge on identifying what was relevant about the novel for today, was how we could present the inner workings of Anne’s mind for a theatre-going audience. It was also important to us that people who had perhaps never been to the theatre before or had never read a Jane Austen novel, would be able to understand her ideas and relate to them.

There are several themes in Jane’s novels which are prevalent across all six of them. To name a few – matchmaking, marrying for love or for income, rural life, Bath and high society, responsibility and family, the threat of poverty, the navy and the military, a love of the sea, pride, class mobility and immobility, travelling and new beginnings, deceit, deception and unspoken feelings. In her novels we see long walks, card games, close female friendships and sisterhood, gossip, longing and dreams of the future. And, without a doubt, there is music: music as art; music as distraction; music that elevates and the music of love. Without a doubt we were determined to involve music in a way that would unravel and reveal the deepest feelings of Anne and use it to help our audience understand the world of the play – the time and context. In our production of Persuasion we play over 20 characters with only six actors. And each of those actors plays an instrument. True to the narrative of the novel, Anne plays the piano exceptionally well. We have extended this idea so that Anne uses her piano and the beats of the music to express her inner most feelings – her darkest thoughts and her wildest joys. The composer, Maria Haik Escudero has created an original score that is integral to Anne’s thought process and the adaptation.

In order to explore and open up the novel for audiences, we’ve given moments for Anne to speak to the audience. Jane Austen’s Persuasion was a groundbreaking piece of writing in the impression it offered of the female consciousness. Anne’s journey to escape her inner thoughts and use her voice, and it being heard by others is what is at the heart of the novel. The story explores in minute detail how Anne felt during her 8 years of separation from Wentworth and how those years of inner turmoil and taken hold of her. This is a section from the very beginning of Theatre6’s production –

 

ANNE :            

Sometimes, all I can see is blue; the blue of the sea.

All I can hear is the falling

of the notes on a piano.

And for a time, it goes dark.

The seasons carry me;

I am at their mercy.

I have no desire to harm anyone or anything and yet,

and yet,

because I could not bear to lose my family,

I devastated him

and for that I shall

be eternally tormented.

 

Our adaptation asks – can people retain their good character even when the ground under their feet is threatened? When they face big changes – losing family members, losing their homes, when their hearts are broken? Women in Jane’s novels were so frequently powerless. Men had choices and women frequently did not. Choices of: marriage; a choice of profession; of entertainments; of travel and of expression. Women could not earn their own money or inherit it. They are entirely at the mercy of the men they are in close proximately with. Love is a precious, perilous and sought after ornament to the necessities required to survive. In a time where the only way they could change their circumstances would be to become involved in a situation with a man who would look after their needs, we felt strongly that Anne must have her voice. She must be understood in 2018.

There’s a thought explored in the final third of the novel that underpins our thinking behind the character of Anne. Whilst men can leave their homes to have careers and find distractions elsewhere, women “live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us.” This idea was the central component which unlocked this adaptation. Whatever was going on in her day to day world, Anne had to cope with the inner turmoil of losing her young love and the duty she believed she owed to her family. Anne’s stoic nature, some believe to be close to that of Austen herself, becomes a shadow of her former self and like the opening of the book she retrenches from society.

Captain Harville in the novel questions whether women are as constant in their feelings as men. He tells Anne that it is impossible for her to understand what it feels like to leave your family behind to sail in the navy. She is quick to correct him, highlighting that women feel just as much if not more. They have no distraction other than what they feel and there is no distraction to take away from the depth of their feeling. Men cannot assume they are the only ones to love. Captain Harville remarks that the history books all talk about women’s fickleness. Anne states “but they are all written by men.” Jane Austen gave Anne the voice to disagree; to assert that the female mind is perhaps the most fraught and yet the most resilient.  Whilst Wentworth learns about the sea and the harsh realities of men and war in their eight years apart, Anne learns about duty, responsibility for herself and the true power of her own mind.

A review in the March 1818 edition of the British Critic praised the realism of Jane Austen’s works, saying that they “display a degree of excellence that has not often been surpassed”. She writes on epic themes but portrays them beautifully in miniature; she creates characters in witty and often satirical manner – and so whatever time or place, we all feel that we know a Sir Walter, Mary or a brooding Captain Benwick.

Something we have focused on is Anne’s reasoning and how it is inextricably linked with how she feels – the two work together and eventually, the conclusions demonstrate a deep insight and understanding of her situation and what must be done in order for her to achieve happiness. The novel is ahead of its time in the sense that it shows the reader that happiness can be found if women are bold enough to find their voices and use them.

Persuasion is unique amongst Austen’s novels in that we have the original manuscript chapters – and the alternative happy ending she was striving to find. In Theatre6’s production of Persuasion we explore the biggest journey of our lives – to find love for ourselves, regardless of the love of others. Anne’s love for Wentworth and his unbreakable commitment to her is the conclusion of this timeless story. If we can find love and hold onto it and yet not break the commitment to ourselves – our own voice and our own worth, then love itself is worth having and worth waiting for. Even if the wait spans a lifetime. And just like Anne and Wentworth, we all deserve a second chance.

***

Theatre6’s Persuasion runs from 17 April – 20 May 2018 opening at London’s Playground Theatre and touring to Dorchester Arts (Dorset), Marine Theatre (Lyme Regis), The Hat (Brighton), Theatre Royal Windsor and the Mill Studio in Guildford. For more information and bookings on this production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion visit www.theatre6.co.uk/whatson.

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Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours With Anne Elliot

anne elliot

Anne Elliot: A quiet force to be reckoned with.

Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels.

Lizzy Bennet may be the one with all the flash and sparkle, but one should never underestimate one of Austen’s more reserved heroines, Anne Elliot of Persuasion.

At first glance, Anne may not seem to fit the typical ideal of a cape-wearing, save-the-day superhero, but let’s take a closer look at Miss Anne:

Austen Superpower 1: Grace under Fire.

Who had the presence of mind that no one else had when Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb at Lyme?

That’s right; Anne Elliot did. Everyone else was wailing and flailing while she was the voice of calm and reason in the midst of the emergency. She was the one who gave Captain Wentworth calm and rational directions as to how to help Louisa.

Austen Superpower 2: Trusting Observation and Instinct.

Who realized that Captain Wentworth was in love with her–despite his eight years of silence after she broke his heart, despite his ignoring her while happily being the Musgrove girls’ object of worship, and despite everyone else being ready to marry him off to Louisa Musgrove?

You got it; Anne Elliot. Though not by any stretch of the imagination conceited or vain, and despite having been brought up to think of herself as beneath the notice of everyone in her family (aside, that is, from Lady Russell and Anne’s own dear, departed mother ), this gentle soul’s keen gaze penetrated to Captain Wentworth’s very soul. She knew–knew, I say!–that he cared for her again. 

She knew this not from any direct declaration of Captain Wentworth’s, but from the way he talked of the unsuitability of the engagement of his friend Benwick to Louisa, and of Benwick’s inconstancy to Benwick’s fiancee, who died only a short time before.

Austen Superpower 3: The Courage to Act

Anne not only KNEW this, she acted upon it–granted, within the very limited means that a lady of her time was authorized to act, for as Anne herself said of the lot of females in general in the time of Jane Austen:

“We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us.”

How did she act upon it? She encouraged Captain Wentworth to stay at the concert when jealousy of his rival, Mr. Elliot, was driving him away. She wasn’t successful, but her encouragement may have given him something to think about.

She expressed her feelings about female constancy to Captain Wentworth’s dear friend Captain Harville. She did this not because she knew–which she did not–that Captain Wentworth could overhear her, nor did she do it because she imagined that Captain Harville might repeat her words to Captain Wentworth. No, she acted purely out of a wish to defend the integrity of women’s feelings that she so passionately believed in, and as a mark of her friendship with Captain Harville.

via GIPHY

via GIPHY

And that was enough to jolt Captain Wentworth out of his comfort zone and into declaring his own feelings.

 

How can we cultivate our own inner Anne Elliot?

When in doubt, read the book. And/or see the movie(s).

We can also contemplate the following passages to cultivate each of Anne Elliot’s Austen superpowers:

Grace under fire.

Check out Miss Anne in the aftermath of Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the Cobb. This is the girl you’d want by your side in any emergency. Here are some snippets of Anne taking charge while everyone around her falls apart, including Captain Wentworth, who holds the unconscious Louisa in his arms; Louisa’s sister Henrietta, who falls into a faint at the sight of her sister; and Louisa’s brother Charles Musgrove, whose wife Mary is in her usual hysterics. 

Anne not only suggests they fetch a surgeon, but makes sure that Captain Benwick, who knows the area, is the one to do it. As they wait for the surgeon:

Anne, attending with all the strength and zeal, and thought, which instinct supplied, to Henrietta, still tried, at intervals, to suggest comfort to the others, tried to quiet Mary, to animate Charles, to assuage the feelings of Captain Wentworth. Both seemed to look to her for directions.

“Anne, Anne,” cried Charles, “What is to be done next? What, in heaven’s name, is to be done next?”

Captain Wentworth’s eyes were also turned towards her.

“Had not she better be carried to the inn? Yes, I am sure: carry her gently to the inn.”

“Yes, yes, to the inn,” repeated Captain Wentworth, comparatively collected, and eager to be doing something. “I will carry her myself. Musgrove, take care of the others.”

The courage to act.

When Captain Wentworth walked in alone to the concert in Bath, Anne had the courage to approach him and be friendly to him, despite the presence of her formidable father and sister, who had snubbed him previously. It doesn’t sound like much, but for a young single woman whose family had absolutely rejected him as a suitor eight years before and who  herself had been rejected in turn by that man when he returned from the war, Anne’s actions show tremendous courage and integrity: 

Anne was the nearest to him, and making yet a little advance, she instantly spoke. He was preparing only to bow and pass on, but her gentle “How do you do?” brought him out of the straight line to stand near her, and make enquiries in return, in spite of the formidable father and sister in the back ground. Their being in the back ground was a support to Anne; she knew nothing of their looks, and felt equal to everything which she believed right to be done.

Trusting observation and instinct. 

After Anne has a world-changing conversation with Captain Wentworth before a concert in Bath, in which he talks to her, for the first time, about the engagement of his friend Captain Benwick to Louisa Musgrove, she reviews it all in her head, and she doesn’t second-guess her observations at all:

His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light. His opinion of Louisa Musgrove’s inferiority, an opinion which he had seemed solicitous to give, his wonder at Captain Benwick, his feelings as to a first, strong attachment; 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.

The same keenness of observation serves Anne well with respect to Captain Wentworth’s rival, Mr. Elliot:

Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.

Doesn’t it make you want to read Persuasion again? Or for the first time? Oh yes, you are in for a treat!

Read on, my dears, and may you be blessed with Austen superpowers!

 

***

Austen Superpowers: Finding Yours with Anne Elliot was written by Laurie Viera Rigler – the author of the Jane Austen Addict series.

Visit her at her website www.janeaustenaddict.com

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Jane Austen News – Issue 79

The Jane Austen News in the future?!

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?  

A New Pride and Prejudice is Coming!

Big news!!! Set to air twenty-five years after Colin Firth first set hearts racing while playing Mr Darcy in the BBC’s 1995 series, is a new TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Mammoth Screen, the makers of the hit series Poldark and Victoria, are currently working on a TV adaption of Pride and Prejudice for ITV. The production firm has said that they’ll focus on “the darker tones” of the novel and have commissioned playwright Nina Raine to adapt the book, though the cast is yet to be confirmed. Raine is an interesting writer to choose for the job as she hasn’t adapted novels for TV before, but her play, Consent, which opened at the National Theatre earlier this year has gained strong reviews. She’s keen to show Austen’s “dark intelligence” and prove that Pride and Prejudice was “actually a very adult book; much less bonnet-y than people assume”.

Damien Timmer, the managing director of Mammoth, told Radio Times: “In this age of the box set – with audiences loving to binge on complex, serialised dramas – it feels absolutely right to reassess the great classics. Every generation needs its own adaptation of this perfect novel.”


Jane Is A Big Favourite Worldwide

Pride and Prejudice has won first place in many different polls looking to find the nation’s favourite book, but it’s not just the UK that loves Austen. New Zealanders are also big Austen fans – with Pride and Prejudice coming in the top 15 of the country’s favourite books, alongside the likes of the Lord of the Rings and 1984.

What really struck us here at the Jane Austen News however were the reading statistics that came out just before the new list of the country’s top 100 books. It shows that New Zealanders read an average of 20 (20.6 to be exact) books a year! Although it also showed that around 394,000 New Zealanders didn’t read a single book during 2016.

How do your reading habits compare?


Win A Signed Pullman With Pride and Prejudice Yoga!

If you’re quick you might just have time to enter this great competition…

Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Joanna Trollope, Lamn Sissay and Joanne Harris are all taking part in a five-day yoga challenge organised by The Society of Authors in order to raise awareness of how important it is for writers to look after themselves and each other.

Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 79

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Why Adapt Persuasion for Musical Theatre?

Persuasion A New Musical

By Harold Taw

Persuasion A New Musical
Left to right: Cayman Ilika as Anne Elliot, Nick DeSantis as Sir Walter and Matthew Posner as Captain Wentworth. Photograph by Erik Stuhaug

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”
Persuasion, Chapter 4

I’ve encountered three reactions from those who learn we’ve adapted Jane Austen’s final complete novel Persuasion as a musical. The first is delight. This comes from people who hold certain Austen adaptations near and dear to their hearts … usually the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The second is indifference. These souls were forced to read Austen in high school and tend to confuse her with Charlotte Brontë. The third is dread. These are Janeites who anticipate a chorus line of naval officers high-kicking atop a painted reproduction of The Cobb in Lyme Regis.

Let me reassure, and perhaps disappoint, everyone: our musical does not feature zombies to attract a teen audience, will not turn Captain Wentworth into an Iraq veteran to show social relevance, and will not relocate Act II from Bath to Havana as an excuse for a climactic mambo. We chose to musicalize Persuasion for a simple and perhaps naïve reason. We believe that if any art form can be true both to the novel’s wit and to its aching melancholy, it is musical theatre … not the musical theatre of spectacle but of emotional immediacy and intimacy.

Continue reading Why Adapt Persuasion for Musical Theatre?

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Inner voices: The voices of Anne and Austen in Persuasion

By Camilla Magnotti Komatz
with illustrations from Persuasion by C.E. Brock

Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last finished novel, is probably the one in which the narrative voice and the protagonist’s voice are most interwoven. Jane Austen’s opinions and visions of the changing times are much similar to those of Anne Elliot. The activity of the story encompasses the period of peace between the signing of the Treaty of Paris in June 1814 and Napoleon’s escape from the island of Elba and subsequent return to Paris in February and March of 1815. It was a period when society went through significant changes and, as Jane writes, “many a noble fortune [had] been made during the war.” Captains and admirals had made their fortune and so achieved a high place in society. Jane Austen’s experiences are also closely related to those experienced by Anne. Like Anne, she too spent some time in Lyme, and in many of the places Anne visits and passes through she follows Austen’s footsteps. Two of Austen’s brothers, Francis and Charles, joined the navy and were a great source of information to her. Austen’s and Anne’s opinions on the navy are the same, and, indeed, the two women have been much compared.

Regarding Austen, Ann Barret states that “Anne…was herself; her enthusiasm for the navy, and her perfect unselfishness reflect her completely” (Morrison). However, Austen described Anne as “almost too good for me”, suggesting a distance between her feelings and actions and those of the protagonist. In that sense, by projecting some of her thoughts through Anne, Austen is making Anne the voice of her own opinions.

Anne is older and has experienced much, like Austen herself. And both Anne and Austen have a deep respect and regard for the navy. By reading of the navy, of which Wentworth is a part, Anne is able to feel closer to him, while Austen can do the same for her brothers. One can sense something of Austen’s own feelings when Anne states: “The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men, for all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give. Sailor’s work hard enough for their comforts, we must all allow.” In fact, whenever Anne talks and thinks of the navy, we can hear Austen’s voice.

In spite of the formidable father and sister in the background
Captain Wentworth and Anne talk, “In spite of the formidable father and sister in the background…”

Austen always paints a pretty picture when talking of the naval officers and their family. The Harvilles are an agreeable, friendly couple and, when quitting Lyme, Anne is sorry to leave them and Captain Benwick behind. The Crofts are one of the happiest couples depicted in any Austen novel. Captain Wentworth, the hero of the novel, is a man of initiative who made his money in the war, instead of inheriting it, like her previous heroes. Francis Austen later stated that some aspects of Captain Harville’s character “were drawn from myself – at least some of his domestic habits, tastes and occupations bear a strong resemblance to mine” (Morrison).

Other examples of Austen lending her voice to Anne in the novel include when Anne first sees Captain Wentworth in Bath. Austen uses free-indirect speech to express Anne’s emotion: “Her start was perceptible only to herself; but she instantly felt that she was the greatest simpleton in the world, the most unaccountable and absurd!… She now felt a great inclination to got 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 suspecting the other of being worse than it was. She would see if it rained.”

And later, when Anne thinks of Mr. Elliot, one can see the same effect again: “Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished – but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil of good of others. This, to Anne, was decided imperfection… She prized the frank, the openhearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.”

In the second passage, one can see how Anne, even before learning more about his real character, has already rejected Mr. Elliot, and Anne’s thoughts are aligned with those of the author. Anne speaks her own mind, but it is also Austen’s mind. She sees imperfection in the lack of openness of Mr. Elliot’s manners and prefers an open-hearted, eager character, like Wentworth’s. One may see that this is also the kind of character Austen herself prefers: “Austen… admits a preference for those who can be careless or hasty, whose tongue may slip” (Jordan). In Emma, Mr. Knightley also claims to prefer a more open temper; in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is attracted by Elizabeth’s frankness and open character, and in Mansfield Park, the Crawfords enchant the Bertram family by their outspoken behavior.

Notwithstanding, Jane Austen is also not afraid of entering other characters’ thoughts, even the ones with personality far different from her own. When she does that, she distances herself from the main character’s point of view, to depict the internal concerns of another character. In this extract, Austen enters Sir Walter Elliot’s mind, using again, free-indirect speech: “It had not been possible for him to spend less; he had done nothing but what Sir Walter Elliot was imperiously called on to do; but blameless as he was, he was not only growing dreadfully in debt, but was hearing of it so often that it became vain to attempt concealing it longer, even partially, from his daughter.”

In another remarkable episode of the novel, the visit of Captain Wentworth to the Musgrove family brings Mrs. Musgrove memories of her dead son Dick, who once had been on Wentworth frigate at sea. Austen states that “the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea, because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family…, and scarcely at all regretted when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross…Dick Musgrove, who had never done any thing to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead.” This is quite a harsh comment of the narrator’s. Julia Prewitt Brown states that “the sentiment of the passage comes both from a narrator (in some ways the old Jane Austen narrator appearing suddenly) and from the central consciousness of Anne… The narrator is saying that some lives really are worthless” (Morrison). Nevertheless, this seems almost too severe to be an inner though of the tender Anne we are used to in the book; it is a sarcastic voice, and almost one of dark humour, of the kind heard when Sir Walter Elliot express his disgust at the effects of living at sea: “it is a pity that they [naval officers] are not knocked on the head at once, before they reach  Admiral Baldwin’s age.” It may be that those lines expresses Austen’s own mind: less afraid than Anne would be of seeming harsh.

Anne and Captain Wentworth share a couch but, "They were divided only by Mrs. Musgrove..."
Anne and Captain Wentworth share a couch but, “They were divided only by Mrs. Musgrove…”

In another moment Austen “lambasts Mrs. Musgrove’s “large fat sighings” over the dead of her son Dick, not because her feelings are entirely absurd but because too much of her grief is performative” (Morrison, 2011, p.11), of which Anne is shown to be aware; when Mrs. Musgrove exclaims “Ah! Miss Anne, if it had pleased Heaven to spare my poor son, I dare say he would have been just another by this time” (Persuasion, p.48), Anne has to suppress a smile. And in another passage on the same topic, Austen writes that “a large bulky figure has as good a right
to be in deep affliction, as the most graceful set of limbs in the world. But, fair or not fair, there are unbecoming conjunctions, which reason will patronize in vain, – which taste cannot tolerate, – which ridicule will seize” (Persuasion, p.51). In this passage, the voice seems to be certainly Austen’s. In regard to this passage, Adela Pinch comments that “Austen applies the language of neo-classical aesthetic judgement…to Mrs. Musgrove’s expressive body, as if she were a bad poem or book” (Morrison, 2011, p.108).

Over all, in Persuasion, Jane Austen “renders Anne’s consciousness… in a prose style that is much more lyrical and impressionistic than anything in the earlier novels” (Morrison, 2011, p.8) and that makes this novel the work where the “romanticism” emerges. This romanticism can also be seen, although to a lesser degree, in Mansfield Park, in Fanny’s “love for stars in the night sky and relics of the past” (Jordan, 2000, p.vii) (another aspect in common between the novels, as well as the praise for a carrier in the sea, depicted by William in Mansfield Park). In her introduction to Persuasion, Elaine Jordan affirms that “earlier Austen novels tend to emphasise more the values of the Enlightenment, the reason and judgement of dominant élites. In Persuasion there are many images which can be called romantic, of natural phenomena and of change over time… The tension within Anne being reasonable is however, the most romantic aspect of Austen’s representation of her” (Jordan, 2000, p.vii).

And it is this aspect of Anne’s personality that Austen sees herself distanced from; where their voices are not to be the same. In the second volume of the novel, Austen introduces to us another character, Mrs. Smith, an old schoolfellow of Anne’s and a good friend when she was suffering the loss of her mother. Mrs. Smith is much impoverished and suffers from rheumatic fever and, as their friendship is regained, she is the one who reveals Mr. Elliot’s real character to Anne. In some ways, Mrs. Smith serves to counterbalance Anne’s sentimentalism and romanticism, with her “good sense” (Persuasion, p.118).

Anne visits her friend...Such a letter could not be read without putting Anne in a glow
Anne visits Mrs. Smith, and discovers an unpleasant truth, “Such a letter could not be read without putting Anne in a glow…”

When talking of Mrs. Smith’s nurse, Nurse Rooke as they call her, her only companion and a source of the gossips of Bath, Anne’s “tendency to romanticize” (Morrison, 2011, p.207) is shown: “What instances must pass before them [the nurses] of ardent, disinterested, selfdenying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation – of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most”. Mrs. Smith’s response doubts the truths of this romantic view of the world: “Yes… sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial, but generally speaking it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick chamber” (Persuasion, p.120). Austen may be using Mrs. Smith’s voice to check Anne’s; and the situations in the book show Mrs. Smith’s view to be the most accurate one, leading the narrator herself to agree with this view. This “weakness and not… strength” of character in situations of distress is exemplified by Louisa Musgroves’s accident at the Cobb and the reaction of the party, when only Anne could retain her self-control.

Austen indeed uses Anne as a means to express her points of view on particular subjects, such as their similar opinions on the navy. However, the narrator does not only hide herself behind the protagonist’s voice, entering now and then another character’s mind and expressing views detached from the characters response to situations. According to Robert Morrison, the narrator “has the freedom to voice what decorum and the interests of family harmony prevent Anne from saying, especially as regards Sir Walter’s vacuity, Elizabeth’s conceit, Mary’s carping, and Lady Russel’s ‘prejudices on the side of ancestry ’” (Morrison, 2011, p.11) . In that way, their voices can be separated and Austen is able to tell her story, despite hurting her own character’s feelings.

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Camilla Magnotti Komatz: My love and enthusiasm for Jane Austen’s work and times have encouraged me to study her novels by reading various works on them and through a course dedicated for them, the Jane Austen Online course ministered by the University of Oxford, UK. I was born and live in Brazil and possibilities to study Austen’s works are limited in my country. This course has helped me see more deeply into her novels and to have access to a wide range of critical work, biographies and other materials focusing on Austen and her novels, and this piece of writing is the revised final assignment for this course.

Bibliography:

  • Austen, Jane, Emma, 2000, Wordsworth classics, by Wordsworth editions limited
  • Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park, 2000, Wordsworth classics, by Wordsworth editions limited
  • Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice, 1999, Wordsworth classics, by Wordsworth editions limited
  • Austen, Jane, Persuasion, 2000, Wordsworth classics, by Wordsworth editions limited
  • Jordan, Elaine, Introduction to Austen J., Persuasion, 2000
  • Wordsworth classics, by   Wordsworth editions limited
  • Lynch, Deidre S., Introduction to Austen, J., Persuasion, 2004, Oxford World’s Classics edition
  • Morrison, Robert, Introduction and notes in Austen, J., Persuasion, 2011, The Belknap Press of   Harvard University Press
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