Rachel Cohen | Jane Austen

#APStogether March 25, 2021

In Persuasion, mourning and renewal are not separate. Jane Austen (1775–1817) finished this novel during her own last illness and it has a quality of reflection all its own. Anne Elliot, living quietly in the country, has lost people she loves, and a chance at love, but as she moves once again into a broader world—a world of friendship, imagination, and of the wide seas toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars—life begins for her for a second time. This April, when we all will be living with losses, and, we hope, imagining entering the world again, come read the Austen novel in which, Virginia Woolf said, “we also feel that [Austen] is trying to do something that she has never yet attempted.” In her creation, Anne Elliot, a careful reader and rereader, Austen offers a friend and companion to her own readers, the ones she imagined, us.

Rachel Cohen is the author of three books about writers and artists, most recently Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels (FSG). She is professor of practice in the arts in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Chicago.

André Wenzel, research librarian at the University of Chicago Libraries, has put together a resource for the APS Together book club on Jane Austen that includes links to databases, articles, and other information related to Persuasion. You can find it here.

Jane Austen (December 1775 – July 1817) was a great English novelist of the nineteenth century. She is known primarily for her six major novels, including Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry.

Reading Schedule:

Day 1 (April 19) | Ch. 1-3

Day 2 (April 20) | Ch. 4-5

Day 3 (April 21) | Ch. 6-7

Day 4 (April 22) | Ch. 8-9

Day 5 (April 23) | Ch. 10-11

Day 6 (April 24) | Ch. 12

Day 7 (April 25) | Volume II, Ch. 1-3

Day 8 (April 26) | Volume II, Ch. 4-5

Day 9 (April 27) | Volume II, Ch. 6-7

Day 10 (April 28) | Volume II, Ch. 8 and part of Ch. 9 up to “in whatever pleasure the concert of last night might afford:--not Mr. Elliot; it is not Mr. Elliot that—”

Day 11 (April 29) | Volume II, Ch. 9 beginning with “Do tell me how it first came into your head.”

Day 12 (April 30) | Volume II, Ch. 10.

Day 13 (May 1) | Volume II, Ch. 11

Day 14 (May 2) | Volume II, final chapter Ch. 12 and Appendix of Draft Version of Final Chapters of Persuasion (which can be provided for those reading an edition where it is not included.)

May 6 | A virtual discussion of Persuasion with Rachel Cohen. Register—and submit questions here.

Day 1 | April 19
Ch. 1-3

“…if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed…”
From the first sentence, Persuasion is about reading, about histories, and their power, about whose history is on the page, and beyond the page.

“…her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way,—she was only Anne.”
Only, alone, lonely, Anne. Weightless words in grief; the one who heard you is gone. Root of only alone lonely *oi-no, also the root of unity, union, universal.

“He is rear admiral of the white. He was in the Trafalgar action and has been in the East Indies since...”
Anne, out loud. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars, Jane Austen wrote weekly letters with her two brothers who were Navy sailors, and abolitionists.

Day 2 | April 20
Ch. 4-5

“Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Anne; but Lady Russell saw it very differently.”
Perspectives on Captain Wentworth; Austen is so interested in perspective.

"We feel it to be true of [Austen] herself when she says of Anne, ‘—She had been forced into prudence in youth, she learned romance as she grew older, the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.’” —Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

“The Musgroves, like their houses, were in a state of alteration, perhaps of improvement.”
Austen writes of the continuity and change of domesticity, and care of the home. Relevant to our work here at JAH, and beautiful. —Lizzie Dunford, Director, Jane Austen’s House

Day 3 | April 21
Ch. 6-7

“…till for a moment electrified by Mrs. Croft’s suddenly saying—'it was you and not your sister, I find, that my brother had the pleasure of being acquainted with’...”
This early use of “electrified” startles, joining us to Anne’s own shock. —Natalie Jenner, novelist

“Anne had every thing to do at once—the apothecary to send for—the father to have pursued and informed—the mother to keep and support from hysterics—the servants to control—the youngest child to banish, and the poor suffering one to attend and soothe…”
Dash: punctuation of Anne’s inner life and her domestic one.

“‘So altered that he should not have known her again!’ These were words that could not but dwell with her.’”
Relationships between appearances and knowing, between words and dwelling, years of war and waiting.

Day 4 | April 22
Ch. 8-9

“I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies, and back again... I never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.”
Mrs. Croft: news of the world for a parched drawing room.

In 1808, Jane Austen’s sailor brother Frank took the soundings (depth measurements) for this map of St. Helena. The Austens, family of cartographers, knew well the place where Napoleon was finally exiled in 1815. Wars’ end, unknown future for Persuasion.

Map of St. Helena, “The N.W. Bank of Soundings by Captain F. W. Austin R.N. in 1808.” Published by the Hydrographic Office, 1816. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin

“She could only hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings. [Captain Wentworth’s] kindness in stepping forward to her relief—the manner—the silence in which it had passed—the little particulars of the circumstance–with the conviction soon forced on her by the noise he was studiously making with the child, that he meant to avoid hearing her thanks, and rather sought to testify that her conversation was the last of his wants, produced such a confusion of varying, but very painful agitation, as she could not recover from, till enabled by the entrance of Mary and the Miss Musgroves to make over her little patient to their cares, and leave the room.”
Disordered, silence, little particulars, noise, avoid hearing, her conversation, confusion, varying, painful, little patient, cares, leave the room.

Day 5 | April 23
Ch. 10-11

“Do you mean that she refused him?” In the hedgerow, Captain Wentworth asks Louisa, not knowing that Anne listens.
“…and still more its sweet retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation…”
Henry Austen says his sister was “a warm & judicious admirer of landscape both in nature and on canvass.” This is a detail of a painting that belonged to the Austens’ father & that Jane Austen would likely have known; its present owner is Natalie Jenner.

CIRCLE OF RICHARD WILSON 1713-1782 OIL ON WOOD PANEL River landscape with ruins and figures 19.5cm high, 24cm wide - in decorative gilt moulded frames. Old catalogue label on the reverse; Provenance, Originally in the possession of Jane Austen's father. Present owner Natalie Jenner.

“…he repeated, with such tremulous feelings, 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 didn’t 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.”
The sentence perfectly expresses the question at the heart of Anne’s character, her dilemma in the novel, and the emotional state of so many of Austen’s best characters. The question: How does one confront and privilege the unvarnished truth of one's feelings while still protecting oneself from the possibly destructive power of that truth?

Day 6 | April 24
Ch. 12

“Captain Wentworth gave her a momentary glance,—a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, ‘That man is struck with you,—and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.’”
Choreography of glance.

“as they drew near the Cobb, there was such a general wish to walk along it… and Louisa soon grew so determined, that the difference of a quarter of an hour, it was found, would be no difference at all.”
The sea, wish, determination, time, contingency.

“Whether it might not strike him, that, like all other qualities of mind, [firmness of character] should have its proportions and limits… a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favor of happiness as a very resolute character.”

Day 7 | April 25
Volume II, Ch.1-3

“His head is full of some books he is reading upon your recommendation, and he wants to talk to you about them.”
Ours is not the first Persuasion book club. Anne’s recommendations change Captain Benwick’s life, and this has an effect on her own fate.

“[Lady Russell’s] heart revelled in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt, that the man who at twenty-three had seemed to understand somewhat of the value of an Anne Elliot, should eight years afterwards, be charmed by a Louisa Musgrove.”
Lady Russell is right to be angry about the brilliant, dangerous, and headstrong Captain Wentworth. But his warmth, his “dangerous impetuosity” is what Anne loves. —Jocelyn Harris, Austen scholar

“Such a number of looking-glasses! oh Lord! there was no getting away from oneself.”
What would Austen have said about pandemic life on Zoom? Microscope on domestic life, anxiety about illness, sudden vulnerability of bodies, inescapable self.

Day 8 | April 26
Volume II, Ch.4-5

“Anne could never see the crape round his hat, without fearing that she was the inexcusable one.”
Ways to mourn numerous as mourners: Mr. Elliot, Sir Walter, Lady Russell, Mrs. Smith, Lady Dalrymple, the Musgroves, Captain Benwick, and Anne herself.

"I certainly am proud, too proud to enjoy a welcome which depends so entirely upon place." Wow, is this really Anne Elliot speaking so firmly? Anne’s declaration of self-worth is utterly different from “the Elliot pride" & Wentworth's wounded pride. —Juliette Wells, scholar

On friendship: Mrs. Smith had been good to Anne twelve years earlier, when Anne was “grieving for the loss of a mother whom she had dearly loved.” Now Mrs. Smith, a widow, and ill herself, has “elasticity of mind,” “good sense,” and “great openness.”

Day 9 | April 27
Volume II, Ch. 6-7

“This was Sir Walter and Elizabeth’s share of interest in the letter; when Mrs. Clay had paid her tribute of more decent attention, in an enquiry after Mrs. Charles Musgrove and her fine little boys, Anne was at liberty.”
This sentence produces delay for us too: so many others must claim a “share” in the letter and have their say before we arrive at “liberty” for Anne. —Deidre Shauna Lynch, scholar

“‘ Though I came only yesterday, I have equipped myself properly for Bath already, you see,’ (pointing to a new umbrella).”
Captain Wentworth’s only dialogue in this scene, witty and immediate. Austen borrowed so much from theater, stage directions.

“the moment approached…though not daring to look again (for her own countenance she knew was unfit to be seen), she was yet perfectly conscious of Lady Russell’s eyes being turned exactly in the direction for him” Lady R’s carriage window like a camera.

Science Museums Group, Pen and ink, watercolour, gilt and carriage oils on board (yellow, black), [design for a] Road Perch, L Spring Landau carriage / G Clarke, [Barker & Co., London], [ca 1810]

Day 10 | April 28
Volume II, Ch. 8 and part of Ch. 9 up to “in whatever pleasure the concert of last night might afford:--not Mr. Elliot; it is not Mr. Elliot that—”

“in spite of all the various noises of the room, the almost ceaseless slam of the door, and ceaseless buzz of persons walking through, [Anne] had distinguished every word..” Like a writer, fighting her way through sound to distinguish every word.

“when pain is over, the remembrance of it oft. becomes a pleasure. One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it… I have travelled so little, that every fresh place…” Watercolor, JA by Cassandra Austen c1804, possibly looking out to sea.

“I assure you Mr. Elliot had not the share which you have been supposing, in whatever pleasure the concert of last night might afford: —Not Mr. Elliot, it is not Mr. Elliot that" Concert, Italian songs, a mother’s hand, now with a friend, almost telling.

Italian song written out in the hand of Elizabeth Austen, mother of Jane Austen, c. 1790-99, presently collection of Richard Jenkyns, (Jenkyns 02), digitized by University of Southampton.

Day 11 | April 29
Volume II, Ch. 9 beginning with “Do tell me how it first came into your head.”

“‘I wish I had any name but Elliot. I am sick of it.’”
I venture to think Anne is, too. Reading letters with Anne, now we are not reading the Baronetage, but toward the future…

“‘The whole history!’ repeated Anne, laughing. ‘She could not make a very long history, I think....’”
Echo of beginning “little history of sorrowful interest,” but not sorrowful. At her friend’s, Anne laughs for the first time in her entire book.

“I considered your marrying him as certain, though he might not yet have made the offer, and I could no more speak the truth of him, than if he had been your husband.”
IDK, but true that no better way to lose a friend than to criticize her intended.

Day 12 | April 30
Volume II, Ch. 10

“He gave a very plain, intelligible account of the whole; a narration in which she saw a great deal of most characteristic proceeding.”
Most characteristic. Anne like her author gifted in the lineaments of character.

“… and hastened forward to the White Hart, to see again the friends and companions of the last autumn, with an eagerness of good-will which many associations contributed to form…A large party in a hotel ensured a quick-changing, unsettled scene.”

“‘I am not yet so much changed,’ cried Anne, and stopped fearing she hardly knew what misconstruction. After waiting a few moments he said—and as if it were the result of immediate feeling—‘It is a period indeed! Eight years and a half is a period!’”

Day 13 | May 1
Volume II, Ch. 11

“Yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

“All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."
Mourning is part of how Anne conceives of herself and declares herself to the world.

“The scene at White Hart is the last masterpiece, & I love it as I love the last Schubert symphonies: the air is fresh, the understanding mature, difficult harmonies let to transform w/ honor, among true voices the depths may be revealed.” —Rachel Cohen, Austen Years

Day 14 | May 2
Volume II, final chapter Ch. 12 and Appendix of Draft Version of Final Chapters of Persuasion (which can be provided for those reading an edition where it is not included.)

“She had but two friends in the world to add to his list, Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith.” Persuasion is also a book about friendship, learning to read character, and have character, together. Hooray!

“… the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine. She gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm…” Are the wars over, the wars are never over—in 1814, as now, hesitancy, possibility, open books & closed ones.

“—It was a silent, but a very powerful Dialogue;—on his side, Supplication, on her’s acceptance.”
What if this rare draft of Austen’s really was the last scene, with Anne’s silence instead of her speech and his letter that he has listened well?

Link to the draft chapters of Persuasion

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