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.
MATTERS 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”.
- 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.