Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Winter's Persuasion - Chapter Ten

We are back to Persuasion, where we are come to chapter 10, in which the characters take a long walk together, and Captain Wentworth again proves that he is quite solicitous on Anne's behalf, whether he will admit it or no. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We begin the chapter with Anne's observations of Captain Wentworth's relationship with the Musgrove girls. She has shrewdly (and, it will turn out in rapid order, correctly) determined that both of the Musgrove girls have had their heads turned by Wentworth, but neither is actually in love with him (yet); Captain Wentworth appears to favor Louisa over Henrietta, but is not, in fact, in love with her either.

Anne's observations, coming as they do in a single paragraph at the start of the chapter, are easily overlooked, which is why I'm encouraging all of us to slow down and have a closer look at them. The movie versions, of course, have to skip this sort of observation, and as a result, Anne sometimes seems as if she is just a bit of dandelion fluff being blown about by the wind Those of you who are familiar with the novel will be immediately struck by Anne's accuracy; those of you who are reading this for the first time will come to be impressed by her insightfulness.

Not only does Anne carefully observe how things are between the four people she's observing - Captain Wentworth, Charles Hayter, Louisa & Henrietta Musgrove - but she is wishing she could tell them all how it ought to be: Wentworth shouldn't be so quick to accept the attentions/affections of two young women, and, in any case, Henrietta ought to just choose Charles Hayter and be done with it. And, as we see in this chapter, Henrietta essentially does just that - in part at Louisa's urging, and in part based on her own longstanding affection for Charles Hayter.

Our set-up is as follows:

Louisa and Henrietta are setting off on quite a long walk (to see the Hayters, since Charles has been intentionally absent for several days), and Mary invites herself along, despite the sisters not really wanting her to come. Anne correctly deduces that they'd prefer for Mary not to go, but cannot dissuade her; she therefore agrees to join the Musgroves on their walk, in hopes of convincing Mary to turn back.

Four women set off together, and encounter two men - Charles Musgrove and Captain Wentworth - just back from a botched hunting trip. The men decide to join the walk, leaving Anne wishing she'd stayed home; but as turning back might seem peculiar, she walks on.

Anne's experience during the walk toward Winthrop

Anne's object was, not to be in the way of anybody; and where the narrow paths across the fields made many separations necessary, to keep with her brother and sister. Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. She occupied her mind as much as possible in such like musings and quotations; but it was not possible, that when within reach of Captain Wentworth's conversation with either of the Miss Musgroves, she should not try to hear it; yet she caught little very remarkable.

Poor Anne, trying to stay distant from Captain Wentworth, yet curious to know what he and the Musgrove girls were talking about. Note, though, Austen's description of how Anne occupies herself, which is worth discussing on two points, and is noteworthy on both points as evidence of Austen's fitting squarely within the "Romantic" tradition at this point: First, Austen describes the scenery, something she did very little in her first published novel (Sense and Sensibility), but which increased as she moved into her more mature works, and she did so using evocative terms: "the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges". Second, Austen has Anne Elliot repeating poetical descriptions of autumn, using poetical description herself to discuss both the season and the poetry about it.

Anne's overhearing of Captain Wentworth and Louisa's conversation

The exchange between Wentworth and Louisa regarding the Admiral and Mrs. Croft's outing is endearing. It perfectly captures Mrs. Croft's apparent sentiment toward her husband, but also shows Louisa's own romantic nature (using the term here in its more modern sense): "If I loved a man, as she loves the Admiral, I would always be with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him, than driven safely by anybody else."

Anne's overhearing of Louisa's statement, and of Captain Wentworth's rather impressed response, sends Anne into a funk. Austen doesn't spell that out plainly, but it's an easy inference: "Anne could not immediately fall into a quotation again. The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory."

Upon spying their destination (Winthrop, home of Charles Hayter), Mary declares herself exhausted and takes a seat. Charles heads off to pay a visit to his aunt, and Louisa convinces Henrietta to join him. Anne keeps a snooty Mary company (Mary having declared that the Hayters are beneath her, to remind us yet again what a snobbish family most of the Elliots are) while Louisa and Captain Wentworth head off to glean nuts in the hedgerow, leading to one of the most excruciatingly painful bits of eavesdropping in written history (in my opinion - your mileage may vary), as Anne overhears Wentworth criticizing Henrietta for allowing herself to be swayed by outside opinion and circumstance, rather than holding steady to her own opinion, and praising Louisa for her decisiveness. Wentworth then learns the surprising news that Charles Musgrove proposed to Anne before he married her younger sister, and that Anne refused him. Louisa tells Wentworth that her parents thought Lady Russell was to blame for Anne's decision, although readers know the truth (from Chapter Four): that Lady Russell regretted that Anne had turned Charles down. Wentworth, however, knows Anne's nature - and knows that Charles Musgrove possessed the security and position that Lady Russell would have valued. Does he accept Louisa's profferred explanation at face value, or does he suspect that Anne turned him down because she didn't care for him? We certainly don't find out in this chapter, although we know from Anne's perception that his keen interest in news about her indicates that he's not at all indifferent to the news.

The walk home, in which Captain Wentworth shows solicitude towards Anne

On the way home, Anne is tired. No wonder - she's been taking care of Mary's sick child and after walking so far and overhearing so much - and having to witness Captain Wentworth spending so much time with Louisa Musgrove - it's no wonder that she's fagged. She's so tired that she really needs Charles Musgrove's arm for support on the way home.

About a mile from Uppercross, they come upon the Crofts, out driving in their gig, who offer a ride to any lady who needs one. Everyone politely declines, and they are about to drive on when Captain Wentworth rushes to the carriage to speak to his sister, whereupon she urges Anne to join them in the carriage - and Captain Wentworth essentially lifts her up into the carriage - this is not merely extending a hand for her to steady herself: a gig was a rather high-set sort of carriage, and therefore required one to climb up into it, which would have required him to put his hand to her ribs, basically, to hoist her up, there being no step available. You and I might not know what to make of it, but Anne does:

Captain Wentworth, without saying a word, turned to her, and quietly obliged her to be assisted into the carriage.

Yes; he had done it. She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it, that she owed it to his perception of her fatigue, and his resolution to give her rest. She was very much affected by the view of his disposition towards her, which all these things made apparent. This little circumstance seemed the completion of all that had gone before. She understood him. He could not forgive her, but he could not be unfeeling. Though condemning her for the past, and considering it with high and unjust resentment, though perfectly careless of her, and though becoming attached to another, still he could not see her suffer, without the desire of giving her relief. It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed.

Again, returning readers will know whether Anne has gotten this just right. What follows gives us further insight into the Crofts' relationship, including how they view the Musgrove girls and Frederick's inclination toward them, as well as how they get along so well together - which includes a good dose of Mrs. Croft's practical intervention and good sense. Boy, do I love the Crofts, and Mrs. Croft in particular.

Tomorrow we move on to Chapter 11 (and I'll also be putting up a Persuasion-related poetry post), and on Saturday we reach the half-way mark in the novel, which includes a fictional tragedy that to this day promotes actual tourism to Lyme Regis.

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