Sunday, September 5, 2010

Persuasion, Chapters 13-24

Whew, it's high time I finish up Persuasion, isn't it? I've been really busy these past couple weeks, taking the second road trip of the summer as Todd and I moved my things (including hundreds of books) to Chicago. Now we're getting settled in an apartment that has an office/library — it's kind of an amazing room.

What's also amazing is that the Jane Austen Challenge is over! It took six months, but I haven't read this many books by a single author since I took a Henry James class in college. Reading all of Austen's books so close to each other helps illuminate themes and aspects of her writing style, so I'm really glad I did this. And thanks to everyone who played along! If you finished all six, please send me an e-mail with your mailing address.

I'll be revisiting themes that recur throughout Austen's oeuvre in the coming weeks, and after that I'm going to be starting a new reading project — Chicago writers. I hope it'll be a way to get to know something about the city I just moved to, plus a chance to discover new authors. I'll issue a more formal call for ideas later, but I'd love to hear any ideas for books by Chicago writers past or present, or those that are set in Chicago.

And now onto final thoughts on Persuasion:

Louisa is still at Lyme recovering from her accident, the Musgroves go there to be with her, and Anne decides to go visit Lady Russell. Anne is distracted while she’s with her friend because of the situation with Louisa, but Lady Russell tells her how she looks physically better. Anne tells her that Captain Wentworth is smitten with Louisa.

The ladies go visit Mrs. Croft, and it hurts Anne that someone else lives in her old house. Admiral Croft tells her to look around, which Anne declines, but he tells her that he made some improvements to the house, including removing mirrors from Sir Walter’s room. The Crofts tell Anne that Captain Wentworth praised her to his sister and brother-in-law for his help with the Musgroves. They also tell her that they’re planning to go to Bath for a few weeks.

Charles and Mary come back from Lyme and report that Louisa is improved, thought still week. Anne asks about Captain Benwick, and Charles implies that he has feelings for Anne. Anne hears from her sister Elizabeth that their cousin, Mr. Elliot, is in Bath and he has come to visit Sir Walter. Anne and Lady Russell set off for Bath. Anne is depressed to be there, but her family welcomes her by showing off their new things. Mr. Elliot has been visiting them often, and they have forgiven him for marrying his first wife who was rich but ill-bred. She died six months previously, and contrary to appearances, Mr. Elliot is in mourning. Anne surmises that he wants to marry Elizabeth, but when he visits, he recognizes Anne from their meeting in Lyme. They hit it off.

Mrs. Clay proposes that she leave Bath, now that Anne is there, but Elizabeth and Sir Walter decline her offer, which makes Anne worry that her father is interested in Mrs. Clay. Elizabeth isn’t worried, but Lady Russell is.

Lady Russell likes Mr. Elliot, and isn’t suspicious about why he’s made amends with his relatives. Anne, realizing that she and Lady Russell often see things differently, still believes that Mr. Elliot wants to marry Elizabeth.

Word arrives that Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, cousins of the Elliots, are in town. Their relationship has lapsed, but since Lady Dalrymple is noble, Sir Walter decides they should rekindle it and improve their social standing in Bath. Anne can’t believe it, but Mr. Elliot tells her that it’s a good idea. He also shares her concerns about Mrs. Clay.

Anne learns that Mrs. Smith, an old school friend of hers, is in Bath as well. Mrs. Smith had married a wealthy man, who burned through his money. He died two years previously, leaving his widow in serious debt. Shortly thereafter, she got a fever and was crippled. Anne goes to visit her, finding her friend’s situation terrible but her spirit unchanged.

Anne turns town a visit to the Dalrymples’ in favor of visiting Mrs. Smith, which bothers her father. At the party, Mr. Elliot tells Lady Russell how highly he thinks of Anne, which makes Lady Russell think that he plans to marry Anne, not Elizabeth. Lady Russell approves, since it would make Anne Lady Elliot of Kellynch Hall, which was her mother’s place.

Next the Elliots learn that the Crofts are in Bath and that Louisa is engaged to Captain Benwick. The odd couple fell in love while Louisa was recovering in Lyme, which surprises everyone. Anne is thrilled though, since it means that Captain Wentworth won’t be marrying Louisa like she imagined.

In Bath, Anne runs into Admiral Croft, who tells her that he and his wife also expected the Captain to marry Louisa. He adds that his brother-in-law doesn’t seem upset about the news. Anne bumps into Captain Wentworth the next day when she is walking with Mr. Elliot. His friends assume that there’s something going on between Anne and Mr. Elliot.

The Elliots attend a concert and Captain Wentworth is there. He tells Anne that he doesn't think Louisa is smart enough for Captain Benwick, and that he’s amazed his friend was able to get over his first love so quickly. Anne sits with Mr. Elliot, and he’s very complimentary of her. During intermission, Anne goes to find Captain Wentworth, but Mr. Elliot interrupts their conversation. Anne, always polite, goes with him, but realizes that Captain Wentworth is jealous is Mr. Elliot.

Anne goes to visit Mrs. Smith the next morning. Her friend thinks Anne is in love with Mr. Elliot, and Anne tells her that it isn’t true. Mrs. Smith then tells Anne that Mr. Elliot is “without a heart of conscience” — he was a friend to her late husband, and the Smiths would help him out financially. He refused to marry Elizabeth in order to marry a wealthy woman, and he often spoke slightingly of his Kellynch baronetcy. He also encouraged Mr. Smith to run up a huge debt. He was the executor of Mr. Smith’s will, but refused to help out. The reason he’s upset about the possibility of Sir Walter remarrying is if he and Mrs. Clay were to have a son, he would no longer be heir to Kellynch. He came to Bath to break them up, but soon decides he wants to marry Anne. This obviously upsets Anne, but she’s glad she found out before it was too late. When she sees Mr. Elliot that evening, he tries to talk to her, but she brushes him away. He says that he’s planning to leave Bath for a couple of days.

Charles and Mary come to Bath with the other Musgroves, since Henrietta needs a wedding dress for her marriage to Charles Hayter. While Anne is visiting them, she sees Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay speaking on the street. Mary wants to go to her father’s party the next night to meet the Dalrymples and Mr. Elliot. Anne stresses how little interest she has in Mr. Elliot, which Captain Wentworth picks up on.
Anne goes to visit the Musgroves, Captains Harville and Wentworth, and Mrs. Croft the next morning, and Anne and Captain Harville get into a discussion about love. Anne says that women are more faithful and that women continue to love even when hope is gone. Captain Harville counters that men never forget women, even when women have moved on. Captain Wentworth passes Anne a note, then heads outside to mail a letter. In the note, Captain Wentworth declares his love for her, which makes Anne leave at once. One the walk home she runs into Captain Wentworth and she tells him how she’s loved him all along. They’re both elated.

No one objects to their engagement, although Mr. Elliot leaves Bath. Mrs. Clay leaves as well, and there’s a rumor that they’re together — he had been flirting with her in the hopes that she would not marry Sir Walter. Captain Wentworth helps Mrs. Smith get some of her husband’s money back, and only Elizabeth remains unmarried. Anne and Captain Wentworth live happily in their marriage.

Moreso than in her other novels, Austen punishes characters who strive for social improvement and mobility. Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot are driven out of town for their attempts to social climb through marriage. It's one thing to pursue acquaintances from a higher social standing, like Sir Walter does with his cousins, but it's another entirely to use marriage as a means of doing so.

And that’s the end of Austen’s most mature love story and final novel. I think it’s a fitting end to this project, since we’ve seen Austen become a more assured writer who presents more assured characters. Though Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of Austen’s books, Persuasion is great for an older reader (Anne is the closest heroine to me in age) who isn’t clueless about the way love works. But there's something in every Austen novel that's worth getting at, which is why this has been such a rewarding project.

What's your favorite Austen work, and why?