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Archive for the ‘Persuasion’ Category

Inquiring readers: Victoria Grossack, FCAS, the author of this piece and an actuary, sent this highly interesting article about Jane Austen and mathematics, a first topic for this blog. Enjoy!

Janeites esteem Jane Austen as a literary genius. Her characters are exquisitely drawn and her dialogue can be wickedly funny. She also uses the stream of consciousness technique before it became popular. All devotees know her novels are classics.

What about Austen as a mathematician, however? She never promotes herself in this regard. Like most female authors in her day, she doesn’t promote herself at all, not even putting her name on her novels – but in her writing, her mathematical abilities are evident. In fact, she uses math in a way that would make most actuaries proud. (Note: Actuaries are specialized mathematicians who generally work for insurance companies, which is relevant to some of the math Austen uses.)


Monetary Sums, Large and Small

Jane Austen and almost all of her characters are aware of the value of money, which would be true of most mathematicians (and certainly all actuaries). In fact, money is often a motivator for her characters’ choices in her novels. The young ladies often need to marry so they will have husbands to support them, while the single gentlemen are more attracted to single young ladies when they have significant dowries. Mr. Darcy’s income of £10,000 per annum makes him more handsome in Pride & Prejudice, while Mr. Wickham only courts Mary King after she inherits £10,000. Mr. Collins’s financial situation even wins him the hand of Charlotte Lucas:

Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. (Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 22)”

Image of the front and back of a half guinea

Image of a half guinea in the time of George III

However, Austen’s comprehension goes well beyond large, round sums and the necessity of an income. Mansfield Park has a lovely passage in which monetary gifts to William Price are discussed by his two aunts, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram.

Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

“Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

“I am glad you gave him something considerable,” said Lady Bertram, with most unsuspicious calmness, “for I gave him only £10.”

“Indeed!” cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. “Upon my word, he must have gone off with his 3 pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey to London either!” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 31)”

The amount of Mrs. Norris’s gift to William Price is never mentioned in Mansfield Park, but Jane Austen told her family (A Memoir of Jane Austen) that Mrs. Norris gave her nephew only one pound. Besides being a perfect contrast of the miserly Mrs. Norris versus her much more generous sister, the dialogue shows how well Austen understood the importance of relatively small sums, and how much £10 would mean to a midshipman in William Price’s position.

The Distress of Debt

Another reason for seeking a marriage settlement is to deal with debt. Several of the gentlemen (Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility, and Wickham in Pride & Prejudice) marry to escape debt, making life choices that they would have preferred not to make.

However, marriage is not the only solution to debt. Austen’s last novel, Persuasion, begins with the fact that the baronet, Sir Walter Elliot, has been living beyond his means and needs to “retrench” in order to regain solvency. As he is one of those people who is really bad at managing money, Austen comes up with the best method that will save him money: 

“Quit Kellynch Hall.” The hint was immediately taken up by Mr. Shepherd, whose interest was involved in the reality of Sir Walter’s retrenching, and who was perfectly persuaded that nothing would be done without a change of abode. (Persuasion, Chapter 2)

This change of abode is critical to the plot of Persuasion. It’s also sound business advice. 

Some readers may object that the examples given so far only prove that Austen had a mercenary side and do not demonstrate her understanding of mathematics. So let’s move on to other passages involving annuities and livings. These also concern money, but the math is more challenging.

Annuities and Livings

Annuities are insurance contracts that provide a fixed income stream, often for a person’s remaining lifetime. An annuity is a series of payments; these days annuities are often used as a way to pay out retirement, or are awarded in lieu of some lottery sum.

Life expancy from 1770 to 20018 of people from Oceania, Europe, Americas, Asia, World, Africa

Life expectancy over time

Now, annuities, when used by life insurance companies and pension funds, are fairly sure things because they can rely on expected values, i.e., mortality tables. In other words, life insurance companies and pension funds know approximately when their annuitants will die, on average. These organizations can manage because they work with large pools of people. Each annuitant can land anywhere on a distribution, but on average, given enough customers, an insurance company can have confidence in its ability to pay annuities.

However, if you are just one individual promising an annuity to just one other individual, you cannot rely on averages, because you can land anywhere on a distribution. It’s like throwing a pair of dice: on average, they will sum to 7, but you can roll anything from 2 to 12, and the probability of rolling something besides the mean is pretty good.  

So, that’s the underlying math. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen describes the dilemma a couple is facing when debating whether or not to promise an annuity to Mr. John Dashwood’s widowed stepmother. This sort of annuity would have to be guaranteed by them; they would not be in the position of a life insurance company that can have confidence in averages. Here are some of the remarks made by Fanny Dashwood to her husband, Mr. John Dashwood:

“… if you observe, people always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and healthy, and hardly forty. An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father’s will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year these annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting it to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterwards it turned out to be no such thing. My mother was quite sick of it. … It has given me such an abhorrence of annuities, that I am sure I would not pin myself down to the payment of one for all the world.” (Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 2)

Fanny Dashwood’s speech demonstrates her meanness, but Jane Austen has also demonstrated her sophisticated understanding of the uncertainty associated with an annuity.

Let’s move on to livings. A living is the salary of a clergyman, a fixed number of pounds, associated with fulfilling the duties of a particular parish, sometimes paid in kind instead of cash. Austen, daughter and sister of several clergymen, understood the importance of livings.

Livings are critical to the characters in Pride & Prejudice and in Mansfield Park. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen gives real insight into the livings market, when a living for a small parish is being given by Colonel Brandon to Mr. Edward Ferrars. The discussion below takes place between Mr. John Dashwood and John’s half-sister, Elinor.

Really!—Well, this is very astonishing!—no relationship!—no connection between them!—and now that livings fetch such a price!—what was the value of this?”

“About two hundred a year.”

“Very well—and for the next presentation to a living of that value—supposing the late incumbent to have been old and sickly, and likely to vacate it soon—he might have got I dare say—fourteen hundred pounds. And how came he not to have settled that matter before this person’s death? Now, indeed it would be too late to sell it, but a man of Colonel Brandon’s sense! I wonder he should be so improvident in a point of such common, such natural, concern!” (Sense & Sensibility, Volume III, Chapter 41)

This shows Austen’s deep understanding of the mathematics of the livings market – as well as her talent to explain the situation clearly and to use that situation for effectively displaying the personalities of her characters.

Insistence on Accuracy

Austen’s mathematical talent is visible in matters, such as her understanding of chance in cards and her calculation of distances in journeys. She does not always go into these areas in depth, but they serve as reliable backgrounds for some of her scenes.  

Gold pocket watch opened, with cover and numerals inside

Halsted Pocket Watch

Furthermore, Austen is aware – as are most mathematicians – that a significant proportion of the population is not especially good in mathematics, and that their calculations and estimations should not be relied upon. The following dialogue takes place in Mansfield Park, between the characters Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram:

I am really not tired, which I almost wonder at; for we must have walked at least a mile in this wood. Do not you think we have?”

“Not half a mile,” was his sturdy answer; for he was not yet so much in love as to measure distance, or reckon time, with feminine lawlessness. … “We have been exactly a quarter of an hour here,” said Edmund, taking out his watch. “Do you think we are walking four miles an hour?” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 9)

As the passage above was written more than two hundred years ago, we’ll skip over the lack of political correctness. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that nearly every mathematician (or actuary) has to insist on using reasonable data and accurate calculations. Moreover, most mathematically inclined persons will review calculations, even their own, because mistakes are so easy to make.

Testing Assumptions for Reasonability

Just as important as data and accurate reckoning are the underlying assumptions. Mathematicians, when creating scenarios and simulations, always need to determine whether their assumptions are reasonable. Something similar comes up in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland she has allowed her imagination to run away with her.

“Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? … Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. … Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open?” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter 24)

Austen insisted on making stories out of the probable rather than what was wild and fanciful. She always keeps her assumptions grounded in reality.

Proxy variables

My favorite example of Austen’s display of mathematical ability is when she uses a proxy variable. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of a proxy variable: “In statistics, a proxy or proxy variable is a variable that is not in itself directly relevant, but that serves in place of an unobservable or immeasurable variable. In order for a variable to be a good proxy, it must have a close correlation, not necessarily linear, with the variable of interest.”

In Emma, the following dialogue takes place between Mrs. Elton, the local vicar’s new bride, who recently arrived from Maple Grove, and Jane Fairfax, who happens to be the best educated of all of Austen’s heroines:

Photograph of the front of a modest stone building

Former National School, 1833, Gloucestershire.

“I do believe,” she continued, “this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove.”

“Your parish there was small,” said Jane.

“Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of.”

“But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children.” (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 16)

The number of children in the school serves as a proxy variable for the size of the parish. It is a perfect example of a proxy variable.

Family Connections

As we have seen, Jane Austen repeatedly shows her understanding of mathematics. The case, in my opinion, is proved, but there is additional circumstantial evidence. Mathematical talent often runs in families. Two of Jane’s brothers became admirals in the Royal Navy; in fact, the brother closest to her in age, Sir Francis Austen, rose to become Admiral of the Fleet. They could not have achieved these positions without strong abilities in mathematics. (Note: my own brother is an actuary.) 

Black and white image of Jane Austen's sailor brother

Sir Francis Austen

Jane Austen never used the term actuary, even though actuaries existed when she lived. Of course, she was writing about romance in country villages and not about insurance companies. In her six finished novels, she only uses the word mathematician on one occasion. This paragraph takes place in Emma, when Emma has witnessed an event – Mr. Frank Churchill’s rescue of Harriet Smith from a threatening mob – which she hopes will lead to romance:

Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other?—How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!—especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made. (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 3)

Austen’s use of the word mathematician in this passage indicates she probably had some familiarity with people who could calculate. 

Jane Austen writes both intelligently and intelligibly on many topics associated with mathematics. I do not think I am being an imaginist when I maintain that this literary genius of the early nineteenth century had a profound understanding of mathematics.

About the Author:

Photo of the author

Author, Victoria Grossack

Victoria Grossack is a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and has worked for companies such as Folksamerica Reinsurance and Zurich Financial Services; she currently supplies materials for the Actuarial Bookstore. She also writes novels celebrating birds, Greek mythology, and Jane Austen. Her Jane Austen-based novels include: The Meryton Murders, The Highbury Murders, The Mansfield Park Murders and Mrs. Bennet’s Advice to Young Ladies. Her novels can be found at Amazon.

Citations:

Lodge, David, “The best stream of consciousness novels,” The Guardian, January 20, 2009.

Austen-Leigh, James Edward, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Richard Bentley and Son, 1871.

Roser, Max, “Life Expectancy,” Our World in Data

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Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot at the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion has long been heralded as one of the most romantic letters—and moments—in English literature. But does Wentworth’s letter live up to today’s standards of a really well-written love letter?

If you look up how to write the perfect love letter on the Internet, quite a lot of interesting information comes up. One article that might be of particular interest to a man like Captain Wentworth is this one: “How to Write a Love Letter” by Brett and Kate McKay from the web site, The Art of Manliness.

First, the article states that, “A handwritten letter is something tangible that we touch and hold and then pass to another to touch and hold. And they are preserved and cherished in a way that text messages or email never will be.” Captain Wentworth’s letter certainly meets this criteria. He writes his letter to Anne by hand, folds the paper “hastily,” and writes a “hardly legible” direction “to ‘Miss A. E.— ’” on the outside. (As to whether his letter will be preserved and cherished, I’ll leave that up to your excellent imaginations.)

Captain Wentworth pens his letter.

Next, there is the mode of delivery. For lovers who are separated by miles, an envelope and a stamp do the job nicely. Others might choose to leave their letters under a door mat, on a bedside table, or beside a dinner plate. As for Wentworth, he prefers the rather intense (and covert) personal delivery system for his letter to Anne:

[Wentworth] drew out a letter from under the scattered paper, placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time, and hastily collecting his gloves, was again out of the room, almost before Mrs Musgrove was aware of his being in it: the work of an instant!

Jane Austen’s Persuasion
“Placed it before Anne.” Illustration by C.E. Brock, 1909.

Finally, we must consider the contents of the letter. Wentworth hastily writes his letter at a writing table as he listens in on Anne and Captain Harville’s conversation about love and constancy. But does his hurried letter check all the boxes of a first-rate love letter?

The Art of Manliness suggests that every good love letter much include six major elements. Let’s go through the checklist and find out if Wentworth’s letter to Anne makes the grade:

Six Keys to a Good Love Letter

1. Start off by stating the purpose of your letter. Captain Wentworth certainly doesn’t waste any time getting to the point and stating his purpose. There is no question that this is a passionate love letter right from the start:

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.”

2. Recall a romantic memory. Though their past is painful, Wentworth lets Anne know that his memories of her—and his love for her—have never faded, no matter what has happened between them or what he has tried to do to heal and forget her:

“Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

3. Tell her all the things you love about her. For Captain Wentworth, every word out of Anne’s mouth is like water to his thirsty soul. He knows her voice better than anyone else and hangs on her every word:

“I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed.”

4. Tell her how your life has changed since meeting her. Wentworth could probably write a whole book about this (indeed, Austen did), but his letter checks this box in a rather dramatic way as he reveals that Anne is the only thing he cares about and that she is the sole focus of all his thoughts and plans:

“You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine.”

5. Reaffirm your love and commitment. Wentworth declares his love several times in this letter and has no trouble expressing his commitment to Anne. He clearly asks for her hand in marriage:

“I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.” He declares his love in absolute terms: “I have loved none but you.” And after listening to her conversation with Captain Harville, he closes his letter with another affirmation of his fervent and undying love for her:

“You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.”

6. End with a line that sums up your love. One might actually think Captain Wentworth was a contributing writer for The Art of Manliness because he accomplishes this task with an eloquent post script, asking for one word or look from Anne to seal his fate:

“I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”

Captain Wentworth’s Letter by TurtleDoves.

The Right Response

Wentworth’s letter certainly seems to satisfy the most important aspects of an eloquent love letter, but the true test of any romantic letter is the addressee’s response. For that, we must go to Anne herself for her reaction to the letter:

Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from. Half an hour’s solitude and reflection might have tranquillized her; but the ten minutes only which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquillity. Every moment rather brought fresh agitation. It was overpowering happiness.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Indeed, Wentworth’s letter is a complete success. When they meet in the street, Anne returns his pointed look and the “cheeks which had been pale now glowed, and the movements which had hesitated were decided.” There, in the street, they exchange “again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement.”

Truly, “such a letter” is not to be “soon recovered from.” By Anne or by us.

The sky’s the limit with letter writing. And love letters are never to be outdone by “newsy,” handwritten letters that fly back and forth between friends. But if you do write a love letter, make sure you take some pointers from Captain Wentworth.

For more information about the digitized version of Captain Wentworth’s Letter by TurtleDoves on Etsy (pictured above), click HERE.

Works Cited:

Austen, Jane. “Persuasion.” The Project Gutenberg E-Text of Persuasion, by Jane Austen, 2019, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/105/105-h/105-h.htm.

McKay, Brett and Kate. “30 Days to a Better Man Day 28: Write a Love Letter.” The Art of Manliness, 2 Oct. 2020, http://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/30-days-to-a-better-man-day-28-write-a-love-letter/.

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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Since I moved near my family four months ago, my sister-in-law has read three Jane Austen novels – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. She took a longer time warming up to Persuasion, but came around in the end, enjoying the experience.

As a Jane Austen devotee, I associate the seaside resort of Lyme Regis with Persuasion.  Imagine my delight to find that the book Lyme Regis: A Retrospect had been digitized by the Internet Archive. I digitally “flipped” through the book and was delighted to view a number of illustrations of Lyme Regis in the era of Austen.

Title page of Lyme Regis: A Retrospect by C. Wanklyn, London, Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly, W.1. 1927

Click here to enter the Internet Archive’s digitized book of Lyme Regis: A Retrospect.

Fronticepiece image

The fronticepiece of the aquatint of Lyme Regis by William Daniell, R.A. This aquatint first appeared in Daniell’s well-known Voyage round Great Britain, published in 1814. The Charmouth end of the lane, which once ran along the edge of the cliffs for the whole distance between Lyme and Charmouth is here shown.

4-cobb-image

This picture of the Cobb…is taken from the 1724 edition of Stukeley’s Itinerarium Curiosum. The original plate is subscribed ‘Lyme, 21 Aug. 1723.’

Excerpt from the book (it is copy right free!):

The Cobb shared in the changes that were taking place at Lyme after 1750. In 1756 the causeway from the western arm of the Cobb, which joins it to the land, was made. As a result of this construction, and the action of sea and tide, a huge bank of sand and shingle began to form in the angle between the new causeway and the mainland. For te first time in its history, Lyme was recovering some land from the sea…At what date exactly the houses were build is not certain, but they are on the drawing of the sea-front which is dated 1796, and they consequently were there when Jane Austen came to Lyme in 1804. In fact the one in which she placed the Harville family was build on this reclaimed land. Close to the warehouses on the Cobb had once been the ‘King’s Pipe,’ the place, that is to say, where spoilt contraband tobacco seized from smugglers by revenue officials was burnt. The palmy days of smuggling were during the period of high duties forced on us by the French Revolutionary Wars. Cargoes of contraband to the Dorset coast were generally run from the Channel Islands or the Northern Coast of France. If the George Inn still maintained its stables, its pack-horses may frequently have been employed at this time to carry smuggled goods inland. The smugglers were good employers and paid well.” – pp. 123-124

8-The Original

This Cruikshank-Marryat series shows the end of the Walk at Lyme Regis, so far as it went in 1819, i.e., to what is now No. 8 Marine Parade. – p.121.

The original marine parade1Detail left side

The original marine parade2

Detail right side

9-The Rooms and...

The front of the Cliff House property…has suffered from continual falls…and the cottage where  Jane Austen lodged (no longer standing alone) shows a greater variation from the perpendicular every year. – p. 122

 

cobb-at-lyme-regis-tony-grant

Image of the Cobb in rough weather, copyright Tony Grant.  Shipwrecks were not uncommon on Dorset’s shores. One can see the slanted top of the stone Cobb.

3-

This view of the Bay of Lyme Regis is taken from the 1823 edition of Roberts’ History of Lyme Regis, Dorset.-p. 4.

p135

This view of Lyme Regis is dated 1796. It was drawn by ‘J.Nixon, Esq.’ and engraved by John Walker…It was also utilized by W.G. Maton in his Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Side Bathing Places, a work which had a great vogue and was first published in 1803. Nixon was a clever amateur artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy. – p. 135.

Jane Austen makes Mary Musgrove, in Persuasion, bathe at Lyme in November. This is not a mistake; it is rather evidence that Miss Austen was a realist. The year was 1814, and in the autumn of 1814, Princess Charlotte of Wales was staying at Weymouth. Now The Western Flying Post for October, November, and December records that the Princess was bathing on some days of all three months until severe storms from and after December 12th brought the season to an end. Now what Princess Charlotte could do at Weymouth, the aristocratic Mary Musgrove both could and would do at Lme off the beach near Bay Cottage. (p. 140)

And so, in the course of the eighteenth century, Lyme Regis completely changed its character. From being a busy industrial and trading town it became a place of resort for visitors in search of health, amusement, and change. All early writers of Lyme as a seaside place insist on its superior ‘gentility’–a word once redounding in qualities to which all should aspire, but now greatly debased in meaning. ‘The residents are mostly persons of genteel, not large, fortune,’ says one. ‘At lyme,’ says another, ‘there arises no necessity for making any inconvenient sacrifices to the support of style or to the extravagance of outward show.’ -p.141.”

 

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Inquiring readers: One reason I love Tony Grant’s submissions is the wonderful original images that he takes of the sites he discusses – in this instance, Bath and Persuasion, Jane Austen’s final and arguably her best novel. Enjoy the article, as well as Tony’s photographic images.

I think Persuasion is Jane Austen’s most mature novel. It deals with patriarchy, misogyny, narcissism, snobbery, class structure, schemes to move up the class ladder, and the consequences of moving down the class ladder.  It also portrays the strength of a good woman. Persuasion begins to subvert the old ways of doing things. The novel covers the whole gamut of life and shows what it is to be a Georgian, with resonances for our own time in the status of women.

The Baronetage_internetarchive

The Baronetage from the Internet archive

Persuasion starts with Sir Walter Elliot perusing his favorite book, The Baronetage, which is about primogeniture – a system where the family’s fortune was left to the eldest son when the father died. Primogeniture lasted for centuries and was an example of patriarchy that encouraged misogyny, but society and the world were changing during Austen’s era.

The Elliot’s ancestry is described in The Baronetage and Sir Walter reads the entry concerning his family obsessively. He is exceedingly vain about his position in life and his looks. As Jane describes him: “Vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character.”

After Lady Elliot’s death, Sir Walter spends beyond his means, a foolish habit that will lead to his financial ruin if he does not curb his lifestyle. His agent, Mr. Shepherd, strongly advises Sir Walter to rent out Kellynch Hall and move to Bath to save what little of his inheritance remains. Once there, the ever vain and critical Sir Walter encounters few women who meet his exacting standards of beauty:

“He had frequently observed as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five and thirty frights; and once as he stood in a shop in Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without their being a tolerable face among them.”

The Baronetage

Sir Walter’s social maneuverings in Bath are dictated by the principles laid out in The Baronetage. In Georgian society there was some movement within the middle classes and the lower aristocracy. Sir Walter is in danger of being reduced in importance because of his financial difficulties, brought about after his wife’s death. Lady Elliot had kept Sir Walter’s expenses in check and he soon faced financial ruin without her sensible influence.

The Baronetage lists a still-born son for Sir Walter and Lady Elliot. Ever conscious of the succession of his line, Elizabeth, Mary, and Anne count for nothing as far as inheritance goes.  Sir Walter, therefore, desires to renew relations with Mr. William Elliot, his godson and heir. This relationship, however, has a “very awkward history,” with Mr. Elliot, in a most ungentleman-like fashion, abandoning his courtship of his cousin Elizabeth in favor of marriage to an older, rich woman of no distinction. Consequently, the family ceased all contact with the presumptive heir.

Sir Walter also discovers that his cousin, Viscountess Dalrymple, has arrived in Bath. Because of a past misunderstanding – he had ignored the news of her husband’s death – he lost contact with her.  Sir Walter now thinks it an excellent idea to boost the importance of himself and his family by renewing contact with the Viscountess.  An association with her would elevate the Elliots in the eyes of Bath Society.

Sir Walter has no regard for people of no importance and with no influence. He pours scorn on his youngest daughter, Anne, regarding her friendship with an old school acquaintance, Mrs. Smith, who lives in a poor area of Bath. Anne has none of her father’s social ambitions. She would rather spend an evening with Mrs. Smith, who is widowed and impoverished. Mrs. Smith, who is careful with her limited finances, is a cheerful, intelligent and kind person, qualities that attract Anne but mean nothing to Sir Walter.  Anne continues her relationship with Mrs. Smith despite her father’s protestations, and doesn’t think associating with Viscountess Dalrymple a good idea at all.

Bath’s Urban Geography and Status

Urban geography plays an important role in Persuasion. When it comes to Bath, status depends on where you live and in what street.

Sir Walter Elliot and his three daughters, along with Mrs. Clay, the snaggle-toothed, widowed daughter of Mr. Shepherd, and a mere companion to Elizabeth, move to Camden Place, a fine Georgian terrace in the northern part of Bath. This terrace overlooks the rest of Bath, an ideal place for snobbish Sir Walter to look down upon the city. The geographic location fits Sir Walter’s belief in himself, both morally and emotionally.

Westgate Buildings are situated close to the Roman Baths at the bottom of the hill in town. Mrs. Smith lodges in two rooms amongst the shops and makes do in the hustle and bustle and turmoil of town noises and traffic.

Mr. Elliot and friends stay in Marlborough Buildings, a terrace of fine houses that slope down steeply from the west side of The Royal Crescent, the most salubrious address in Bath. Mr. Elliot visits Sir Walter in Camden Place after a visit in Landsdowne Crescent. Landsdowne Crescent is also one of the northern crescents above Bath, directly north of The Royal Crescent, to the west of Camden Place and on an equal footing to Camden Place.

Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Carteret, stay in style in Laura Place. Laura Place is a set of four elegant terraces that surround a lozenge shaped “circus” with “Laura Fountain,” in the centre.

Great Pulteney Street leads off it towards Sydney Gardens and the Holbourne Museum. To the west of Laura Place is Pulteney Bridge, once known as Old Bridge, over which Lady Russell and Anne Elliot pass into Bath.

As one passes over the bridge and the River Avon, one almost immediately encounters Bath Abbey.

The Lower Assembly Rooms are a little to the left. Mrs. Smith’s lodgings in Westgate Buildings are also close to the Abbey, but in the town.

Laura Place is outside the town, on the opposite banks of The Avon, in an area of splendid elegance and wide avenues. Obscurely, Camden Place is high on the hills directly above Laura Place where Sir Walter can certainly keep an eye on things.

Lady Russell, an old friend of Lady Elliot, is a sensible, wise person who takes a sort of unofficial care of the Elliots after the death of their mother, especially of Anne, for whom she has a special fondness. She personally brings Anne to Bath after Sir Walter, Mary and Mrs. Clay have already settled in. Lady Russell, a widower, occupies a town house in Rivers Street, which is close to Camden Place. The street is comprised of elegant town houses, probably smaller than those of Camden Place. Rivers Street suits Lady Russell. It is a place of genteel comfort for a sensible person of means who lives according to her fortune and within her budget.

 

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Anne Elliot

Lady Russell is one of the more stable, pleasant and thoughtful characters in Persuasion. She is “… of steady age and character, and extremely well provided for.”

Anne Elliot, her protegee, had “an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with the father or sister: “

To Lady Russell Anne was “…a most dear and highly valued god-daughter, favorite and friend. Lady Russell loved them all; but it was only in Anne that she could fancy the mother to revive again.”

Compared to Anne, Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Carteret “…were nothing. There was no superiority of manner, accomplishment or understanding. Lady Dalrymple had had acquired the name of,” a charming woman,” because she had a smile and a civil answer for everybody. Miss Carteret, with still less to say, was so plain and so awkward, that she could never have been tolerated in Camden Place if it were not for her birth.”

Self-serving Mr. Elliot recognizes Anne’s outstanding qualities. She smiled and said, “My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, that is what I call good company.”

“You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best. Good company requires only birth, education and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice. Birth and good manners are essential; but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company…”

Persuasion and the changing order

There is something subversive going on in Persuasion. Underlying the novel is The Baronetage and Sir Walter’s rule of life, which lead to the cause of Elizabeth’s pain. Hereditary, class, position are the yardsticks by which Sir Walter lives, but adherence to the old order doesn’t do him or Elizabeth the best of service.

Anne, Mr. Elliot, Mrs. Clay, Mrs. Smith and the three naval captains, Wentworth, Harville and Benwick either overtly or inadvertently create the vision of a new world, where affection and love are the primary drivers. Ordinary people were being noticed. The Industrial Revolution 1760 to 1740 had social and economic ramifications far beyond its time. Wilberforce and his cronies were campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Science was making great bounds forwards. Gilbert White, who died in 1793 and who lived at Selborne, a mere three miles from Chawton, Austen’s final home, changed the course of science through his direct observations of wildlife in nature, which set the scientific strategy for Darwin’s first voyage on the Beagle in 1833, a mere 15 years after Jane Austen died. Persuasion seems to presage these developments through the relationships and views challenged and promoted in the novel.

Probably more controversial, especially for the time Jane Austen was writing, are the echoes of The French Revolution. Ideas espoused by the Revolution were bound to be heard and discussed in Britain by such men as Charles James Fox. But what about the women?

Louisa Musgrove’s jump from The Cobb in Lyme onto the cobbled pavement below and striking her head, rendering her unconscious, is suggestive of women like Anne Elliot taking charge and making a decisive contribution over and above men. This theme is similar to the political and social ideology women were advocating in France.

“Is there no one to help me?” were the first words which burst from Captain Wentworth, in a tone of despair, and as if all his own strength were gone.

“Go to him, go to him,” cried Anne [to Captain Benwick], “for heaven’s sake go to him. I can support her myself. Leave me and go to him. Rub her hands, rub her temples; here are salts,- take them, take them.” Captain Benwick obeyed…… everything was done that Anne had prompted…”

 

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Surely this scene is in the spirit of Charlotte Corday, Pauline Leon and Theroigne de Mericourt, who agitated for full citizenship for women. Three Royal Naval Captains who commanded Royal Naval men of war became helpless in this emergency, and only a woman, Anne Elliot, direct and assertive, took charge.

Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion was published in 1818 after her death. Anne Bronte’s novel, The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, was published thirty years later in 1848. Both deal with moral issues and patriarchy. The difference between the two is stark. Jane Austen holds a mirror up to society and says: this is the way things are. Nothing really terrible happens in Persuasion. Jane Austen portrays a very gentle revolution.  The Tennant of Wildfell Hall deals with misogyny, patriarchy, and the terrible abuse of a woman. Anne Bronte’s writing is disturbing and visceral; mind and heart changing. Jane Austen’s writing is gently comic, but it’s also getting us there.

Find Tony Grant’s blog, London Calling, at this link. http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/

 

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Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma

Alicia Silverstone as Cher in Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma. This film still leaves me laughing, and I suspect JA would have approved of its modern Beverley Hills setting.

Do you have an account with Netflix for instant videos? How about an Amazon prime account, which offers amazing discounts as well as free postage and handling for all your prime purchases? At less than $80 per year, Prime has proven to be my best investment in entertainment.

Here are a few Jane Austen film titles that have become available for instant streaming. These keep changing every six months or so, and I am always on the look out. In the instance of From Prada to Nada, which is a nada good send off of Sense and Sensibility, I cannot tell you how lucky I felt that I watched the film for free.

Netflix Streaming Video – instantly available with your instant video membership

  • Pride and Prejudice 1980
  • From Prada to Nada
  • Aisha
  • Clueless
  • Emma 1996
  • Mansfield Park 1983

The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

The 1995 film adaptation of Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds is incomparable.

Amazon Prime, Instant videos free, for rent, or for purchase

  • Persuasion 1995 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1940 (free with Prime)
  • Pride and Prejudice 1980 (free with Prime)
  • Emma 2009 (free with Prime)
  • Other Jane Austen film adaptations are available for rent or purchase at Amazon.

I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice excreble. While the actors are fabulous, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (Every hottentot can dance, instead of every savage can dance) and the ending is downright criminal (Lady CdeB acts as a willing instrument to get Elizabeth and Darcy together. I have a running hate-hate debate with a reader, who is apoplectic with the idea that I don't love this film. She keeps coming back to heap insults. Heap away! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will honor anyone's positive opinion about it.

I find the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice execrable. While many of the supporting actors are fabulous, even brilliant in parts, this story has been changed and Hollywoodized to the point where the lines are laughable (every “hottentot can dance”, instead of “every savage can dance”), and the ending is downright criminal. I have a running almost 2-year debate with a sometime visitor to this blog who is apoplectic at the idea that I don’t love or respect this film. She keeps coming back every once in a while to inform me that I don’t know sh*t from Shinola when it comes to the fine art of 1940s  film making, and that I wouldn’t be able to discern a donkey’s ass from that of a thoroughbred’s. (My terminology, not hers, but you get the idea.) Insult away, my dear! You cannot persuade me to like this film. Although I will respect anyone’s positive opinion about P&P 1940, it simply isn’t mine.

My rant about P&P 1940 brings to mind some of the worst moments in Jane Austen film adaptations. Here they are in no particular order:

The incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, co-conspirator and romantic at heart

The stellar Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB, a softie romantic at heart

1.) Pride and Prejudice 1940: Laurence Olivier (not yet a Sir) as Darcy persuades the incomparable Edna Mae Oliver as Lady CdeB to become his accomplice in winning Elizabeth Bennet over. In other words, Lady CdeB turns out to be crotchety but NICE. The writers and producers of this film should have been made to apologize to every student who watched this film to write a book report and who received an F for getting the ending so dreadfully wrong. They subverted the students’ rights to NOT read the book and opt for a C or a D by watching the movie instead. In addition, 35-year-old Greer Garson was closer to Mrs. Bennet’s age of 41 or so than Elizabeth’s age of 19. And throughout the film good old Larry O resembled a wood mannequin in posture and facial expressions. In my humble opinion, our pinch-faced Larry and his near geriatric Greer had almost no chemistry between them. Let’s not even discuss the costumes.

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill

Billie Piper as Fanny Price as Fanny Hill.

2. ) Mansfield Park 2007: Billie Piper as Fannie Price. *Hahahahah*. Fanny exhibiting ample cleavage in her day gown. *Loud guffaws*. Fanny athletic and running around with wild hair. *Snorts and sniggers*. Lady Bertram rising from her couch in the last scenes and showing spirit and gumption in uniting Fanny with Edmund. *WTF!?* An energized Lady Bertram is as egregious a change in character as a nice Lady CdeB. The reviews for this film in Rotten Tomatoes are so tepid that it has yet to acquire a ratings score. One wonders why the folks at ITV bothered to adapt this very thick JA novel and compress its tale to a bare 90 minutes. Might as well read a comic book version of MP.  ‘Nuff said.

The gorgeous Frances O'Conner as retiring and shyly pretty FP.

Tall, gorgeous, statuesque Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price.

3.) Mansfield Park 1999: In this adaptation, Frances O’Connor as Fanny is more beautiful and intriguing than Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford. In fact, one begins to wonder why Edmund is so drawn to Mary when the lovely, worshiping and nubile Fanny is his for the taking. I won’t go into detail about director and writer Patricia Rozema’s social stance on slavery and British empire exploitation in this film, since my observations in this post are meant to be tongue in cheek and light-hearted. Let’s just say that 1999 audiences were surprised to learn that somehow our dear departed Jane had quite clearly expressed her strong feelings on the topic to Patricia.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, poor Anne hies after her man.

Gasping for breath and suffering a headache from that severe, unflattering updo, Annie goes after her man.

4.) Persuasion 2007: (Set to the theme of Rocky.) How I pitied poor Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot. I hope that she only had to run through Bath for a few takes. Imagine if the director hadn’t been  pleased with her stride, or if a jet’s drone ruined the scene, or if … whatever. It could not have been easy for her to race over stone sidewalks and streets in those delicate slipper and in full Regency regalia, with her hair pulled back so tightly that her ears and cheeks practically met in the back of her head. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would NEVER have run through town like a hoyden and debased herself for a man, not even the delectable Captain W. To quote Jeremy Northam in 1996s Emma when she made a joke at poor Miss Bates’s expense, “badly done.” Badly done, indeed.

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

Barefoot Lizzie swinging above the muck

5.) Pride and Prejudice 2005: Or the muddy hem edition. Good old Joe Wright wanted to put a different spin on P&P, so he set Longbourn House in the middle of a mud field, surrounded by a moat, and overrun by pigs, geese, and all manner of dirty, smelly farm animals. Then there’s Mr. Bennet (played by 70-something Donald Sutherland) rutting after Mrs. Bennet even though his respect for her intellect is less than zero. And who can forget the film’s breathy, candle lit American ending? – “Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Darcy.” I don’t know which altered ending was worse – the one in which the co-conspirator in happiness and harmony is  Lady CdeB, or all that post-coital face licking at the end of this adaptation. This film should have been titled: Pride and Prejudice: back to nature.

P Firth is no Colin.

P Firth is no Colin.

6.) Northanger Abbey 1986: Visually, this JA adaptation is quite lovely and interesting. But the music…Gawdalmity! It is so awful that this film should be seen with the sound muted. During the 70s and 80s, the male actor flavor du jour was Peter Firth. He played Angel in Tess and Henry Tilney in NA. Why? Just because he was good in Equus and for two milliseconds, when very young, looked somewhat leading mannish? I found him so off putting as Angel and Henry that P Firth single-handedly ruined those films for me. He could have played a Mr. Collins, Mr. Elton, or John Thorpe quite excellently. As he aged, P Firth began to portray villains, which is how I always saw him. But what I can least forgive this film for are those horrid gothic scenes (which the 2007 NA adaptation picked up.) I read NA and reread it, but, other than telling us about Catherine’s lively imagination and penchant for reading Gothic novels, JA included none of those scenes. To this day, I am still waiting for a decent Northanger Abbey (and Mansfield Park) film adaptation.

Can you recall scenes in JA films that made you cringe? Do share. As always, feel free to disagree with my humble opinions, but politely, please.

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