August 2018 meeting: Two reports

August 31, 2018

We devoted our August meeting to two reports:

  • Member Sally’s Literary Tour of Ireland (with Susannah Fullerton)
  • Members’ impressions of the 2018 JASA Conference: Persuasion:  Piercing souls for 200 years

Literary Tour of Ireland

While the tour covered a wide range of Irish sites with literary connections – including those related to James Joyce, Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, CS Lewis, and so on – Sally focused on those relating to Austen, of course.

Some of the sites and/or events she attended, included:

  • a gathering of the Jane Austen Society of Ireland, at which a member read her translation into Gaelic of the first chapter of Pride and prejudice.
  • a house owned by Richard Mulholland, Austen’s great-great-great-great-great-nephew (I think that’s right) via Austen’s brother Edward Knight and three (well, one of them) of his daughters, Marianne, Louisa & Cassandra, who all lived in Ireland. He talked to the tour group about the family’s money. They visited the sisters’ graves. In a lovely literary twist, Mulholland’s wife is descended from the man on whom Charlotte Bronte based her character of Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre.
  • places related to some of the Irish writers Austen read, including Edgeworthstown, which was named after Maria Edgeworth. Sally shared some of Edgeworth’s comments on Austen, from her letters. Edgeworth saw Northanger Abbey as “stupid, nonsensical”, calling the General’s behaviour “out of nature”. She likes more natural writing (!), so approved more of Persuasion.

We noted that many of the writers Jane Austen read were Irish, including Oliver Goldsmith (on whose history she based her own), Richard Sheridan, Maria Edgeworth, and a Miss Owenson. Austen was influenced, on other words, by many Irish writers, and many of them liked her. Oscar Wilde, who lived of course after her time, was a fan, and after his time in Reading Gaol apparently said he’d like to donate good books to the gaol, naming Jane Austen among the authors of those books.

Sophia Hillan, Mary, Lou and CassBooks mentioned by Sally:

  • Jocelyn Harris, Satire, celebrity & politics in Jane Austen (has references to the Dalrymples)
  • Sophia Hillan, May, Lou & Cass: Jane Austen’s nieces in Ireland
  • Valerie Pakenham (ed.), Maria Edgeworth’s letters from Ireland
  • Rose Servitora, The Longbourn letters (fun fan-fiction not related to Ireland)

All in all, a wonderful tour, said Sally.

A member reminded us of Austen’s satirical comment in a letter to Cassandra about Sydney Owenson’s books. She writes, commenting apparently (says critic Miranda Burgess) on the fear current at the time that just the act of reading can arouse excessive feeling in the body:

We have got Ida of Athens by Miss Owenson; which must be very clever, because it was written as the Authoress says, in three months. – We have only read the Preface yet; but her Irish Girl does not make me expect much. – If the warmth of her Language could affect the body, it might be worth reading in this weather.

2018 JASA Weekend Conference

Marilyn, with contributions from Jenny and Cheng, summarised the conference which focused on Persuasion. However, given we expect the papers, as usual to be published in Sensibilities later this year, this part of the meeting report will be brief.

The conference presenters included Jocelyn Harris, Sheryl Craig, Dorothea-Sophia Rossellini, and Susannah Fullerton. The papers included:

  • Finding Captain Wentworth, by Jocelyn Woodhouse (on possible inspirations for Captain Wentworth)
  • Money lost and money found, by Sheryl Craig (on money management at the time, and how Persuasion illuminates or reflects that.)
  • Persuasion: Where is volume 3?, by Dorothea-Sophia Rossellini (on the fact that Persuasion needs a third volume to complete the narrative and fully develop the characters)
  • The Baronetage, by Susannah Fullerton (on who reads what in Persuasion, such as Sir Walter Elliot’s reading of Debrett’s)
  • Virtue rewarded: Mrs Smith’s economic recovery, by Sheryl Craig (on the challenges faced by women, particularly regarding access to and management of money.)

The Canberra attendees particularly enjoyed Dr Craig’s papers, for their research and thoughtful arguments.

By-the-by, it was noted that Sheryl Craig has written an article for Persuasion, titled “Jane and the master spy”, Britain’s first master spy, William Wickham (1761-1840), who was head of the British secret service. She says that Austen’s

“first readers would have immediately connected the surname Wickham with deception, secrets, spies, and disappearing money, giving Austen’s contemporaries an early clue as to George Wickham’s duplicity, which her modern readers miss.  And George Wickham’s fate in Pride and Prejudice—that is, his transfer into the regular army—was actually what military commanders were advocating for the British secret service.”

Interestingly, Wickham ran a spy network in Ireland!! That seems a neat place on which to end this report of our meeting containing reports!


  • We ended as usual with our guess-the-quote game and a quiz.
  • We agreed that our next meetings would be: September: Guest author, Carrie Kablean, with her sequel novel, What Kitty did next; October: Subscription libraries, with particular reference to Austen

October 2017 meeting: Secondary sources on Austen’s Persuasion

November 2, 2017
Persuasion bookcovers

Our Persuasions!

Prepared by member Cheng

Numbers were reduced for the October gathering as many of our members were on holidays – including one lucky soul in Bath! If only we could have Skyped him… However, the secondary sources were presented with enthusiasm and discussed with vigour.

JANE AUSTEN’S NAMES : RIDDLES, PERSONS, PLACES by Margaret Doody, University of Chicago Press, 2015. Doody states that ‘Austen achieves meaning [in her choice of names] that goes down deep into layers of English history and relationship to land’. She had a great love of history, the etymology of words and the derivation of personal and place names. This detailed knowledge informed her choice for her character’s names, which indicate to us something about their personalities, origins, occupations and standing in the community. Their names can also contain little jokes against themselves or others.

Puns, or semantically appropriate words abound. For example Mrs Clay conjures dirt, mud, meaning that Sir Walter is far from the rarified atmosphere in which he believes he moves. Mr. Shepherd cunningly leads and guides Sir Walter and Elizabeth as a shepherd his sheep. According to a slang dictionary of the period, Dick Musgrove’s first name equates to effeminacy, weakness, failure. Captain Wentworth, Doody suggests, ‘went’ but ended up ‘worth’ something. And Croft, meaning ‘the humble home of a peasant farmer’, suits the unpretentious natures and way of life of Admiral and Mrs Croft. Even their language is colloquial, in contrast to Sir Walter’s.

Elliot is an ancient name with a possible biblical connection to Elias but in the novel Charles ll was the first to raise an Elliot to the Baronetcy. The Elliots were connected to the Irish Dalrymples and Sir Walter inherited feudal attitudes which showed in his fawning over people of rank and title, especially the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, Miss Carteret. There is another sly dig here, as the name Carteret suggests descent from a carter or hauler [a French ‘et’ added to lend a little cachet]. Another undercurrent of ridicule, a sly political joke, lies in a contemporary Sir Hew Dalrymple who in 1808 botched an armistice agreement with Napoleon and was nicknamed ‘the Dowager’.

Sir Walter’s boasting of the connection to the Dalrymples was without foundation as Scottish and Irish titles were considered inferior to those of purely English lineage. He was rather removed from the top layer of the highborn English aristocracy and did not appreciate the fact that their titles had been mostly created as a result of military courage and fortitude.

Janine Barchas, Matters of factMATTERS OF FACT IN JANE AUSTEN by Janine Barchas, the Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012, was cited as another excellent source on this topic. Particularly Chapter 6, Persuasion’s Battle of the Books : Baronetage versus Navy List.

One member was fascinated by VIRGINIA WOOLF’S famous REVIEW, January 31, 1924, of the publication of R.W.Chapman’s edition of the Novels of Jane Austen, in Five Volumes. She was intrigued by Woolf’s idea that ‘enough attention perhaps has never yet been paid to the novels that Jane Austen did not write’ and her taking of Persuasion as a light by which to see how she may have written had she lived to 60.

Persuasion marks the transition stage between two different periods – ‘we feel that she is trying to do something which she has never yet attempted. There is a new element in Persuasion, a quality, perhaps, that made Dr. Whewell fire up and insist that it was “the most beautiful of her works”.’ Austen is beginning to write more of the larger world around her, of nature, the seasons, places. ‘Her attitude to life itself has altered……the observation is less of facts and more of feelings than is usual…….Experience, when it was of a serious kind, had to sink very deep, and to be thoroughly disinfected by the passage of time, before she allowed herself to deal with it in fiction.’

And the six novels that Jane Austen did not write? She would have known more. Her sense of security would have been shaken. Her comedy would have suffered. She would have trusted less (this is already perceptible in Persuasion) to dialogue and more to reflection to give us the knowledge of her characters. Those marvellous little speeches which sum up in a few minutes’ chatter all that we need in order to know an Admiral Croft or a Mrs Musgrove forever, that shorthand, hit-or-miss method which contains chapters of analysis and psychology, would have become too crude to hold all that she now perceived of the complexity of human nature. She would have devised a method, clear and composed as ever, but deeper and more suggestive, for conveying not only what people say, but what they leave unsaid; not only what they are, but (if we may be pardoned the vagueness of the expression) what life is. She would have stood further away from her characters, and seen them more as a group, less as individuals. Her satire, when it played less incessantly, would have been more stringent and severe. She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust – but enough. Vain are these speculations: she died “just as she was beginning to feel confidence in her own success”.

Enit Steiner, Jane AustenJANE AUSTEN: NORTHANGER ABBEY /  PERSUASION edited by Enit Kanafili Steiner. A clever choice because it summarises all the criticisms. Following are the three she found the most interesting.

  • Howard Babb in Jane Austen’s Novels: the Fabric of Dialogue, 1962, contends that speakers keep up an appearance of decorum by pretending to talk of the literal situation while indeed they treat it metaphorically thus betraying their most intense feelings. He calls this METAPHORIC INDIRECTION and points to three dialogues which refer obliquely to ideas that Wentworth and Anne cannot communicate directly to each other.
    – the discussion between Wentworth and Croft about taking wives to sea
    – Wentworths’s discussion of the nut at Winthrop
    – Anne and Harville’s discussion about constancy
    The Metaphoric Indirection of dialogue creates a story where “the clues to their behaviour lie in the deeds of their language”.
  • Wolfe’s The Achievement of ‘Persuasion’, 1971, notes the distinct dramatisation of Anne’s consciousness which later writers see as the originator of the stream of consciousness style. Technically the narrator’s perspective is aligned with Anne’s so that we develop a sense of identification with her thoughts and experiences. The dramatic soliloquy used to convey the speech of characters is replaced by free indirect speech:

    Jealousy of Mr. Elliot. It was the only intelligible motive. Captain Wentworth jealous of her affection! Could she have believed it a week ago; three hours ago…

  • In Professor Belinda Jack’s 2016 lecture entitled Jane Austen, ‘Persuasion’: Irony and the Mysterious Vagaries of Narrative Transcript she pointed out that rhetoric has a bad name as being use to deceive “but rhetoric is also an ancient discipline that tries to make sense of how we persuade”. Jack believes that Austen’s use of irony in Persuasion and the narrative technique combine to create a crucial moral dimension. Irony is a slippery rhetorical device – “a method of comprehension” according to Trilling. No statement can really ‘mean what it says’, because all statements are subject to ironic undermining. Words cannnot bind an ironist because they can always say “but that is not what I meant”. It is a central feature of certain forms of textual production which have “a fundamental ethical importance … because they give us the opportunity to think differently, to move beyond the given codification of right and wrong. Austen leaves us with a multiple choices of interpretation which allow the novels a moral reach. It is the reader who must decide where the morally proper decisionmaking lies.

JANE AUSTEN THE SECRET RADICAL, Helena Kelly, Icon Books, 2016 was introduced by a member who had focused on Chapter 6, Decline and Fall – Persuasion. It was the quality of change, constant change, within the novel that had appealed to her most. Changing class distinctions, status, occupations, locations, houses, furnishings, fashions, opinions, allegiances, even geological changes of the land itself at Lyme. Austen lived on the cusp of both historical change and literary change. We hope to discuss this more fully in our November meeting which is devoted to this book.

JOHN WILTSHIRE’s writings inspired another member to remark on the fact that Persuasion is set in the exact months that Napoleon was on Elba. Chance plays such an important part in this novel. All the navy men were on shore, enjoying the pleasures that were felt due to national heroes. (After Waterloo the army was to gain popular ascendancy over the navy.) In the final chapter the reality of ‘the dread of a future war’ would have been well understood by Austen’s readers.

THE CONNELL GUIDE TO JANE AUSTEN’S PERSUASION, John Wiltshire, 2016 was the last offering, and was described by our member as ‘a first rate little pocket-sized guide for readers of all persuasions’. Susannah Fullerton’s praise in Sensibilities, no.53, December 2016 is well deserved. Wiltshire includes extensive quotes from many of the well-regarded Austen authorities, prompting a re-think on many vital points. A favourite quote from Adela Finch, regarding Louisa and Benwick, argues that Persuasion suggests a connection between the way people can be persuaded by one another, as Anne is by Lady Russell, with the way we can be influenced by books, raising the broader question  of whether our thoughts and desires are ever our own thoughts and desires at all.

The meeting ended with the customary games of quotes and quizzes – and warm friendship.

September 2017 meeting: Persuasion (Vol. 2)

September 17, 2017
Persuasion bookcovers

Our Persuasions!

As reported in our August post, we dedicated our August and September meetings to Persuasion, commemorating the 200th anniversary of its publication. In August we discussed Volume 1, so September, of course, was devoted to Volume 2. Nine members were present – and, as in August, we started by sharing our first impressions, that is, we each shared something that struck us on this particular read.

First impressions of Persuasion Volume 2

Even though by the time we got to the sixth person, contributors were starting to feel they had nothing new to say, somehow, each still found something to add. Funny that!

  • Mrs Smith’s revelations (2:9): A few members chose this chapter to discuss, because it feels less well developed than the rest of the book. One member described it as “appallingly drawn out and laborious” and felt that Austen would probably have rewritten it if she’d had the chance. Another member felt that it all comes out in a big rush, and wished the tension had been developed more, that the story of Mr Elliot’s perfidy had been unfolded more slowly. Also, what were his motives re Mrs Clay at the end, she wondered? There was a general feeling that this plot-line was not fully explored. A member suggested, however, that this might be because the lives of the upper echelons weren’t Austen’s main concern. She may, therefore, have felt it unnecessary to fully develop this story.
  • The narrative style, the fact that we are largely in Anne’s head, which means we rarely get more direct insight into the other characters. We pretty much see it all from her point-of-view or in terms of its effect on her.
  • Mary’s letter to Anne (2:6) is a treasure, and gorgeously comical. It is full of complaints and contradictions, typifying Mary perfectly. It includes the wonderful quote:

but I have my usual luck, I am always out of the way when any thing desirable is going on; always the last of my family to be noticed.

  • Anne represents the future. In the second half of the book, Anne starts to come into her own, and seems to represent the woman of the future, an independent self-will woman who is more focused on the future than the past. The ending is positive about the future – except, added another member, there is the caveat regarding more war!
  • New society: Related to this idea, said another member, is that the book represents a new direction in Austen’s treatment of aristocracy as a group on the downward slide – they are found wanting. There is a sense that the new society to be led by upper middle class, the professionals.
  • Diverse picture of the condition of women of the period. In the second part of the novel there is an impressive array for women of all sorts, from servant and working class, like Nurse Rooke, through the good-humoured women like Mrs Musgrove and Mrs Harville, to the weird representatives of the aristocracy, including Lady Darlymple and her daughter Miss Carteret (whose appearance was such that she would never have been tolerated by Sir Walter except for her birth.) Our member liked this description of Nurse Rooke:

She is a shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman. Hers is a line for seeing human nature; and she has a fund of good sense and observation which, as a companion, make her infinitely superior to thousands of those who having only received ‘the best education in the world,’ know nothing worth attending to.

  • Is Anne a mature Fanny? This was a controversial idea, with some agreeing and others resisting the idea. The proposer argued that both resist pressure, both have strong moral values, both nearly lose their “love” to rivals, and both resist pressure/encouragement to marry people they don’t love. Anne is of course different to Fanny – has more power and agency given her social place – and is older and therefore more experienced/mature, but is she a development of that sort of character? One member said that she saw like likenesses between Anne and Elinor.
  • Development of Anne and Wentworth’s relationship. This member continued her “forensic” look at the development of Anne and Wentworth’s rel. Gradually, in volume 2, having barely spoken to each other in volume 1, their conversation increases. Anne speaks to him, bravely, at the concert. Why though did the Crofts never see Anne as a possible match for Wentworth (their brother/brother-in-law)?
  • Persuasion and Self-interest. Last meeting we discussed Lady Russell’s advice to Anne, which found wanting while others felt had some justification. In volume 2, Lady R’s judgement, in seeing Mr Elliot as a good suitor for Anne, is called into question again. She’s also a member of the aristocracy, which is not presented positively in the book. Yet, in the novel’s resolution, Lady R is treated well. Is this because her advice, poor though it is (or turns out to be) stems not from self-interest? And, what about Mrs Smith? She was prepared not to share her knowledge of Mr Elliot’s perfidious character with Anne. She gives a reason for this, but is there some self-interest in her decision not to influence or persuade? She, too, though is treated well in the novel’s resolution.

Further discussion

From these first impressions, our discussion roamed even more widely.

We talked about the movie adaptations. Most of us don’t like the most recent adaptation, seeing Anne’s running through the streets of Bath as inappropriate and out of character. One member though reminded us to consider the way cinema needs to use visual language to convey meanings in the text. True, others agreed, but the visual language has to feel right! One member asked why Austen adaptations don’t use voice-over more often.

One member suggested that Persuasion is a sadder book than other Austens. It seems to have more illness, accidents and deaths. Is this reflective of where Austen was herself in her life? And, should we feel sorry for Elizabeth Elliot? Austen doesn’t explore her reaction to Mr Elliot’s apparent interest in Anne. At the end, she is left a sad character, likely to spend the rest of her father’s life by his side, increasingly isolated.

It might be a sadder book, but it has some wonderful scenes and we shared a couple of favourite social gathering scenes. The experience of social gatherings is something Austen so perfectly captures. One example in Persuasion is when Sir Walter and Elizabeth appear at the White Hart to hand out their invitation cards to their evening card-party. It had been a happy gathering, “a party of steady old friends”, until:

Alarming sounds were heard; other visitors approached, and the door was thrown open for Sir Walter and Miss Elliot, whose entrance seemed to give a general chill. Anne felt an instant oppression, and, wherever she looked, saw symptoms of the same. The comfort, the freedom, the gaiety of the room was over, hushed into cold composure, determined silence, or insipid talk, to meet the heartless elegance of her father and sister. How mortifying to feel that it was so! (2:10)

Another is in the next chapter when the card-party is underway:

The evening came, the drawing-rooms were lighted up, the company assembled. It was but a card-party, it was but a mixture of those who had never met before, and those who met too often—a common-place business, too numerous for intimacy, too small for variety; (2:11)

We discussed various aspects of Austen’s writing, including her plotting. We commented on how, in Persuasion, she uses overheard conversations (Wentworth overhearing Anne and Capt. Harville) and letters (Mr Elliot’s letter to Mrs Smith’s late husband) to share information. (One member suggested that this letter between Mr Elliot and Mr Smith is an example of “a conversation” between men in Austen.) We talked about the various ways in which Austen’s women characters learn about men’s wickedness, such as Colonel Brandon telling Elinor about Willoughby, and Darcy’s letter telling Elizabeth about Wickham.

In terms of style we also briefly discussed the cancelled chapter 10 (replaced by chapters 10 and 11) which many of us had read before, but only one for this meeting. She described the original chapter, which relates the coming together of Anne and Wentworth at Kellynch-hall, and suggested that it is believable but “tamer” than the published revised version.

Also on the style issue, a member raised the humour suggesting that it is very different in this novel. It’s more sly, clever. While Sir Walter and Mary can be quite comedic, they are no match, for example, for Mr Collins.

This brought us again to characters, particularly poor Mary. Yes, she’s irritating with her hypochondria and focus on precedence and status, but do these just indicate that she’s an unhappy person? She’s warmer than big sister Elizabeth, and she does at least write to Anne. She also appreciates Anne’s help!

One member suggested that the book is a “brilliant portrayal of a lovelorn woman’s interpretation of the behaviours of her ex-fiancé”.

Interestingly, we didn’t talk a lot about its overall theme – perhaps because we did that in detail when we read it in 2006 (before our blog). The topic though is sure to come up next month when we share our readings of secondary sources/critics on the book.

Meanwhile, there were questions about how well “finished” the book is. Would Austen, we wondered, have worked more on it had she had the time? One member shared a critic’s comment that Persuasion is one of the few novels people wish were longer – and no-one present disagreed. (Could its resolution have been developed more?) Regardless, it remains one of Austen’s most loved novels and we did enjoy our slow read.

August 2017 meeting: Persuasion (Vol. 1)

August 27, 2017

This year being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Persuasion, we are devoting the second half of the year to it, starting with our usual slow read. Eight enthusiastic members turned up for the discussion – and a very fine discussion it was.

We started by sharing our first impressions! That is, we each shared one thing that struck us on this read. Now, we have of course all read Persuasion before – most of us many times – so this “one thing” was not intended to be the most important thing about volume 1, but something that particularly captured our attention this read.

First impressions of Persuasion Volume 1

They were:

  • Gender aspects: Austen creates some strong gender roles in the novel, such as in the Crofts, and Lady Elliot. Mrs Croft is presented as a strong practical woman, and our member felt Austen admired her. It was also commented that women in this novel are not seen practising the “womanly” arts of needlework, though they do play piano.
  • Description of unattached women: This book has a large number of unattached women – Lady Russell, Mrs Clay, Elizabeth and Anne Elliot, the Musgrove sisters – and our member was interested in the ways Austen describes these women, their different statuses/positions. She also commented that Anne is a lovely yet interesting character, which is a combination that can be hard to achieve.
  • The time Austen takes to establish Anne, the novel’s protagonist: Austen starts with Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell. We don’t really see her operating until she visits Mary Musgrove, at which time her character comes over well.
  • The Cinderella aspect: the Cinderella story comes through strongly, with Lady Russell as the “wicked stepmother” and Mary and Elizabeth the “ugly sisters”. But, is Anne presented as almost too patient.
  • Lady Russell’s value: The above comment result in this member, who had planned to discuss Captain Wentworth, jumping to Lady Russell’s defence. She felt Lady Russell had had Anne’s best interest at heart, and that at the time of the broken engagement Captain Wentworth was indeed not a good prospect. (After all, look at what happened when Fanny’s  mother in Mansfield Park married a man with prospects, she said!) Austen’s description of Frederick suggests he was improvident, and believed himself lucky. This resulted in a lot of discussion about Lady Russell. Some argued that, with the book being about “class vs merit”, about the decline of the aristocracy and the rise middle classes, Lady Russell’s aristocratic ideals and expectations, make her a negative influence. So, is she a beneficent godmother or wicked stepmother?
  • Attitudes to class: Austen’s acerbic views on lower aristocracy, represented by Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth in particular, versus her presentation of “the lower levels”. They may not all be “the brightest buttons” (e.g. Musgroves) but are seen positively.
  • Sisters’ behaviour: Louisa and Henrietta’s behaviour is more “modern” than that of young single women in the earlier novels. They go for long walks on their own (i.e. unsupervised) with men, for example. They have more freedom, in other words. Is this Austen heralding a transition in social behaviour!
  • Structure: Austen carefully structures her novel to ensure the plot is logical and the characters believable, so, for example, Anne’s caring for young Walter sets up Anne’s character as a caring and competent person so that when the Lyme fall occurs we accept Anne’s role and expectations of her. Austen also uses parallels/dichotomies to set up contrasting ways of being or acting, such as Sir Walter versus Admiral Croft as examples of men, or the Musgrove sisters versus the Elliot sisters as example of sisterly behaviour.

Further discussion

From these first impressions, our discussion flowed freely back and forth from idea to idea – and it was a challenge to capture! Apologies to attendees if I missed or have misrepresented your gem of an idea.

We talked about Austen’s skills as a novelist, with one member continuing the idea of the slow way in which Anne’s character is established, to talk about the development of her renewed acquaintance with Captain Wentworth. She described how he doesn’t appear until Chapter 7, and that from then on there are no real verbal communications between him and Anne until the Lyme accident. Their relationship is conveyed, until then, through thoughts, reactions and physical actions. For example, he does things for her, showing a care for her wellbeing. Anne often misinterprets his actions. But the reader sees it differently, such as Captain Wentworth noticing Mr Elliot’s response to seeing Anne at Lyme.

Austen develops her characters carefully. Captain Wentworth is presented with a few options for a wife, particularly Louisa and Henrietta. He had made rather facetious comments to his sister, Mrs Croft, about being an easy catch, though in fact he was looking for substance. He has to learn, though, the different between “strength of mind” and “wilfulness” (as Louisa is at Lyme). Austen also presents us with alternative beaus for Anne, including Mr Elliot, and Captain Benwick who, like Anne, is educated and reflective.

We noted that this book contains more physical description of place – of Lyme, in particular – than we see in her other books, and felt that this indicates her love of Lyme. Conversely, we also felt that Anne’s dislike of Bath reflects Austen’s own. We also noted her use of weather and the seasons to convey mood (the pathetic fallacy that we discussed in a meeting last year).  Much of the action of this volume takes place in autumn, which can be a melancholy month, underpinning Anne’s mood:

The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by—unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.

We also noted that this is the only book which is given a very specific time period – covering the period of Napoleon’s exile at Elba.

We admired the economy with which Austen describes important action, in this case the fall at Lyme. It’s all conveyed in a very few sentences.

We discussed Austen’s contribution to the novel. We believe that while she didn’t write the first romantic novels, she did spearhead realistic rather than sensational writing.

We commented on the humour, such as the Lyme locals wanting “to enjoy the sight of a dead young lady”! And of course on Austen’s use of irony, such as “the kind friends” who had passed on to Sir Walter and Elizabeth, Mr Elliot’s disparaging remarks about them.

Appearance is a significant issue in the book, and we talked briefly about Sir Walter, and Elizabeth’s misguided certainty that Mrs Clay was not a threat because Sir Walter disliked freckles. But, appearance is also discussed in relation to our two protagonists. Captain Wentworth had, according to Anne, not changed at all in the seven plus years since they’d last met, while he sees that she’s “altered” and barely recognisable (like Cinderella, added our Cinderella-story member!) We discussed how Anne had spent those seven years. It was suggested that Austen is asking us to consider how character is formed. Her heart was broken, and yet she quietly gets on with her life. She is the overlooked middle daughter, and yet is important to the family.

A member shared Sir Walter’s initial thoughts on not wanting to rent Kellynch Hall to a naval person, suggesting they point to two ongoing issues in the novel – status and appearance:

Yes; it is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts up a man’s youth and vigour most horribly;…

We talked a little about the title, which, although not chosen by Austen, is apt and suggests her family, whom we believe titled it, understood the book well. A member noted that the word “persuasion” has different meanings. One, “to persuade”, that is, to encourage someone to believe or do something, is the meaning most often considered in discussions of the book. However, “a persuasion” can also refer to a set of attitudes or beliefs. We look forward to seeing how these two meanings play out in the second volume.

Members mentioned other issues that are discussed in the novel, including:

  • education. The Musgroves place little value on it, worrying about Charles Hayter spending too much time studying, whereas for Anne, reading and study are important.
  • silly behaviour. Austen makes a point of showing us silly behaviour, such as Mary’s self-centredness, Mrs Musgrove’s blindness regarding “poor Richard”, Sir Walter’s stupidity (starting with an inability to manage his finances effectively), and Elizabeth’s blindness re Mrs Clay.

It might sound from all this that our meeting was bland, with no disagreements, but that wouldn’t be a true Jane Austen meeting, now would it! We didn’t all agree on Lady Russell, and neither did all agree with the member who “felt a bit sorry” for Elizabeth! Another member ventured the idea that Louisa and Henrietta got on “too well”, particularly given they were vying for Captain Wentworth but others disagreed, feeling that the rivalry wasn’t a strong one (unlike that between the Bertram sisters in Mansfield Park). What we did all seem to agree on, though, is that Persuasion is a lovely book!

We concluded our discussion with a member reading excerpts from Austen’s letter to her niece Fanny about the book, in which she suggested that Fanny wouldn’t like it, and that the “heroine is almost too good for me”. Austen was dead 4 months later. We all wondered how much more work she may have done on the novel, had she lived longer.

May 2017 meeting: Who advises Jane Austen’s heroines?

June 13, 2017

Prepared by member Mary.

Our topic for the May meeting was “who advises Jane Austen’s heroines?”  A wide-ranging topic with a difficulty in distinguishing between advice, persuasion and bullying.  We considered those who may be in a position to provide helpful advice, including parents, siblings, relatives, friends and suitors.  Often they tended to do more harm than good.

Several people quoted Fanny Price’s belief that “we all have a better guide in ourselves, if we wanted to attend to it, than any other person can be.”  Despite her many trials, Fanny always keeps true to her own “better guide”; and all of Jane Austen’s heroines eventually find strength and guidance from their own moral integrity.

Margaret Mary Benson’s paper discusses the relationship between Mothers, substitute mothers and daughters in the novels of Jane Austen (Persuasions No. 11, 1989).  A mother’s role is to take care of her daughter’s early education and endeavor to develop a personal sense of responsibility.  But in Austen’s novels mothers are either absent or totally inadequate.

Benson points out that even Mrs Morland fails as a source of morality as she has “too many children to concentrate on the guidance of any individual daughter or son.”  In Bath Catherine is left to the care of Mrs Allen, who is incapable of giving advice of any kind.  When asked, Mr Allen advises Catherine that it is not seemly to be driving about the country side in an open carriage with John Thorpe.  Although fond of her brother James, Catherine questions his wisdom in encouraging a friendship with John Thorpe.  The contrast between the behavior of Isabella and John Thorpe with that of Eleanor and Henry Tilney helps Catherine to distinguish between false and trusted friends.

Catherine is mortified when a shocked Henry realizes that she has imagined that General Tilney murdered his wife, but he finds a way of being her mentor and guiding her judgment.  By the end of the novel Catherine has matured and she “acts with real dignity when she is sent home from Northanger Abbey.  ….. but like Emma, her husband will always be her mentor and superior, theirs is not a marriage of equals.”  (Benson, ibid).

Emma coversEmma Woodhouse is motherless.  Clever, headstrong and self-reliant she has been managing her father’s household from an early age.  Her substitute mother is “poor Miss Taylor”, now Mrs Weston, who has been with the Woodhouse family for the past 16 years:

Even before Miss Taylor had ceased to hold the nominal office of governess, the mildness of her temper had hardly allowed her to impose any restraint; and the shadow of authority being now long passed away, they had been living together as friend and friend very mutually attached and Emma doing just what she liked; highly esteeming Miss Taylor’s judgment, but directed chiefly by her own. (Emma, Ch. 1)

Likewise Mr Woodhouse can find no fault with Emma.  He is a valetudinarian who uses emotional blackmail to keep Emma at home to care for him and entertain the limited society of Highbury.  But he is no companion for her.  “He could not meet her in conversation, rational or playful.” Frank Churchill deceives Emma. He uses his flirtation with her as a screen to hide his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax; although he claims he was not at fault: he “only supposed Emma as quick-witted as she believed herself to be”.

Mr Knightley has known Emma all her life and is in the habit of lecturing and judging her. He advises Emma not to interfere with Harriet’s relationship with Robert Martin, but she is determined to prove him wrong and plays matchmaker with disastrous results.  When all is resolved between them, Mr Knightley questions whether he had the right to judge and lecture Emma, who must have done well without him.  But Emma replies “I was often influenced rightly by you – oftener than I would own at the time.  I am sure you did me good.”

Anne Elliot is also motherless.  She has a very ‘conceited, silly father’ and an elder sister who both regard Anne and her younger sister as ‘of very inferior value’.  Anne’s substitute mother is Lady Russell, to whom she is “a most dear and highly valued god-daughter, favourite and friend.”  Lady Russell advises Anne to sever her relationship with Frederick Wentworth with whom she had fallen deeply in love with when she was 19.  Lady Russell, who valued social status, considered the relationship inappropriate for Anne with all her claims to birth, beauty and mind, to throw herself away at nineteen on a headstrong man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, but in the chance of a most uncertain profession.  Lady Russell feared that such a marriage would sink her into a state of most wearing, anxious, youth killing dependence.  Not marrying Wentworth has done exactly that to Anne who has noticeably lost her bloom, and is faded and thin.  In one sense Anne does not regret having done her duty to Lady Russell in following her advice, but in another, later regrets being persuaded not to marry Wentworth – she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain good. (Persuasion, Vol 1. Ch.4).

Lady Russell encourages Anne, at 22, to accept a proposal from Charles Musgrove, but in this case Anne had nothing left for advice to do.  Later Lady Russell encourages Anne’s marriage to her cousin, William Elliot, the heir to Kellynch Hall.  But now at 27 Anne is no longer dependent on Lady Russell’s advice.  It was now some years since Anne had begun to learn that she and her excellent friend could sometimes think differently; and it did not surprise her, therefore, that Lady Russell could see nothing suspicious or inconsistent, nothing to require more motives than appeared in Mr Elliot’s great desire for reconciliation.  Benson notes that not only is Anne more perceptive than Lady Russell in terms of motives, but she also differs in what she truly values in her friends – such as the open-heartedness of the Musgrove family and especially of Frederick’s fellow sailors and their families – the Crofts and the Harvilles.  More than any of the heroines, at the end of Persuasion Anne totally separates herself from her family in favour of Fredrick’s open-hearted sailor friends. (Benson, ibid)

Marianne Dashwood resembles her mother who encourages Marianne’s excessive displays of romantic sensibility. Elinor, the eldest daughter “possessed a strength of understanding, and a coolness of judgement, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother…… Her feelings were strong, but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn.” (SS. 6).   John Dashwood, who promised his father that he would support the family, is persuaded by his wife that he need do nothing at all; but that does not prevent him from offering unwanted advice to Elinor that she should marry Colonel Brandon, and cultivate her friendship with Mrs Jennings in the hope that Elinor and Marianne would inherit some of her fortune.  While Mrs Jennings and Sir John Middleton are kind and hospitable, and Colonel Brandon offers practical help and the comfort of a good friend, they do not advise Elinor nor does she seek their advice.  When Edward’s secret engagement to Lucy is revealed, Marianne is astonished that Elinor has known for four months.  She exclaims “how have you been supported?”  Elinor replies “I have had all this on my mind without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature.” (p.228).  Mrs Dashwood belatedly realizes she had been inattentive to her eldest daughter.  “Marianne’s affliction, because more acknowledged, more immediately before her, had too much engrossed her tenderness, and led her away to forget that in Elinor she might have a daughter suffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation and greater fortitude.”  (SS p56).

Elizabeth Bennet has two unsatisfactory parents. Because of her intelligence and ‘quickness’, she is her father’s favourite.  She is her mother’s least favourite daughter, and to Lizzy her mother is a constant source of embarrassment and irritation.  Mrs Bennet has neglected her daughters’ education, and is also “equally indifferent to her daughters’ moral education – and, in fact probably is incapable of providing them with any moral example.” (Benson, ibid).  Lizzy falls further out of favour with her mother when she refuses a proposal from Mr Collins, but she will not be bullied into accepting him.  She also stands up to Lady Catherine, and will not be bullied by her.  Lizzy and her sister Jane are close companions, but Jane only sees good in everyone, and does not really advise Lizzy.  Fortunately there is Aunt Gardiner, her role model and friend: “Unlike Mrs Bennet she is capable of giving real advice.  She is the only one to advise Elizabeth against Wickham; later, she is the physical instrument of Elizabeth and Darcy’s reconciliation at Pemberley.” (Benson, ibid).  Darcy seemingly remains aloof throughout, insulting Elizabeth at the ball and with his first proposal.  His letter changes her mind and her realization about herself: “How despicably have I acted! … I, who have prided myself on my discernment! … Till this moment I never knew myself.” (PP, 236).Mansfield Park

At age 9 Fanny Price’s mother farewells her from Portsmouth and greets her return from Mansfield Park 8 years later with equal indifference.  At Mansfield Park Lady Bertram, who should have been the substitute mother, pays no attention to the education of her daughters – ‘thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter, when it did not put herself to inconvenience.” (MP, p20). She delegates all the responsibility for the education of the Bertram girls and Fanny to Aunt Norris.  While Aunt Norris indulges Maria and Julia, she is cruel and vindictive towards Fanny.  She “… had no affection for Fanny, and no wish of procuring her pleasure at any time.” (MP, 79).  Fanny is gentle, sensitive and obliging: Tom calls her a “creep mouse” and the girls virtually ignore her.

It is only Edmund who kindly guides Fanny in the superficialities of life at Mansfield Park, advising her on books to read, and helping her to become more confident.  However, Edmund can be insensitive and not perceptive.  He doesn’t understand why Fanny is so appalled at the suggestion she should live with Aunt Norris.  Fanny is afraid of Sir Thomas, but stands her ground against his anger at her refusal to accept Henry’s proposal.  The only advice Lady Bertram ever gave Fanny, echoing her husband, is to tell her “It is every young woman’s duty to accept such an unexceptionable offer as this.” (MP, Ch.33). Edmund, also echoing his father, advises Fanny to accept the offer.  Fanny must be forever grateful to Henry for procuring her brother William’s promotion in the navy, but unlike the others, she recognizes his “corrupted mind” and will not marry him.  Fanny also resists Mary Crawford’s manipulation and emotional blackmail to influence her in Henry’s favour.  Fanny does not need advice.  Her moral integrity allows her to make better decisions for herself than any of her advisers.

Next Meeting:  17th June 17: Sharing and discussing biographies of Jane Austen.

Jane Austen Festival Australia’s Symposium on Jane Austen’s Men

March 1, 2015

The volunteer-run Jane Austen Festival Australia, which was first held in 2008, is back again in 2015, and will run from Friday 10 to Sunday 15 April. Organiser Aylwen Gardiner-Garden describes it as “a living history event”. This means it includes historic reenactment, costume, music and dance of the Regency and Georgian eras, as well as presentations on Jane Austen and her novels and on the social and political history of the times.

The 2015 Festival’s theme celebrates:

the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, which is generally credited as Napoleon Bonaparte’s final defeat; – a significant event in European history that deeply affected the lives of every Englishman and the World. Bonaparte would soon surrender his troops and abdicate the throne, ending a seventeen year conflict between Britain and France, and other European nations.  Jane Austen had very little to say about the Battle of Waterloo or any aspect of the Napoleonic War, however, one novel does use war centrally as part of the frame: Persuasion. (from the About page)

The full program is available on the website, and tickets can be purchased on-line. Day tickets and full conference tickets are available.

Events that might be of particular interest to JASACT members are:

  • Symposium on Jane Austen’s Men, on Friday 10 April at the Albert Hall. A Day Ticket for Friday costs $50. The program comprises 6 speakers: Janet Lee, Katrina Clifford, Will Christie, Heather Neilson, Marcus Adamson and Gillian Dooley. Will Christie’s talk is on Mr Knightley which fits well with our study of Emma this year. Looks as interesting as last year’s Mansfield Park Symposium was.
  • Keynote Speaker, on Saturday 11 April at Albert Hall: Dr Gemma Betros’ “Jane Austen’s Waterloo”. Dr Gemma Betros is Lecturer in European History at The Australian National University. She holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and in 2012 was a Visiting Fellow at the Chawton House Library in the United Kingdom,which is now Centre for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing, 1600-1830. She is currently writing a biography of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Mr Bennet’s Bride, play by Emma Wood at Theatre 3, on Saturday 11 April at 7.30pm, and Sunday 12 April at 9am and 2pm. Attendance at the Sunday morning session is included in the program for full ticket holders, but tickets ($35/$25) for any of the three sessions can also be purchased from Canberra Rep, Tel 6257 1950 OR at

Arti on Bath

September 14, 2010

Arti, whose post on Fanny I recently recommended, has now written of her recent visit to Bath. She’s included some lovely photos and appropriate references to Persuasion. For those who haven’t been there yet, she provides a wonderful overview, and for those who have, well, we can never see too much of Bath can we!