Persuasion, Ch 1-6

Here’s the first of the Persuasion posts! I’m opening it up to whatever people want to talk about. I’ll put my own thoughts behind a jump.

A reminder: next Wednesday will be the second discussion, on Ch. 7-12.


Ch. 1
I was struck by the opening and how much Austen gives us in a few short words. It’s hard to remember what I thought when I first read the book, and if anyone else is reading this for the first time, I’d love to hear your thoughts, but by the end of the first page, I already feel that I know Sir Walter is a pompous and vain man who cares very little about his family.

One of the important themes throughout the novel is how goodness is defined. Is it equated with good birth and good looks, as Sir Walter believes? Obviously not. But which virtues are put forward as superior, and by whom?

It struck me on this read-through, that Elizabeth is in the same position as Anne–growing older, still single without any hope of marriage. But we don’t have any sympathy for her.

This whole chapter is so full of biting wit–Elizabeth’s reaction after they decide they must retrench (“to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new-furnishing the drawing room”), for instance. I’d like to try to trace how that tone does and doesn’t change through the book.

Ch. 2
I think the slow reveal of the reason for Anne’s unhappiness is interesting. We have the first hint of it here, when Lady Russell accounts for Anne’s dislike of Bath by considering “it as a prejudice and mistake, arising…from her happening to be not in perfectly good spirits the only winter which she had afterwards spent there with herself.”

There’s already been a lot of emphasis on equality and inequality–who is superior or inferior to whom and in whose opinion and for what reasons.

Ch. 3
Mrs. Clay is always somewhat of an enigma to me. I wonder if there are clues about her past which Austen’s readers would have understood that I don’t? I’m not familiar enough with the commentaries to know, although I have heard one suggestion that her unprosperous marriage had ended in separation, not death.

There’s a lot of acting in the book–Mr. Shepherd just happening to suggest the Navy as a suitable group of tenants, for instance, when in reality he’s already aware of Admiral Croft’s existence. Then we have Anne’s pretended indifference to the Wentworths and her family’s pretended ignorance of the family. Incidentally, I love the little pause that Austen mentions twice in this conversation, before Anne brings them up.

Anne takes a lot of walks, as does Elizabeth Bennet, though they seem to do so for somewhat different reasons and with somewhat different results. Though both books begin around Michaelmas with someone taking a house (something I’d never noticed before) the whole atmosphere is quite different, I’d say.

Ch. 4
I never thought this before, but I started to wonder on this read-through if Austen is suggesting that the depth of Wentworth and Anne’s previous affection is actually not all that great–they fall in love because “he had nothing to do and she had hardly anybody to love.” Something to keep thinking about.

Lady Russell worries that Anne’s marrying Wentworth would result in “a state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependence.” The irony, of course, is that this is precisely what her not marrying him has resulted in.

Anne is persuaded by Lady Russell, but she also persuades herself several times–here and then in Ch. 6.

Appearances seem to be really important so far–Anne appears to be calm when she’s inwardly agitated; she might appear to have been in love with Mr. Wentworth the curate, when it’s actually Frederick.

Strolls and sighs help dispel the agitation of the moment.

Anne is eloquent “on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence.” I’ll be interested to see how this is revisited in the rest of the book.

Ch. 5
“desolate tranquility” I just love this phrase.

The description of the Musgroves is interesting–that they and their house are closely tied as being uncomfortably between generations.

The Musgroves are the other set of sisters in this book. They obviously contrast with the Elliots, but it would be interesting to see if there are ways they might connect too.

Ch. 6
I find the ideal of the “little social commonwealth” very interesting, especially since I find the influence of place and houses really fascinating. Anne here is trying to remake herself into a good citizen of Uppercross.

Anne does a lot of listening.

Throughout these chapters, I’ve noticed how much Anne is set apart from the rest of the society she moves in. She reacts to the news of the Crofts’ arrival and so on with quiet anxiety and unhappiness, while around her, her friends and family are quite unaware and so always seem to say just the thing that will make it all worse. Lizzy has Jane, but Anne doesn’t have anyone to truly console her.

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4 Comments

Filed under bookish posts, reading notes

4 responses to “Persuasion, Ch 1-6

  1. Mecque

    I am reading “Persuasion” for the first time. Elizabeth seemed very sympathetic to me until chapter 5, in which she calls her best friend, Mrs Clay, ugly. The details of how quietly unhappy with her life she is (turning away from the Baronetage book and throwing herself into running the household, however ineffectually) put me on her side for awhile. She is certainly more likable than her father.

    For some reason I find Lady Russell most hateful. She is not cruel, but her decisions are so snobbish. She is supposed to be Anne’s ally, but I wouldn’t believe it from the way she decamps and leaves Anne to fend for herself. I know I am being harsh on her, but as the “mothering figure”, she leaves much to be desired.

    I agree that Anne and Wentworth’s first relationship doesn’t sound like it was deep, but I think it was more due to Anne being, “forced into prudence in her youth … learned romance in as she grew older” than an absence of feeling. I could be proven wrong later, though. Either way, she still thinks of him after seven years!

    Appearances are definitely important so far, with Sir Walter making fun of sailors’ rugged faces and poor Mrs. Clay’s freckles. Anne seems almost invisible in comparison to the others, which makes her a bit hard to understand in these chapters. It’s interesting to see the genteel characters interact with the characters who have made their fortunes. Austen seems most sympathetic to the characters who do things, but it seems that her time period and place in society kept her from ever putting down the hereditary rich outright. I am excited to see what will happen now that Frederick is returning.

    • Maureen E

      Wow, the first time! How exciting! It’s interesting that you initially found E. sympathetic–she never was very much so to me, until this time through. I do agree about her being more likable than Sir Walter!

      Lady Russell–I don’t hate her, but I get super-annoyed with her. She’s so bound up in her own view of the world.

      I definitely think that there was a real attachment between Anne and Wentworth. Before, though, I had always thought it was horribly tragic that they didn’t marry then. Now I’m starting to wonder if that’s necessarily true.

      Austen seems most sympathetic to the characters who do things
      Ooh, very true!

  2. Mimi

    This is also my first time reading “Persusasion” – I am also finding that, especially in the first chapter, the wit is terribly (and fabulously, I want to make that clear) sharp, I think that of the Austen novels I’ve read, it is the most blatant of her social criticisms.
    I am also finding the characters to be interesting.

    • Maureen E

      Wow! I always tend to think of EVERYONE having already read Persuasion, which obviously isn’t true. šŸ™‚ I do know what you mean about her wit; it’s obviously been, shall we say, honed a bit since P&P. (I find it so interesting that Northanger Abbey, one of her earliest novels, and Persuasion were published at the same time. There’s a huge contrast between them, though she lampoons people in both.)

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