Monday, December 31


This is the thread where I'll be posting my thoughts while reading Persuasion, should any occur.

Here's the permanent address of this post:

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Johnny said...

Okay, I got the book and was happy to discover that it's actually pretty 240 pages. Let's see, if I can do 40 pages a day, I'll have it done in six days, putting me a week ahead of schedule. I think I can do that; I probably read 40 pages of gadget reviews and online womyn-centric erotica every day.

I'm going into this completely unspoiled; I have no idea what the book is about at all. The cover of my copy has a painting of a woman reading, promising an exciting plot full of breathtaking scenes.

Okay, time to start reading. (Slips on sunglasses, looks over the top.) Let's do this thing!

Johnny said...

Oh fuck, you guys. I quit...this shit is BORING.

Johnny said...

Final proof, as if we needed any more, that Jane Austen was the indisputed inventor of the chick-lit novel:

"It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than
she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost."

She also meets her friends for appletinis and dishes about how all the good baronets are either taken or gay!

Johnny said...

Of possible interest to a few of my readers: a main point of Persuasion's backstory is the failed engagement of two characters who are also second cousins. I'm just saying.

Johnny said...

The "bad guy" of the book so far appears to be a poor widow raising two small children. It's about time someone went after those villians!

Johnny said...

The scheming widow is portayed as unbeautiful because she has, along with a "projecting tooth and a clumsy wrist" (beats me)...freckles! What a tragedy!

Here, Elizabeth explains to her sister Anne that their father is in no danger of succumbing to the charms of the widow due to those hateful freckles. Quote:

"Freckles do not disgust me so very much

as they do him. I have known a face not materially disfigured by a few,

but he abominates them. You must have heard him notice

Mrs Clay's freckles."

"There is hardly any personal defect," replied Anne,

"which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to."

Johnny said...

As I've been reading Persuasion, I've of course had REM's "Pretty Persuasion" stuck in my head the entire time. Except I just realized that it's NOT "Pretty Persuasion," but rather "Mr. Brightside" with the word "jealousy" in the chorus replaced with an over-ennunciated "purr-SWAY-zun..." For some reason.

(These are the sorts of fascinating in-depth dissections of Austen's craft you were expecting, aren't they?) (Hey, remember that terrible movie Pretty Persuasion? Goddamn, that thing almost ruined my otherwise luxurious and relaxing Katrina evacuation.)

Johnny said...

Jane Austen is rightly considered a genius chronicler of society's inner workings and a skewerer of vanity's foibles, but I don't typically think of Jane Austen as a great prose stylist. That is, we read her for her characters and her stories and her mindset, not necessarily for the word-by-word, line-by-line, details of her writing.

However, I was greatly affected by the following excerpt, where Anne (the protagonist) is reunited with Captain Wentworth, a man she was in love with seven years before but had to abandon. Note the breathless, almost stream-of-consciousness, writing, which perfectly mirrors the claustrophobia and quiet panic of the situation.

And the final Carveresque lines, are so exquisite and disarmingly simple there's no way they can be improved upon.


[A] thousand feelings rushed on Anne, of which this was the most consoling, that it would soon be over. And it was soon over. In two minutes after Charles's preparation, the others appeared;
they were in the drawing-room. Her eye half met Captain Wentworth's,
a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice; he talked to Mary,
said all that was right, said something to the Miss Musgroves,
enough to mark an easy footing; the room seemed full, full of persons
and voices, but a few minutes ended it. Charles shewed himself
at the window, all was ready, their visitor had bowed and was gone,
the Miss Musgroves were gone too, suddenly resolving to walk
to the end of the village with the sportsmen: the room was cleared,
and Anne might finish her breakfast as she could.

"It is over! it is over!" she repeated to herself again and again,
in nervous gratitude. "The worst is over!"

[...] She had seen him.
They had met. They had been once more in the same room.

Johnny said...

In that last excerpt, "the Miss Musgroves" are Anne's sisters-in-law, "Henrietta and Louisa,
young ladies of nineteen and twenty, who had brought from school at Exeter
all the usual stock of accomplishments, and were now like thousands
of other young ladies, living to be fashionable, happy, and merry."

I'm just mentioning them because I want to point out that The Miss Musgroves would be a great band name.

zachary said...

Okay, I know this sounds like a bullshit excuse, but my collected Novels of Jane Austin is packed away. I'll pick up with the first ones after January. But, not Pride and Prejudice, because I read that one a couple years ago and just saw the movie.

Johnny said...

Captain Wentworth annouces his intention to marry, now that he's ashore:

"Anybody between fifteen and thirty may have me for asking."

Johnny said...

Names! Initially, it annoyed me that this book featured a major character named Elizabeth...I mean, surely there were enough names available to women back then that Austen didn't have to repeat the name of Pride & Prejudice's heroine.

But at least there aren't two Elizabeths in the same book. In Persuasion, there's Charles Musgrove, Anne's brother-in-law, and Charles Hayter, a romantic rival of Captain Wentworth. There's also "little Charles," Musgrove's son. Somebody buy this lady a baby name book, amirite?

(I guess it could be one point in War And Peace, a man named Kuragin courts a woman named Karagin.)

Hayter is such a great last name, though, isn't it? I'd surely use it as a psuedonym if it weren't for the contemptible Amelie Gillette.

Charles Hayter, just like Charles Musgrove, also has two young sisters, referred to as the Miss Hayters. Interestingly, I saw The Miss Hayters play with Eve's Plum and The Goops at Wellsley College's "Women ROCK!" outdoor benefit concert in 1995.

Johnny said...

Charles Hayter (who, ahem, is courting Henrietta Musgrove, his FIRST cousin) is described as a "scholar and a gentleman, and who was very superior
in cultivation and manners to all the rest."

Austen is quoting the Robert Burns poem The Twa Dogs, which is where the "you're a gentleman and a scholar" schtick that blowhards with their fucking flasks and their fucking ending everything with "my friend" comes from.

Johnny said...

This is how you reprimand a TWO-YEAR-OLD circa 1817. Guess which part I added:

"Walter," said she, "get down this moment. You are extremely troublesome.
I am very angry with you."

"Walter," cried Charles Hayter, "why do you not do as you are bid?
Do not you hear your aunt speak? Come to me, Walter, come to cousin Charles."

But not a bit did Walter stir, because he was two and couldn't understand your faggy English, you goddamn retards.

Johnny said...

PAGE 106
Here's something I'm eager to see in the adaptation, if only to find out how they end up dramatizing it: there's a part here where one of the young ladies goes to jump a few feet down off a concrete stair and somehow finds a way to fuck it up so bad she ends up in a coma.

If that doesn't make any sense, don't blame me, blame Austen...the description is seriously sketchy. Like, they're walking by the shore and the girl (who? no spoilers!) insists on "being jumped down" the stairs leading to the beach, which I take to mean that the staircase has no banister and, with the help of her beau, she'll jump off the side. But then she jumps before he knows it and she ends up Schiavo'd.

The book sorta implies that he would hold her hands as she jumped, but I don't understand how that would arrest her fall to the extent that without it she gets brained. I suppose the more logical answer is that he'd put his hands out and catch her waist as she jumped, but I totally can't imagine that it was cool for a dude to have his hands on a woman's waist like that: these knuckleheads can't even look a woman in the eye without a chaperone.

Yeah, so I'm curious to see how the film handles this confusing business. Also, one of the films has Giles from Buffy in it, so that's something.

Johnny said...

PAGE 120
Halfway! And I'm still on schedule and I still haven't used that Stone Cold Jane Austen joke I've been saving. (It's the ace up my sleeve.)

Johnny said...

PAGE 134
Totally childish, but it cracks me up nonetheless: a character is described as being "very much under-hung, a defect which time seemed to have increased." Heh.

(It actually means that he has a projecting lower jaw, yet another arbitrary and overly specific way to be ugly in the early 19th century, along with having freckles, a projecting tooth, some sort of wrist thing, "sandy hair," and being unmarried past the age of like 17.)

PAGE 135
This is actually pretty funny. Anne's father, a vain and self-satisfied baronet, learns that a beautiful heiress wants to meet him:

"He longed to see her. He hoped she might make some amends for the many very plain faces he was continually passing in the streets. The worst of Bath was the number of its plain women. He did not mean to say that there were no pretty women, but the number of the plain was out of all proportion. He had frequently observed, as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five-and-thirty frights; and once, as he had stood in a shop on Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without there being a tolerable face among them."

Johnny said...

PAGE 146
I realize, of course, that Austen's goal wasn't necessarily to create a super-realistic portrait of what life was really like in 1817, but I find the sheer amount of unremarked-upon mortality in the book staggering: before the book even begins, the following have died young: Anne's mother, Mr. Clay, Mrs. Eliot, Captain Benwick's fiance, a Musgrove brother, and Mr. Smith. All but Anne's mother died before 30; most died before 22. Each death was mourned as a tragedy...but never are they referred to as an extraordinary occurrence. History was DANGEROUS.

In fact, my research has shown that *not one single person* from 1817 is still alive. Chilling, isn't it?

PAGE 156
Well, it took more than half the book, but finally: epistolary action!

Johnny said...

PAGE 186
We're introduced to ANOTHER scheming widow. This one a cripple.

PAGE 190
"'[He] is a man without heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself; whom for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character. He has no feeling for others. Those whom he has been the chief cause of leading into ruin, he can neglect and desert without the smallest compunction. He is totally beyond the reach of any sentiment of justice or compassion. Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black!'"

Johnny said...

Jane Austen's books take place in a world of the strictest manners, where one can be judged solely by one's etiquette and the smallest slight can have huge implications.

This drives the plots of her novels, of course. In this example, all could be cleared up immediately if Anne were able to say six words to Captain Wentworth: "I am not to be engaged." Suddenly, he'd know that if Mr. Elliot had any designs on the woman he loved, Anne would not accept them. But, because of their society's constraints, she can't speak so flagrantly out of turn to relay this message. Propriety and etiquette demand that she find a proper time and place to have the conversation; she can't even reveal that the smooth Mr. Elliot is "black at heart, hollow and black" and determined to bring the family to ruin.

Looked at from 2008's perspective, it seems impossible to think that, all the etiquette in the world would stop a woman from just saying, "Hey, you know what? I'm not going to marry that dude...he's not only evil, but I have a letter in his own handwriting proving that he's actively pursuing plans to destroy our family, and maybe we shouldn't invite him to dinner tonight. I'm just saying." Even if such brash forwardness caused all the women in attendance to fall into a swoon and forever think of Anne as being ill-mannered and uncouth...well, they couldn't hold too much against her since she did just, you know, save the family and all. Surely that was worth it, right?

The fact that a speech like this is utterly unthinkable to the characters of Persuasion proves how different and repressed their society was, compared to ours.

Or does it? After all, Persuasion isn't a documentary or a history, it's a romantic comedy (actually, I guess it's a comic romance). I wonder if, as modern-day readers, we make the mistake of criticizing the society when we should be criticizing the genre?

Because this is a problem that plagues that genre even today: almost every misunderstanding crucial to a rom-com's plotline can usually be resolved immediately with a short conversation.

I'd hate to think that, in 200 years, someone would be watching one of our romantic comedies and saying "It is his sister, and that is her gay friend! Why don't they just ask each other about it instead of going to these absurd lengths to get revenge? Man, the 21st century was so REPRESSED."

Johnny said...

PAGE 243
Done! Our resolute heroine is safely married, all the Charleses have been preserved, and the scheming widow has been turned away, presumably to starve to death. Hooray!

The book ends on a sort of anticlimatic note. It seemed as though the book were leading up to a confrontation between Captain Wentworth and Mr. Elliot, as well as a dramatic scene where Secrets Are Revealed and Fortunes Are Reversed. Instead, it's pretty much what I described in the last comment: Anne and Captain Wentworth finally get a chance to talk; they sort everything out and get married, and the villians just sorta go away. Get me rewrite!

I can't decide if this anticlimatic ending is because I'm expecting too much as a modern reader, or if because Austen quite literally wrote this book as she died. (The "d" in "The End" actually trails down the page, Austen expiring as she wrote it.) (Not really.) (Duh.) The introduction mentions that some Austen scholars have "criticized the simple plotline" and I wonder if we're talking about the same thing.

The book ends on a hilariously abrupt note. Here's the last paragraph of the book. After describing all the happiness of the couple's marriage, Austen winds it all up with:

"[Captain Wentworth's] profession was all that could ever make her friends wish that tenderness less, the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine. She gloried in being a sailor's wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance."

The end! Uh, that's weird, right? "And they were totally happy, but in a way that's sorta too bad because if there's another war he'll probably be 'sploded by a canon and she'll be sad. Okay, that just about does it for The Elliots...peace out, bitches, this has been a Jane Austen joint! PS: Don't let my sister rename this Persuasion after I die, k?"

Overall, I enjoyed the book...Anne is a super-bland protagonist, but the character of Mary, Anne's monster of a sister, is priceless, as is her father. Also, the book feels like a world I've inhabited, not a collection of stock characters interacting on a stage. I'm glad I've gotten the weakest of the books (I hope) out of the way, but it wasn't so weak that it's put me off reading four more of these.

Up next, Northanger Abbey, a "comic parody of the Gothic genre." Oh, good, I bet it will be full of hilarious send-ups and side-splitting set-pieces! Just kidding, I'm sure it will be opaque and unfunny and upsetting.