Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A winter's Persuasion - Chapter Three

Wrong novel. Let us say, rather, that a tenant is found for Kellynch Hall. And that while we are on chapter three, we are still in the preliminary scene-setting section of the story, which does not involve the info-dump and tremblings that you may have seen in any film versions of Persuasion.

If you are in need of a version of the text to read, having left your own copies at home or whatever, you can read Chapter 3 online at Molland's.com, which begins in media res, a phrase that here means "in the morning room at Kellynch Hall", rather than in the middle of any action, as it appears that Mr. Shepherd, the solicitor/agent, and Sir Walter Elliot, the foolish father of our beloved main character, are sitting about reading newspapers, which, while a form of action, isn't exactly active.

Mr. Shepherd suggests that the house might be let to an admiral of the Navy, showing him to be either prescient or else already working to find a tenant for the house and working to soften up Sir Walter Elliot. This chapter gives us one of the first discussions of the Navy found in the book, and is noteworthy for the variety of opinions expressed. Mr. Shepherd and his daughter, Mrs. Clay, use terms like wealthy, liberal (meaning will to spend their money), neat and careful. Anne Elliot speaks of sailors as being hard-working and deserving of all the comforts and privileges any home can give. Sir Walter, of course, looks down on them for two quite separate reasons - one to do with rank, and the other to do with appearance.

. . .Sir Walter's remark was, soon afterwards-- "The profession has its utility, but I should be sorry to see any friend of mine belonging to it."

"Indeed!" was [Mr. Shepherd's] reply, and with a look of surprise.

"Yes; it is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man. I have observed it all my life. A man is in greater danger in the navy of being insulted by the rise of one whose father, his father might have disdained to speak to, and of becoming prematurely an object of disgust himself, than in any other line. One day last spring, in town, I was in company with two men, striking instances of what I am talking of; Lord St. Ives, whose father we all know to have been a country curate, without bread to eat; I was to give place to Lord St. Ives, and a certain Admiral Baldwin, the most deplorable-looking personage you can imagine; his face the colour of mahogany, rough and rugged to the last degree; all lines and wrinkles, nine grey hairs of a side, and nothing but a dab of powder at top. 'In the name of heaven, who is that old fellow?' said I to a friend of mine who was standing near, (Sir Basil Morley). 'Old fellow!' cried Sir Basil, 'it is Admiral Baldwin. What do you take his age to be?' 'Sixty,' said I, 'or perhaps sixty-two.' 'Forty,' replied Sir Basil, 'forty, and no more.' Picture to yourselves my amazement; I shall not easily forget Admiral Baldwin. I never saw quite so wretched an example of what a sea-faring life can do; but to a degree, I know it is the same with them all: they are all knocked about, and exposed to every climate, and every weather, till they are not fit to be seen. It is a pity they are not knocked on the head at once, before they reach Admiral Baldwin's age."

I have to say that I kind of love Mrs. Clay's reply to him in this scene, for she cajoles him into accepting that other positions also take a toll on a man's health, going so far as to come up with issues that might affect still more "gentlemanly" professions such as soldiering, the law and the clergy: "'The lawyer plods, quite care-worn; the physician is up at all hours, and travelling in all weather; and even the clergyman--' she stopt a moment to consider what might do for the clergyman;--'and even the clergyman, you know, is obliged to go into infected rooms, and expose his health and looks to all the injury of a poisonous atmosphere.'" HA!

Sure enough, not all that long thereafter, Mr. Shepherd comes to Sir Walter with word of a proposed tenant: Admiral Croft, a retired Navy officer, who is married, but with no children. You can see C.E. Brock's representation of him off to the left.

Mr. Shepherd was eloquent on the subject; pointing out all the circumstances of the Admiral's family, which made him peculiarly desirable as a tenant. He was a married man, and without children; the very state to be wished for. A house was never taken good care of, Mr. Shepherd observed, without a lady: he did not know, whether furniture might not be in danger of suffering as much where there was no lady, as where there were many children. A lady, without a family, was the very best preserver of furniture in the world. He had seen Mrs. Croft, too; she was at Taunton with the admiral, and had been present almost all the time they were talking the matter over.

"And a very well-spoken, genteel, shrewd lady, she seemed to be," continued he; "asked more questions about the house, and terms, and taxes, than the Admiral himself, and seemed more conversant with business; and moreover, Sir Walter, I found she was not quite unconnected in this country, any more than her husband; that is to say, she is sister to a gentleman who did live amongst us once; she told me so herself: sister to the gentleman who lived a few years back at Monkford. Bless me! what was his name? At this moment I cannot recollect his name, though I have heard it so lately. Penelope, my dear, can you help me to the name of the gentleman who lived at Monkford: Mrs. Croft's brother?"

It is Anne Elliot who supplies Mr. Shepherd with the name "Mr. Wentworth", and then works herself into quite a tizzy thinking about him:

Mr. Shepherd was completely empowered to act; and no sooner had such an end been reached, than Anne, who had been a most attentive listener to the whole, left the room, to seek the comfort of cool air for her flushed cheeks; and as she walked along a favourite grove, said, with a gentle sigh, "A few months more, and he, perhaps, may be walking here."

Oh, Jane, I see what you did there. What reader, upon suddenly finding Anne Elliot all flushed and fluttery, would be able to refrain from turning the page to learn more about the mysterious he? And that, my friends, is the magic of ending a chapter with a hook. Modern masters of this technique include Dan Brown (love him or hate him, he writes page-turners) and Suzanne Collins in her Gregor the Overlander and Hunger Games series. I am a fan of the chapter-ending hook. And I must say that this sudden interjection of an air of mystery is, like the cool air Anne seeks out in the grove, a pleasant, refreshing thing. Because now we are all certain that our Anne has a Story - a back story, and one to come as well - and we are eager to find out more about it. And we will. In the next chapter. Which we will discuss on Thursday, in keeping with the reading schedule for the month that has us covering six chapters each week (Sunday through Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday), thereby allowing a few more people to catch up with us (I hope) and giving us room for Shakespeare on Wednesday. And maybe some additional conversation about Persuasion.

You can read Chapter Two discussion here.
On to Chapter Four.

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