Sunday, February 19, 2017
Persuasion: Austen's darkest novel
At last Anne Elliot, in Austen's Persuasion, realizes or at least begins to realize what we have known all along, that Captain Wentworth maybe, just maybe, is still in love w/ her. They're at a musical soiree in one of the fashionable homes in Bath and he purposefully engages her in conversation about the pieces to be performed. Honestly, a more stilted or wooden dialogue between two would-be lovers has never been composed - not a touch of charm or wit - but by his point in the novel we have become accustomed to the overall dark tone: These are not two kids but two worldly adults, who were pushed apart 7 years back when Anne's family thought Wentworth to be unworthy of her, and who have been separated since by Wentworth's service in the war (of 1812, about which we hear and learn nothing in this novel). But the course of true love never doth run smooth, etc., and suddenly Mr. Elliot, Anne's cousin and the potential heir to the family baronetcy, starts flirting with her and acting interested, pushing Wentworth, the ever-retiring, to the side. We know Mr. Elliot is an opportunist - we just don't know (yet) exactly what his game may be. That will come in the next chapter, when Anne pays a visit to her now impoverished and invalid school friend, who asks Anne to approach Mr. Elliot about a favor, learns that Anne has no interest in Mr. Elliot (to her surprise), and then unloads in an extremely long account of her Mr. Elliot had ruined her and her late husband. This telling goes along with the overall darkness of Persuasion but, sorry Janeites, it's also just plain bad storytelling: Show don't tell. But, yes, Persuasion remains the darkest of Austen's novels, perhaps colored by the shade of her own imminent death?, as the heroine doesn't misread the love interest in a casual and near-comical manner, soon to be resolved to the happiness of all (thinking here of Emma and Eliz. Bennett as examples) but she endangers her own fate in what feels in all likelihood to be her last chance at a loving marriage; her friends betray her again and again; and her family rather than serving as comic foils are truly crude, ill-mannered snobs who pollute the atmosphere around them.