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Archive for the ‘Persuasion’ Category

What’s in a voice? According to recent research, quite a lot. In her article “Only 4 Syllables Needed to Recognize Voice,” Madeline McConnell says humans can identify familiar voices in as few as four syllables, or two words. That’s better than some of the most advanced voice recognition software available today.

Here’s how it works in everyday life: Spouses can recognize their mate’s voice across a crowded room. From a young age, “babies are able to distinguish the voice of their mothers from the voices of others” (McConnell). And close friends can hear one another’s voices from an adjacent room.

In the case of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, a word uttered by anyone else truly would not sound so sweet. The way they actively listen to one another—often without speaking directly to one another—plays a crucial role in repairing their relationship, rebuilding their trust, and rekindling their love.

Anne Listens

Throughout the novel, Austen gives us many important clues about Wentworth’s true feelings for Anne, often through what Anne hears (and overhears) him say. As Anne listens and hopes, she strains to catch hints of Wentworth’s true opinion of her now, to either “its constancy or its change” (Ch. 4). Here are a few key examples of Anne intent listening:

  • When they meet: “Her eye half met Captain Wentworth’s, a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice.” (Ch. 7)
  • As she listens to his review of the past: “‘That happened before I went to sea in the year six,’ occurred in the course of the first evening they spent together: and though his voice did not falter, and though she had no reason to suppose his eye wandering towards her while he spoke, Anne felt the utter impossibility, from her knowledge of his mind, that he could be unvisited by remembrance any more than herself. There must be the same immediate association of thought, though she was very far from conceiving it to be of equal pain.” (Ch. 8)
  • Her discernment of the voice and mind she knows so well: “When he talked, she heard the same voice, and discerned the same mind.” (Ch. 8)
  • Her keen interest in the “low voice” on the other end of the sofa: “[I]n another moment he was perfectly collected and serious, and almost instantly afterwards coming up to the sofa, on which she and Mrs Musgrove were sitting, took a place by the latter, and entered into conversation with her, in a low voice, about her son, doing it with so much sympathy and natural grace . . .” (Ch. 8)
  • Her reaction to overhearing Wentworth, “in the hedge-row, behind her,” walking and talking with Louisa: “The listener’s proverbial fate was not absolutely hers; she had heard no evil of herself, but she had heard a great deal of very painful import.” (Ch. 10)
  • Her reaction to him “speaking with a glow, and yet a gentleness” to her: “She coloured deeply, and he recollected himself and moved away. She expressed herself most willing, ready, happy to remain.” (Ch. 12)
  • Her intense focus on his words and the sound of his voice: “Whether he would have proceeded farther was left to Anne’s imagination to ponder over in a calmer hour; for while still hearing the sounds he had uttered, she was startled to other subjects by Henrietta, eager to make use of the present leisure for getting out, and calling on her companions to lose no time, lest somebody else should come in. (Ch. 22)

And here especially, we see Anne’s ability to “distinguish” Wentworth’s words even in the midst of a noisy room, when he says, “A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman. He ought not; he does not.”

Either from the consciousness, however, that his friend had recovered, or from other consciousness, [Wentworth] went no farther; and Anne who, in spite of the agitated voice in which the latter part had been uttered, and in spite of all the various noises of the room, the almost ceaseless slam of the door, and ceaseless buzz of persons walking through, had distinguished every word, was struck, gratified, confused, and beginning to breathe very quick, and feel an hundred things in a moment. (Ch. 20)

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Wentworth Listens

This keen sense of listening doesn’t just go one way. Even when he doesn’t look at her, Wentworth listens carefully to Anne. At the end of the novel, we discover the extent to which he has listened to her conversations with others and tried to discern her feelings:

  • When the topic of Mr. Elliot comes up: “As she spoke, she felt that Captain Wentworth was looking at her, the consciousness of which vexed and embarrassed her, and made her regret that she had said so much, simple as it was.” (Ch. 22)
  • When Charles says “What is Mr. Elliot to me?” and Anne realizes that Wentworth is “all attention, looking and listening with his whole soul; and that the last words brought his enquiring eyes from Charles to herself.” (Ch. 22)
  • How carefully Wentworth listens to Anne’s response to Charles: “She had spoken it; but she trembled when it was done, conscious that her words were listened to, and daring not even to try to observe their effect.” (Ch. 22)
  • Wentworth’s reaction to the topic of parents becoming involved in long or “uncertain” engagements: “Anne found an unexpected interest here. She felt its application to herself, felt it in a nervous thrill all over her; and at the same moment that her eyes instinctively glanced towards the distant table, Captain Wentworth’s pen ceased to move, his head was raised, pausing, listening, and he turned round the next instant to give a look, one quick, conscious look at her.” (Ch. 23)
  • When Wentworth tunes in to Anne’s conversation with Captain Harville about love affairs and constancy of heart between the sexes: “a slight noise called their attention to Captain Wentworth’s hitherto perfectly quiet division of the room. It was nothing more than that his pen had fallen down; but Anne was startled at finding him nearer than she had supposed, and half inclined to suspect that the pen had only fallen because he had been occupied by them, striving to catch sounds, which yet she did not think he could have caught.” (Ch. 23)

The most stunning piece of evidence is Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne, which he drafts while listening to her conversation with Captain Harville:

I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. 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. (Ch. 23)

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Wentworth’s words reveal that he was not only listening carefully to Anne during the letter-writing scene, but that he has been listening to her throughout the novel. Indeed, Anne’s voice is something like a siren call to the seafaring Captain Wentworth. No matter how hard he has tried to forget her, he has “never seen a woman since whom he thought her equal” and has only “imagined himself indifferent” (Ch. 23).

Rekindled Love

Though Anne and Wentworth’s initial courtship was brief, and though they have not seen each other for many long years, Austen shows us the depth of their true feelings through what they say (and don’t say). While this article only covers some of the most pointed examples of the subtle communication between these two characters, a close reading of the novel reveals so much more. Austen shows us throughout the novel—through gestures, looks, and glances—just how aware they both are of one another in every scene, in every room, and in every situation.

Indeed, Austen builds much of the romantic tension between Anne and Wentworth based more on what they say to other people than on what they say to one another. Throughout the novel, she uses listening and, yes, eavesdropping, as a clever literary technique. As Anne listens in on Wentworth’s conversations, analyzing his every word, phrase, tone, and inflection, we listen in as well, gathering clues as we go. And as she begins to dare to hope, so do we.

The art of listening well in Persuasion plays an important role in reigniting an old flame, rekindling lost love, and soothing broken hearts, helping to make Anne and Wentworth “more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected.”

What other moments have you noticed in this novel or another Austen novel when listening closely was important to the plot?


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional, and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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In 2021, on the heels of Bridgerton’s success, Netflix announced a new adaptation of Persuasion starring Dakota Johnson as 27-year-old Anne Elliot and Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth. Henry Golding, given the choice to play either the captain or William Elliot, interestingly chose the latter. Also on board are Richard E. Grant and Suki Waterhouse as, I suppose, Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth Elliot, for their roles have not been announced. The other cast members are described at IMBD Persuasion 2022.

Persuasion pulbicity-Netflixfilm

Let these exquisite photos of Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis (t), and Henry Golding (b) tide you over until PERSUASION, a most excitable new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel arrives on Netflix in 2022.- NetflixFilm twitter @NetflixFilm

Netflix is betting on a sure thing. In addition to Bridgerton, now in its second season, the powers that be at Netflix must also have noticed Emma 2020’s draw. Before theaters closed during the pandemic, this film drew huge audiences in its opening weeks and enjoyed a steady stream of online viewers during lock down.

Jane Austen’s final novel was published posthumously in 1818, and by many it is considered her finest. This new adaptation is described as a “modern, witty approach.” We’ll see how well this approach matches Austen’s nuanced novel. Carrie Cracknell, a theater director, directs this film. Like Autumn de Wilde (Emma. 2020), she is a first-time film director. The script was written by Ron Bass (Rain Man) and Alice Victoria Winslow (Hot Spot). 

Filming began in 2021, and a release date is anticipated this year. The film is now in post production. I’m curious to see how this Persuasion stacks up against two previous adaptations, one in 1995 starring Amanda Root, and in 2007 starring Sally Hawkins. Stay tuned for more news as it comes.

Behind the scenes photos-PhotoWorld Twitter

Behind the scenes photos from Twitter, Period Drama World @WorldPeriod

Review of Persuasion by Tony Grant of the theater production, 2022

“PERSUASION (an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel by Jeff James and James Yeatman) at The Rose Theatre Kingston upon Thames.”

Marilyn and I went to see Persuasion performed at The Rose on Tuesday 8th March. It may be strange but  for somebody who professes to know a little bit about Jane Austen it is a long time since I had actually read the novel. I have delved deep into Austen’s novels over the years for quotes and to reference her possible thoughts  and ideas about life and love,  but I have failed to read the whole of the novels since I first read them all  years ago.  I have lost sight. I think of what Jane actually wrote. So I read Persuasion again and it wowed me. It is a novel that explores the shifting of society  in the early 19th century when much was changing, not just relationships, but class and the industrial world was taking off. It seems apposite that at the moment when the world order is actually changing that The Rose Theatre chose Persuasion to dramatize. 

I know that novels, good novels, that is, as you read them again over time and  as your own experience of life develops,  reveal  different levels of understanding. So what did I get from reading Austen’s Persuasion this time round before seeing the performance?  The word ,persuasion, is used at times during the novel, but not often. The actual consequences of being persuaded however are felt throughout and drive the novel itself. Anne Elliot was persuaded by not just her father to refuse a  marriage proposal to somebody she really loved  but Lady Russell, the family friend and Anne’s particular friend, was always the deciding factor in the process of persuading  Anne in her youth. Ann seems to have been persuaded into a lot of things in her early life up to the moment of the novel’s action including turning down that offer of marriage from Captain Wentworth eight years previously.   Ann is  annoyingly hyper neurotic. Is that because she has always been pressured by others? Does she feel  she has no control over her life?  

Things happen to Anne. She doesn’t make things happen for herself. She analyses every situation, almost every word and look to an intense degree. She  always comes out worst. In this novel and in the play she eventually learns to decide for herself. So a major theme has to be how we use people’s advice and how much we should be persuaded when making life decisions for ourselves.

Persuasion-program-Image@TonyGrant

Persuasion program. Image taken by Tony Grant. See more of his images in the link at the bottom of this post.

A novel written in the early 19th century  translated into  a play set in the 21st century, surely, it can’t be done. They are two worlds so far apart. How can they possibly come together and meet? There are the wise among us that say Austen is universal in her treatment of relationships. This is true when you drill down to what happens in a  relationship  but all those 18th century rules get in the way to a  translation across centuries, surely? Class status, wealth,  attitudes to money and  the patriarchy  and what seems to us blatant misogyny but wasn’t understood as such in the 18th century, how does it all get transferred to the 21st century? When I read Persuasion again finishing the day before we saw the stage adaptation, I couldn’t see any way that it was possible to achieve that transfer from the 18th century to the 21st century.

To finish the review, continue to read how this production achieved its 21st century point of view and how the comedy was resolved on London Calling, Tony’s blog. Note: Tony Grant is a frequent contributor to this blog. His site covers all things England, past and present.

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by Brenda S. Cox

“This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.”–Mr. Elton, Emma

I hope you are all enjoying the holidays. In Austen’s novels, Christmas is a time for parties and for family and friend to gather, just like today. It was also a day for attending church (see Emma ch. 16 and Mansfield Park ch. 23), after weeks of Advent when prayers focused on the coming of Christ. For more on the prayers and readings that Austen would have prayed and read for Advent and Christmas, see my post Advent with Jane Austen. You can also find many posts at this site (and others) on Christmas customs in Jane Austen’s England.

I recently gave a presentation on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” at JASNA’s Annual General Meeting (you can read it in this month’s Persuasions On-Line, or, if you are a JASNA member, you can watch it in the AGM on Demand).  Today I’d like to share a few cartoons about Christmas in Austen’s England. (I didn’t find many; perhaps Christmas was not a popular subject for caricatures.)

Triumphal Procession

Let’s start with this wild one.

The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, Richard Newton, 1794.
© Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In an earlier post about the Clerical Alphabet cartoon, I wrote about Richard Newton, a prolific young artist of the time. Newton drew the above cartoon in 1794, satirizing the general gluttony and drunkenness associated with Christmas. In The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, men on a carriage feast on large pieces of meat while behind them a naked man sits on a barrel, probably of wine or another alcoholic beverage.

Academics at Christmas

Christmas Academicks, Playing a Rubber of Whist, Thomas Rowlandson, 1803.
Public domain via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

University professors have a much more restrained celebration, though still not a devout one. Thomas Rowlandson’s The Christmas Academicks Playing a Rubber of Whist (1803) shows four academics playing cards, while a fifth stands nearby and a servant brings drinks. All are clergymen, probably fellows (professors or tutors) at the University of Oxford or Cambridge, who would be single clergymen. (Jane Austen’s father was a fellow at Oxford until he married.) As in many satirical cartoons of the time, the clergymen are pictured as overweight and self-indulgent. They are gambling and drinking, not in church. 

Farmer Giles’s Establishment, Christmas day, 1800, by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Farmer Giles: Christmas Through the Years

Some years later, in 1830, William Heath drew a series on Christmas as a political satire. It begins with a delightful version of an 1800 country Christmas, such as the Musgroves or Westons might have enjoyed in Austen’s novels.

Farmer Giles was a symbol of the unsophisticated country farmer. Here he feasts with his joyful family at Christmastime. As we see in Austen’s novels, Christmas was a time for parties and feasts. Greenery decorates the fireplace and the wife is slicing plum pudding. Farmer Giles is apparently prosperous and he becomes more so.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment Christmas 1816 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

By 1816, the farmer has done well and moved up into fashionable society. This Christmas he and his wife are playing cards (gambling) while guests dance in the ballroom. However, they look much less happy than in the first print. The children are grown now, and looking on. The farmer’s hand appears to be bandaged for the gout, from overeating and excessive drinking.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment!!! Christmas 1829 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Their financial prosperity doesn’t last, though. The agricultural economy crashed.

In the third plate, Farmer Giles’ Establishment!!! Christmas 1829, the farmer is in a debtors’ cell. He holds a paper saying his children have been sent to the work house. His wife is doing laundry in a tub.

So this series becomes political satire, criticizing the government for its policies which led to an agricultural depression. A very sad Christmas.

The Merry Musgroves

But let’s return to Austen’s happier times. 

The Musgroves and children at Christmas
C.E. Brock, Persuasion, Volume 2, chapter 2

As Austen describes Christmas at the Musgroves, in Persuasion:

On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. . . .

Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa’s illness must have so greatly shaken; but Mrs. Musgrove, . . . concluded a short recapitulation of what she had suffered herself, by observing, with a happy glance round the room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home. . .

“I hope I shall remember, in future,” said Lady Russell, as soon as they were reseated in the carriage, “not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holidays.”

Every body has their taste in noises as well as in other matters . . .

I hope this Christmas is just to your taste! Many blessings to you in the New Year.

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England.

 

For more on satirical cartoons in Jane Austen’s England, see:

Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England

The Stereotype of the Self-Indulgent Clergyman: Rowlandson’s Parsonage 

The Clerical Alphabet: Problems in Austen’s Church of England 

Keeping Within Compass  Mike Rendell also shows and discusses many other fascinating cartoons from Austen’s era on this blog, but be aware that many are risque. I am indebted to Mike for posting on the Newton Clerical Alphabet cartoon that got me started looking at cartoons and the clergy.
 

For more on Christmas in Austen’s England, see:

Party Like the Musgroves, by Rachel Dodge, to have your own party like the Musgroves did in the passage above!

Christmas Georgian Style 

Archive for Regency Christmas Traditions (various posts on this site)

Christmas Traditions (various posts from various sites)

More Regency Christmas Traditions (and scenes and stories, various posts from Maria Grace’s site) 

Joy to the World: Psalms, Hymns, and Christmas Carols in Austen’s England

Regency Christmas Carols

Handel’s Messiah in Jane Austen’s England 

Advent with Jane Austen: Now, and Not Yet 

Georgian Christmas Pie Recipes

Regency Christmas Songs and Games

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, book by Maria Grace

Christmas in Jane Austen’s Time

Jane Austen’s Christmas

. . . and much more!

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Last month, I wrote about Pin Money, or allowances, in Jane Austen’s life and novels. This time, I’m looking more closely at the importance of money in a genteel woman’s life and how it plays out in Austen’s novels.

Money is one obvious way parents could put limits on their children and keep them under control. This happened to both sexes for various reasons in Jane Austen’s time, but it carried even more weight for a woman because there were also financial consequences that came with marriage once she left her father’s home, even if she came from a wealthy family.

At that time in England, husbands had complete control over the finances of their wives. Without an adequate personal budget to spend as she liked, a wife had to go to her husband to ask for money to buy anything and everything she might need. Without a set allowance, wives could find themselves in a very difficult or unhappy position. This is one of many reasons why the marriage settlement (or prenuptial agreement) was so crucial because it was one way fathers could make sure their daughters (and grandchildren) were taken care of financially.

Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma, 1996.

Marriage Settlements

A young woman from a wealthy family would obviously qualify for better marriage terms than a young woman with very little. Her father could leverage what his daughter brought to the marriage for a highly favorable marriage settlement, allowing for her to have the pin money she needed, portions for her children, and a widow’s pension in the event that her husband died. Young women who did not bring as much to the marriage would have a smaller personal budget or, in some cases, no personal budget whatsoever.

In Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew, he writes, “Typically the bride’s family would have their lawyers negotiate with the husband’s lawyers, to get the husband to agree to grant her ‘pin money,’ which was a small personal annual allowance while he lived, a hefty chunk of property or money to support her after he died, and ‘portions’ of money for their children. All this would be written up in the ‘marriage settlement’ by the lawyers before anybody walked down any aisles.”

In JASNA’s Persuasions, you can read all about The Marriage Law of Jane Austen’s World. (For more on marriage settlements and marriage law in the Regency Era, please see the resources at the end of this article.)

Marriage Settlement, Mills College Library Heller Rare Book Room, Special Collections. Photo by Rachel Dodge, 2019.

Money Matters in Jane Austen’s Novels

In each of Austen’s novels, we find intriguing scenes that relate to women and personal money. Each of these examples shows us just how important it was for a woman to have her own money and the problems (and dangers) that could arise if she did not have any money or ran out of money, especially if she was away from home:

Fanny Price’s £10

In Fanny’s case in Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas supplies her with money before she leaves for her journey to visit her family in Portsmouth:

It had very early occurred to her that a small sum of money might, perhaps, restore peace for ever on the sore subject of the silver knife, canvassed as it now was continually, and the riches which she was in possession of herself, her uncle having given her £10 at parting, made her as able as she was willing to be generous.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Harriet Smith’s Purse

In Emma, we see evidence of Harriet Smith’s allowance, which comes in handy when she meets the “trampers” on the road:

More and more frightened, she immediately promised them money, and taking out her purse, gave them a shilling, and begged them not to want more, or to use her ill.

Emma, Jane Austen
“The terror … was then their own portion.” Illustration by C.E. Brock.

Lydia and Kitty Bennet’s Mismanagement

In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Kitty spend their pin money money at the shops and must borrow money from Elizabeth and Jane when they surprise them for a meal at the inn in Hertfordshire:

“And we mean to treat you all,” added Lydia, “but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there.” Then, showing her purchases—“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.”

Lydia Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Nancy Steele’s Fright

In Sense and Sensibility, we find this intriguing passage about the Steele sisters and personal money when Nancy Steele must go to Mrs. Jennings for money after Lucy borrows all of Nancy’s money and marries Robert Ferrars:

Not a soul suspected anything of the matter, not even Nancy, who, poor soul! came crying to me the day after, in a great fright for fear of Mrs. Ferrars, as well as not knowing how to get to Plymouth; for Lucy it seems borrowed all her money before she went off to be married, on purpose we suppose to make a show with, and poor Nancy had not seven shillings in the world…

Mrs. Jennings, Sense and Sensibility
Lucy Steele (Anna Madeley) and Anne, or “Nancy,” Steele (Daisy Haggardand), Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

Catherine Morland’s Borrowed Fare

In Northanger Abbey, money becomes quite important in a crucial moment. First, money is mentioned when Catherine Morland goes to Bath. Her parents send her with money for her personal expenses and ask her to keep account of her spending:

I beg, Catherine, you will always wrap yourself up very warm about the throat, when you come from the rooms at night; and I wish you would try to keep some account of the money you spend; I will give you this little book on purpose.”

Mrs. Morland, Northanger Abbey

Money is mentioned again when Catherine is suddenly and unexpectedly sent home from Northanger Abbey. While she is in Bath, she is under the care of her hosts, the Allens, who would, of course, pay for many of her expenses while she is under their roof and their protection. However, once she goes to Northanger, she is essentially under the care and protection of General Tilney. When he sends her home abruptly, he does not provide the funds necessary for her journey home, leaving her in a very precarious and even dangerous situation. This was a terrible oversight on his part. Thankfully, Eleanor is able to provide the funds, which we may assume is from her own personal allowance:

It had occurred to her that after so long an absence from home, Catherine might not be provided with money enough for the expenses of her journey, and, upon suggesting it to her with most affectionate offers of accommodation, it proved to be exactly the case.

Catherine had never thought on the subject till that moment, but, upon examining her purse, was convinced that but for this kindness of her friend, she might have been turned from the house without even the means of getting home; and the distress in which she must have been thereby involved filling the minds of both, scarcely another word was said by either during the time of their remaining together.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Catherine makes it home safely and repays the money to Eleanor by mail with only a short note: “The money therefore which Eleanor had advanced was enclosed with little more than grateful thanks, and the thousand good wishes of a most affectionate heart.”

The Morlands, a very practical bunch, decide after a bit that it all ended well in the end, but even they cannot understand such a “breach of conduct” on General Tilney’s part:

They were far from being an irritable race; far from any quickness in catching, or bitterness in resenting, affronts: but here, when the whole was unfolded, was an insult not to be overlooked, nor, for the first half hour, to be easily pardoned.

Mr. and Mrs. Morland could not but feel … that, in forcing her on such a measure, General Tilney had acted neither honourably nor feelingly—neither as a gentleman nor as a parent. Why he had done it, what could have provoked him to such a breach of hospitality . . . was a matter which they were at least as far from divining as Catherine herself…

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, 2007.

Mrs. Smith’s Recovered Property

In Persuasion, we turn our attention to the widowed Mrs. Smith, whose husband had badly mismanaged their finances: “She was a widow and poor. Her husband had been extravagant; and at his death, about two years before, had left his affairs dreadfully involved.” In this situation, it is not just Mrs. Smith’s personal finances that are at stake, but her finances at large. Here, we see Captain Wentworth use his influence to work on her behalf and help improve her financial circumstances. At the end of the novel, we read this:

[Mrs. Smith] was their earliest visitor in their settled life; and Captain Wentworth, by putting her in the way of recovering her husband’s property in the West Indies, by writing for her, acting for her, and seeing her through all the petty difficulties of the case with the activity and exertion of a fearless man and a determined friend, fully requited the services which she had rendered, or ever meant to render, to his wife.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

When we look at the parents, guardians, husbands, and friends in the examples above, it’s clear that Austen uses money matters (just as she uses so many other clever devices) to point to character and propriety. We could go through each novel and study each of the male and female characters and surmise quite a bit about their personalities just from the way they each manage money.

It’s clear that the characters in Austen’s books who provide well for their wives, children, and friends–and those who are generous and charitable with their money–are the characters we should admire and respect. Conversely, those who handle their money poorly–and those who manipulate and use and abuse others for financial gain or for personal control–are the characters we should distrust and, in some cases, even despise. In Austen’s novels, money matters.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.


Links About Marriage and Marriage Settlements:

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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

Victoria’s Article in Actuarial Review entitled “Jane Austen, Actuary?” September 21, 2021: Click here to read it

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