Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rereading Persuasion and The Bed-Reading System

There are Persuasion people.

Their favorite novel is Jane Austen's Persuasion, the story of Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old heroine who regrets having broken off her engagement at 19.  Then she meets her former fiance again by chance.

I am very fond of it, though on this reading I found it almost too abbreviated. 

Rereading Persuasion  on a recent trip was challenging.  Like Anne Elliot, I was organized:  I took two copies, a small reading copy for my purse and and The Annotated Persuasion, edited by David M. Shapard, for reading in my room.

But I stayed in an uncomfortable room in an almost empty house.  How I wished for furniture and lamps!  I had the choice of reading in bed or cross-legged on the floor in the living room. 

Sitting scrunched against the wall under the only lamp in the house, I could not get comfortable.  Then I tried the bed.  The mattress, bought in about 1960, is so lumpy and soft that it almost doubles up and the springs hit your lower back.  OW.  

Back to the living room floor?  Really uncomfortable.

I finally created a bed-reading system.

1.  Drag lamp from living room to bedroom.

2.  Remove the boxes and stuff off the top of the bookcase so I can move the bookcase very slightly and plug in the lamp.

3.  Roll two blankets behind pillows for back support. 

4.  Put pillow under legs.

When I eventually perfected my bed-reading system, Persuasion was a pleasure, though it is sketchier and more minimalist than, say, Emma and Pride and Prejudice.  It is also the shortest of Jane's novels. Austen was writing it in 1816 when she became ill, and, though she finished it before she died, perhaps she did not have time to revise it. 

Anne Elliot is one of my favorite heroines.  She is quiet and sensible, a little like Fanny Price of Mansfield Park.  She is good-natured, has a sense of humor, and is the most dependable character in the book, with the exception of her former fiance, Captain Wentworth, and his friends.  Anne is the one you want at your sickbed, or to organize a challenging social situation. On the other hand, the UPPER upper class--Anne's family, her father, Sir Walter Elliot, her sister, Elizabeth, younger sister, Mary, and Lady Russell, her late mother's best friends--are proud, sometimes silly, and often show bad judgment. Lady Russell had opposed Anne's engagement because Captain Wentworth, at that time, had not advanced to the gentlemanly rank of captain.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth go to Bath to save money (they are in debt), and Anne stays behind for a few months with Mary and Lady Russell.  Captain Wentworth's sister and husband have rented Kellynch-Hall, the Elliot's house.

Keep your eye on Elizabeth's cunning companion, Mrs. Clay, and Anne's warm-hearted but arch friend, Mrs. Smith.  Remember Harriet Smith in Emma? Could Harriet have grown up to be an amalgam of the two?

When Anne meets Captain Wentworth again, it is not an instant romance, but romance develops (I will not tell you between whom, or how it all turns out). 

But, as you can imagine, the ending is happy.  

I'm home after the short trip, and thank God we have plenty of "reading systems," lamps and furniture, here.


Ellen said...

The idolatry of Austen and the strong quality of the romance and landscapes in this book make people overlook its manifest problems. I used to say it was my favorite and maybe it was, but nowadays I can't overlook its flaws or problems. The Musgrove pere and mere are too good; Admiral and Mrs Croft were (I think from the cancelled chapters) to have been revealed as knowing about Anne's engagement and thus more ambiguous figures. Lady Russell is unfinished; she is at moments a savagely angry figure. There are awkward jumps.

My calendar suggests there was to e yet another of these humiliating Tuesdays -- the night Charles bought the tickets for. My guess is Wentworth would have been snubbed cruelly by Lady Russell, enough to nearly break up the relationship again. Mr Elliot had more secrets: Mrs Clay and her boots and the trip to the post office had something to reveawl. But Anne would have come nearer to people thinking she would take him.

So much as so much is rich (as in NA in its present revised form), the novel doesn't quite stand up.

I've no reading system. Jim won't hear of my reading in bed with a light while he's there and he goes to bed early. So I sit in front in my rocker or on the screened porch in a comfortable chair.


Frisbee said...

Yes, I noticed the difference in Persuasion because I had just read P&P and Emma.

Fascinating to think how she could have expanded the story.