Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Six

Today we come to Chapter Six of Persuasion, which is available online at Molland's and elsewhere, should you be so unfortunate as to not yet have a copy of your very own.

In this chapter, we learn what an easy-going nature Anne has, and how she inspires confidence, something which Austen demonstrates for us, and which informs the reader of a good deal about the natures of the people at Uppercross, as well as convincing us that Anne has the patience of a saint, listening to all of them chatter about one another. We also learn far more about Mary, and, in particular, her parenting abilities, including the information that Charles is the better parent, and that Anne gets almost as much love as and far more respect from Mary's children as Mary does.

Austen marks the time for us: three full weeks of visits and days spent listening to people and playing the pianoforte for their enjoyment (whether thanked for it or not), a point which was almost certainly based at least in part on Jane Austen's personal experience: she was a fairly accomplished player of the pianoforte, and spent an hour or so each morning practicing, despite the fact that nobody in the house was particularly fond of music. She also played dances for nieces and nephews on several occasions. Her discussion of the private pleasure of music is therefore likely based on her own experience, and it is not completely beyond the pale that the visiting nieces and nephews and any supervising adults forgot to show their appreciation to their accompanist now and again.

Then Michaelmas (pronounced rather like Mickle-muhs - sorry, no schwa key readily available) arrives, and the Crofts are at Kellynch. Mary at least has the good grace to acknowledge the day and to rest her hand on Anne's shoulder, the first and only real acknowledgment of Anne's loss of her real home that we get in this chapter. In fact, Austen starts the chapter with everyone quite excited about Sir Walter's move to Bath, quite unconscious of any discomfort on Anne's part, a recurring theme throughout the novel. In fact, I want to point out that there are only a few characters who take note of any discomfort on Anne's part: we've already met one, Lady Russell, and there are two more to come - but only one who takes serious action to ameliorate her discomfort. And there are conclusions to be drawn from that, I believe, but I'm putting the cart before the horse.

Getting back to the point about people being unconcerned or unaware of Anne's sadness at leaving Kellynch and distaste for Bath: it is that sort of omission that allows us, as readers, to fill in more about Anne's personality. As readers who are given information by our omniscient narrator, we know that Anne is sad about leaving Kellynch and dreading Bath, yet the people around her rattle on about what a great thing it all is. Given how kind-hearted the Musgroves are established as being, it must be that Anne pastes on a smile or at least a sense of indifference to cover it all over, for surely if her pain were reflected on her face, someone would notice. And since nobody does at all, she must be wearing her mask well. I think it's something we intuitively grasp as readers, but it represents a deliberate choice on Austen's part not to spell it out. There's a trust in the reader implicit in here that I think modern authors sometimes lack - they rush in to fill all the cracks with newspaper, instead of allowing the reader to do a bit of the work. And I'd argue that it's the work done by the reader to fill in the cracks for themselves that creates a sense of "ownership" of the characters and the text, and one of the reasons that so many people enjoy reading and re-reading Austen's work. But perhaps I digress.

A Visit from the Crofts

Besides the further information as to the daily life at Uppercross and the characters of those who live there, this chapter includes a Key Event: Mary and Charles visit the Crofts, and the Crofts promptly return the visit, allowing Anne to meet Admiral and Mrs. Croft for the first time. She is fortunate to spend quite a bit of time in conversation with Mrs. Croft, Frederick Wentworth's sister, during which she has this heart-stopping exchange:

"It was you, and not your sister, I find, that my brother had the pleasure of being acquainted with, when he was in this country."

Anne hoped she had outlived the age of blushing; but the age of emotion she certainly had not.

"Perhaps you may not have heard that he is married?" added Mrs. Croft.

She could now answer as she ought; and was happy to feel, when Mrs. Croft's next words explained it to be Mr. Wentworth of whom she spoke, that she had said nothing which might not do for either brother. She immediately felt how reasonable it was, that Mrs. Croft should be thinking and speaking of Edward, and not of Frederick, and, with shame at her own forgetfulness, applied herself to the knowledge of their former neighbour's present state with proper interest.

The rest was all tranquillity; till, just as they were moving, she heard the Admiral say to Mary, "We are expecting a brother of Mrs. Croft's here soon - I dare say you know him by name."

Austen leaves us with a bit of a cliffhanger on that, changing the scene to later in the day, when the folks from the big house are expected to turn up at the cottage. It is only then that we learn that it is indeed Captain Wentworth who is coming to visit, and we are treated to a bit of nonsense about poor Richard.

Do you know Dick?
The nonsense about Dick Musgrove is based on an Austen family joke invoked more than once by Jane Austen in her letters, which included comments about a close family friend named Richard who needs to get himself a better name, and a similar jesting reference within the text of Northanger Abbey. (It's actually a point I've researched quite well during the Jane project, as it turns out, but as I'm hoping to get a serious article published elsewhere, I'll say no more here.)

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