Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Seven

Et voilà: Captain Frederick Wentworth has arrived at Kellynch Hall. Let the fretting and celebrations begin. (Fretting for Anne, celebrations for pretty much the rest of the local world.)

Anne turns out to be a serious basketcase in this chapter. She's in a state of near-constant anxiety that she'll run into Captain Wentworth any day, and is almost relieved that her nephew sustained an injury, preventing her bumping into the Captain at Uppercross. And Anne being a good-hearted, sensitive aunt, you know she's got to be a mess if she's even more upset about her near-miss with Wentworth than she is about her nephew's injury.

That said, we learn quite a bit about Anne and her capabilities at this point. Anne sends for the apothecary (not doctors, but somewhat similar to GPs anyhow in the medical practice at the time). She manages the servants, calms her sister, sends for her brother-in-law, and cares for her poor nephew, as well as informing the family at the main house and essentially tending to them as well. It's during the day that Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove impart the information that Captain Wentworth has called at Uppercross, and is everything one could want, wrapped in a bundle of yum. Or Regency words to that effect.

The exchange that follows, as to whether Charles and Mary will be able to go to dinner at Uppercross the following evening, when Captain Wentworth is expected, demonstrates Austen's mastery of humor beautifully, and also provides an example as to why so many modern critics are willing to put Austen in the proto-feminist camp. Today, something unusual: a large block of the chapter for your enjoyment, because if you read nothing else today that makes you smile, this ought to:

Charles Musgrove, indeed, afterwards shewed more of inclination; "the child was going on so well -- and he wished so much to be introduced to Captain Wentworth, that, perhaps, he might join them in the evening; he would not dine from home, but he might walk in for half an hour." But in this he was eagerly opposed by his wife, with "Oh, no! indeed, Charles, I cannot bear to have you go away. Only think, if anything should happen!"

The child had a good night, and was going on well the next day. It must be a work of time to ascertain that no injury had been done to the spine, but Mr. Robinson found nothing to increase alarm, and Charles Musgrove began, consequently, to feel no necessity for longer confinement. The child was to be kept in bed, and amused as quietly as possible; but what was there for a father to do? This was quite a female case, and it would be highly absurd in him, who could be of no use at home, to shut himself up. His father very much wished him to meet Captain Wentworth, and there being no sufficient reason against it, he ought to go; and it ended in his making a bold public declaration, when he came in from shooting, of his meaning to dress directly, and dine at the other house.

"Nothing can be going on better than the child," said he, "so I told my father just now that I would come, and he thought me quite right. Your sister being with you, my love, I have no scruple at all. You would not like to leave him yourself, but you see I can be of no use. Anne will send for me if anything is the matter."

Husbands and wives generally understand when opposition will be vain. Mary knew, from Charles's manner of speaking, that he was quite determined on going, and that it would be of no use to teaze him. She said nothing, therefore, till he was out of the room, but as soon as there was only Anne to hear.

"So! You and I are to be left to shift by ourselves, with this poor sick child -- and not a creature coming near us all the evening! I knew how it would be. This is always my luck! If there is anything disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it, and Charles is as bad as any of them. Very unfeeling! I must say it is very unfeeling of him, to be running away from his poor little boy; talks of his being going on so well! How does he know that he is going on well, or that there may not be a sudden change half an hour hence? I did not think Charles would have been so unfeeling. So, here he is to go away and enjoy himself, and because I am the poor mother, I am not to be allowed to stir; -- and yet, I am sure, I am more unfit than any body else to be about the child. My being the mother is the very reason why my feelings should not be tried. I am not at all equal to it. You saw how hysterical I was yesterday."

"But that was only the effect of the suddenness of your alarm -- of the shock. You will not be hysterical again. I dare say we shall have nothing to distress us. I perfectly understand Mr. Robinson's directions, and have no fears; and indeed, Mary, I cannot wonder at your husband. Nursing does not belong to a man, it is not his province. A sick child is always the mother's property, her own feelings generally make it so."

"I hope I am as fond of my child as any mother -- but I do not know that I am of any more use in the sick-room than Charles, for I cannot be always scolding and teazing a poor child when it is ill; and you saw, this morning, that if I told him to keep quiet, he was sure to begin kicking about. I have not nerves for the sort of thing."

"But, could you be comfortable yourself, to be spending the whole evening away from the poor boy?"

"Yes; you see his papa can, and why should not I? -- Jemima is so careful! and she could send us word every hour how he was. I really think Charles might as well have told his father we would all come. I am not more alarmed about little Charles now than he is. I was dreadfully alarmed yesterday, but the case is very different to-day."

"Well -- if you do not think it too late to give notice for yourself, suppose you were to go, as well as your husband. Leave little Charles to my care. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove cannot think it wrong, while I remain with him."

"Are you serious?" cried Mary, her eyes brightening. "Dear me! that's a very good thought, very good, indeed. To be sure, I may just as well go as not, for I am of no use at home -- am I? and it only harasses me. You, who have not a mother's feelings, are a great deal the properest person. You can make little Charles do anything; he always minds you at a word. It will be a great deal better than leaving him with only Jemima. Oh! I shall certainly go; I am sure I ought if I can, quite as much as Charles, for they want me excessively to be acquainted with Captain Wentworth, and I know you do not mind being left alone. An excellent thought of yours, indeed, Anne! I will go and tell Charles, and get ready directly. You can send for us, you know, at a moment's notice, if anything is the matter; but I dare say there will be nothing to alarm you. I should not go, you may be sure, if I did not feel quite at ease about my dear child."

The next moment she was tapping at her husband's dressing-room door, and as Anne followed her up stairs, she was in time for the whole conversation, which began with Mary's saying, in a tone of great exultation,

"I mean to go with you, Charles, for I am of no more use at home than you are. If I were to shut myself up for ever with the child, I should not be able to persuade him to do anything he did not like. Anne will stay; Anne undertakes to stay at home and take care of him. It is Anne's own proposal, and so I shall go with you, which will be a great deal better, for I have not dined at the other house since Tuesday."

"This is very kind of Anne," was her husband's answer, "and I should be very glad to have you go; but it seems rather hard that she should be left at home by herself, to nurse our sick child."

Notice how Mary calls her son "the child" and "it" throughout the passage, and how she's positive that her sister Anne is the best person to care for the child. How very much do I love this quote? "If there is anything disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it[.]" Oh, so very much.

We get further third-part description of how very charming Captain Wentworth is in the form of reports from Mary and Charles, as well as Anne's first meeting with the Captain, who stops by the cottage. They don't speak a word to one another, and the Misses Musgrove later report that the Captain says Anne was so altered he would not have recognized her. OUCH! Probably true, and it's made clear he didn't expect it to be repeated back to Anne, but if that doesn't make you ache for Anne, then little will. Especially when she acknowledges the truth of that opinion, all the while noticing that the years have only made Wentworth hotter. Poor defeated Anne.

This chapter gives us insight into the workings of Frederick Wentworth's thoughts, something a bit unusual for Austen, who so seldom dipped into the minds of her male characters, so I will again provide the full extract (making this an over-long post, I'm afraid):

Frederick Wentworth had used such words, or something like them, but without an idea that they would be carried round to her. He had thought her wretchedly altered, and, in the first moment of appeal, had spoken as he felt. He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill; deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.

He had been most warmly attached to her, and had never seen a woman since whom he thought her equal; but, except from some natural sensation of curiosity, he had no desire of meeting her again. Her power with him was gone for ever.

It was now his object to marry. He was rich, and being turned on shore, fully intended to settle as soon as he could be properly tempted; actually looking round, ready to fall in love with all the speed which a clear head and a quick taste could allow. He had a heart for either of the Miss Musgroves, if they could catch it; a heart, in short, for any pleasing young woman who came in his way, excepting Anne Elliot. This was his only secret exception, when he said to his sister, in answer to her suppositions,

"Yes, here I am, Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match. Any body between fifteen and thirty may have me for asking. A little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy, and I am a lost man. Should not this be enough for a sailor, who has had no society among women to make him nice*?"

He said it, she knew, to be contradicted. His bright proud eye spoke the conviction that he was nice*; and Anne Elliot was not out of his thoughts, when he more seriously described the woman he should wish to meet with. "A strong mind, with sweetness of manner," made the first and the last of the description.

"That is the woman I want," said he. "Something a little inferior I shall of course put up with, but it must not be much. If I am a fool, I shall be a fool indeed, for I have thought on the subject more than most men."

*nice: The word here retained its original meaning of "neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement" (quoting from Henry Tilney's rant about the word in Chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey). Captain Wentworth is indeed a refined man with excellent taste, and he has claimed otherwise to tease his sister.

I think Austen's examination of Wentworth's thoughts probably shows us that a further growth and shift in her craft - she was moving into new territory with this, really - but it also allows us to deduce that Anne Elliot remains first and foremost in Wentworth's thoughts. We as readers see what he cannot yet see for himself - that he is still in love with Anne, whatever he may tell himself or others. And this allows us as readers to attach to him, I think, and to root for their ultimate reunion. Most ardently.

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