Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Eleven

Today brings us to Chapter Eleven, or, "Let's go to Lyme!", in which, on a November day, Anne finds herself bundled along to Lyme Regis with Charles, Mary, Louisa, Henrietta and Captain Wentworth, in order to meet Wentworth's good friends Captains Harville and Benwick (usually pronounced as if there's no W - Bennick, but not always). The backstory on Harville (whose name has been mentioned before) is that he has a war wound. Benwick had been in love with and engaged to Harville's sister, but he had delayed marrying her until he'd earned a good amount of money - and she took ill and died before that could happen.

As a side note, Austen had herself stayed with her sister at Lyme in November of 1803, when a significant portion of the town caught fire as the result of a Guy Fawkes bonfire gone wrong. Her description of the entry into Lyme comports with descriptions of other travelers in the 19th century, including that of one of her nieces and that of Constance Hill, an early biographer of Austen's who, with her sister, set out to follow Austen's footsteps through England. Since Persuasion was written quite a number of years later, it seems quite likely that Austen had either kept a journal, taken notes, or relied on letters written at that time in recreating the imagery and description of the place; if she did, however, they were either destroyed or have been lost in time.

Anne finds Captain Wentworth's friends - including Mrs. Harville - to be so wonderful that her spirits actually sink, knowing that they would have been her friends too, had she married Wentworth, and now such a thing can never be. She is taken aback to see how meager the Harville's accomodations are, but quickly gets over it in the face of their happiness and warmth. Austen takes yet another opportunity to praise the Navy - undoubtedly because of her fondness for her brothers Francis (Frank) and Charles, both of whom were naval officers:

Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house; and Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy-- their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.

After dinner, it's considered too dark for the ladies to be out and about. It being off-season in Lyme, there would not be the usual number of people about, and this was long before gas lights came to Lyme, so that without a rather bright moon, there would be little light to guide one's step when walking about the town. As a result, Captains Harville and Benwick come calling - Harville and Wentworth regaling pretty much everyone with their tales, except for the rather shy and mournful Benwick, who sits apart with Anne, discussing poetry. It turns out, in fact, that Benwick is in some respects quite similar to Marianne Dashwood, one of the heroines of Sense and Sensibility, in preferring modern poets and being rather prone to "sensibility" - a giving over of oneself to emotions, really.

Anne, who is also well-read in the "modern" poets, cannot help but feel that perhaps Benwick is a bit too caught up in sentiment and poetry:

[H]aving talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he shewed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry; and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.

His looks shewing him not pained, but pleased with this allusion to his situation, she was emboldened to go on; and feeling in herself the right of seniority of mind, she ventured to recommend a larger allowance of prose in his daily study; and on being requested to particularize, mentioned such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.

. . .

When the evening was over, Anne could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme, to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.

I feel constrained to note that Austen never mentioned a book in her works that she did not read, and that she usually only references those that she has read more than once, and loved - even if her love for a particular work amuses her, as in the case of Sir Charles Grandison, a book by Richardson, referenced in other books. One can safely assume that she read Marmion and The Lady of the Lake, both by Sir Walter Scott, as well as the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos, both of which are "Turkish" tales by George Gordon, Lord Byron, first published in 1813 that helped to lead to the perception/inception of the Byronic hero. (The Giaour is, incidentally, one of the earliest-known written works to touch on vampirism.)

Another Byron work that Austen read - another of the "Turkish tales", in fact - The Corsair - goes unmentioned here, but in a letter to her sister, Austen once wrote "I have read The Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do." Some folks read it as being dismissive of Byron's poem, but I read it as her justification for why she's writing a letter to her sister ahead of their usual schedule - it was her equivalent of picking up the phone to chat to her sister, from whom she was separated. But I digress.

Tomorrow: Calamity on the Cobb. Meantime, I am off to ponder today's Poetry Friday post, which will doubtless include something from the first-rate poets mentioned in today's selection.

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