We love Jane Austen’s Persuasion! Do you? Time to test your knowledge of, what is to many, her most romantic novel.
Feminist Lessons From Jane
Bustle’s latest article in its series which have been focusing on the works of Jane Austen has moved away from quotes from each of the novels and has instead detailed a feminist lesson that can be learned from each of Jane’s heroines.
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.
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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.
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 –
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,
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.
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.
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
What’s the Jane Austen News this week?
Authors Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney have recently seen their new book A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf published, and to go alongside the book they wrote an article for the Times newspaper which threw a little more light on why female authors so often have their female friends ‘airbrushed’ out of their lives by their family and society. When it came to Jane, they focused on her dear friend and fellow writer Anne Sharp, whom Jane, when in ailing health in 1817, proclaimed herself forever “attached” to.
So why do we hear so little about Anne who Emily and Emma say Jane had such a strong bond with?
Such a friendship flouted the social norms of the time. By keeping it out of official versions of Austen’s life, the family could create a false image of the famous author as a conservative maiden aunt, devoted above all else to kith and kin. As a result, the close bond she shared with Anne, who wrote plays in between teaching lessons, has become one of literature’s most enduring secrets.
Even today, as in Jane Austen’s time, it can be difficult to overcome the notion that a close, platonic female bond somehow threatens the allegiance a woman owes to her family. And while the opening up of professional roles during the 20th century has brought new opportunities for collaboration between women, the stereotype of the ambitious woman who jealously guards her place at the top continues to pervade.
This goes some way to explaining why the important friendships of female writers have failed to make it into literary lore.
At the Jane Austen News we found this to be a most interesting idea, and not one we’d really thought about before.
A team from the Jane Austen Centre, including our Mr Bennet (Martin) and Jane Austen Festival director Jackie Herring, had a lovely day out this week at the Bath Brew House, where they helped to create a special Jane Austen beer.
The new beer is being created to celebrate Jane’s bicentenary year and will be an “Earl Grey, Red Ale”. It’s rather an appropriate tribute to Jane, given that she was a master brewer of Spruce beer herself.
The new tipple is due to be ready on July the 1st (just in time for the Jane Austen Summer Ball in Bath), and all of us at the Jane Austen News are very keen for a sample (or two)!
Jane Austen loved to play the pianoforte. She used to copy out music from her friends into books that remain in the Chawton House library to this day. Many of these pieces- classics by Bach, Mozart, Handel and others – are readily available for today’s musicians. If you want to try your hand yourself, A Carriage Ride In Queen’s Square, a wonderful compendium of original ‘easy to play piano pieces for Jane Austen’s Bath’ with a playalong CD included, is currently available from the Jane Austen Gift Shop.
But what if you want to play music from the movie soundtracks?
Surely these evoke the spirit of Jane Austen at least as much as the period pieces. Fortunately, many of these- from the original dances used in the movies- to sheet music of the film scores are easily obtained.
Perhaps the most comprehensive collection of works is Jane Austen’s World published by Faber music. It includes:
Emma by Rachel Portman-
Frank Churchill Arrives
Emma (End Titles)
Sense and Sensibility by Patrick Doyle-
My Father’s Favourite
All The Better For Her
Pride and Prejudice by Carl Davis
Pride & Prejudice Theme
Persuasion by Jeremy Sams
Persuasion Main Theme
Another book, Jane Austen, the Music includes a greater range of pieces from both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
Its contents are:
Sense and Sensibility
Weep You No More, Sad Fountains
A Particular Sum
My Father’s Favourite
All the Delights of the Season
There is Nothing Lost
Pride and Prejudice
Opening Title Music
Farewell to the Regiment
Thinking About Lizzy
Single sheets for Weep You No More Sad Fountains and My Father’s Favorite are available from the Hal Lenoard Corp. Additionally, music for just Sense and Sensibility, more recently, Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Becoming Jane have also been published. Of course, this only covers the pieces written for the films. For a list of classical music used in the movies (including many Bach and Chopin pieces in Persuasion and Mozart in Pride and Prejudice) and ordering information for all these pieces, visit the Republic of Pemberley’s Music page. For printable country dances, try Christ Peterson’s Traditional Music Page.
The game is afoot in ITV’s Persuasion as Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) speed walks down a maze of hallways in Kellynch and jogs down the streets of Bath in what was, presumably, the film makers’ attempt to add action and energy to Jane Austen’s posthumously published 1817 classic. No doubt, the film’s creators felt challenged by a novel with more substance than could possibly be squeezed into a 90 minute time frame and by the precedent of the critically acclaimed 1995 Persuasion which set the standard for Jane Austen film adaptations very high indeed. Screenplay writer Simon Burke and director Adrian Shergold resorted to some rather desperate maneuvers to make this version unpredictable and a bit surprising, but their stratagems were not always successful. Some of the camera work is dizzying, and, at the conclusion of the film, when the compressed plot finally implodes, the viewer may well be left confused as to what just happened and why. If you are searching for an adaptation that is accurate to Jane Austen’s novel, this is not it, but, standing alone as a film, Persuasion has much to recommend it.
Sally Hawkins has a sweet, open face, and, like Amanda Root, those large, liquid eyes inspire the viewer to sympathize with her. Ms. Hawkins cries very convincingly. As she is in nearly every scene and has a great many close-up shots, the film proves something of a showcase for Hawkins, who held up remarkably well, not only as an actor but as an athlete. Eventually, the viewer forgives the ITV Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) for not being Ciaran Hinds, but it’s difficult to imagine a pretty boy like Penry-Jones commanding a battleship of hardened seamen in the Napoleonic Wars.
The sets and scenery are splendid, one can never grow tired of Bath, the costumes charming, and the supporting cast talented, but Jane Austen’s sense of humour appears to have been lost somewhere along the way, a damning criticism to be sure, and following hard on the heels of ITV’s clever and witty Northanger Abbey, one was encouraged to hope for better. And more’s the pity, as Austen supplied plenty of humour in the novel. In this film, Sir Walter (Anthony Head), Elizabeth Elliot (Julia Davis) and Mary Musgrove (Amanda Hale) are more appalling than funny, and some of their best lines were cut, such as Mary Musgrove’s immortal whine: “If there is anything disagreeable going on men are always sure to get out of it.” Who is responsible for such an omission?
Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove (Nicholas Farrell & Stella Gonet), Charles (Sam Hazeldine), Louisa (Jennifer Higham), Henrietta (Rosamund Stephen) and the Crofts (Peter Wight & Marion Bailey) are given minimal dialogue, and perhaps the time constraints demanded some neglect of their characters, but there are other inexplicable changes. While Captain Benwick (Finlay Robertson) is reduced to little more than a plot device, if you blink you may miss him entirely, Captain Harville (Joseph Mawle) becomes a matchmaker. Mr. Elliot (Tobias Menzies) is an obvious cad from the start, an arrogant, impudent puppy of the highest order, and yet the otherwise prudent and overly cautious Lady Russell (Alice Krige) recommends him to Anne. Why? Unfortunately, Lady Russell’s judgment is not the only lapse of common sense in this film.
What about the invalid Mrs. Smith’s (Maisie Dimbleby) unexplained and miraculous cure which not only allows her to rise from her bed and walk but to sprint down the street calling out the latest gossip like the town crier? And how did Kellynch Hall, an entailed estate under lease to a tenant, suddenly become available for purchase? But, apparently, these are minor details and should arouse neither curiosity nor interest. We are merely the viewers. Ours is not to question why, or to question at all. We are, presumably, to be bowled over by the love story, to care about nothing else and to sit back and enjoy a painfully prolonged build up to a kiss and an impromptu waltz on the lawn. The good news is that the ITV Persuasion seems to improve on subsequent viewings. The trick is in forgiving it for being neither Jane Austen’s novel nor the 1995 film. Aye, there’s the rub.
Sheryl Craig is an Instructor of English at Central Missouri State University. She is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Kansas.