Austen Adventures is officially coming to a close. Here we have mine and Mathuri’s thoughts regarding Jane Austen’s final completed novel, Persuasion. Persuasion is about an unmarried woman, Anne Elliot, who many at that time considered a spinster at age 27. the story tells us that she was once engaged to Captain Frederick Wentworth years ago, but broke it off with him because her family disapproved of the match. Persuasion captures the struggles of the Wentworth family and the idea of a regretful decision.
When younger, was Anne right to have followed Lady Russell’s advice? Did it show passivity on Anne’s part or good judgment to have allowed herself to be guided by her elders?
Jessica: I do not think there is a right answer to this question, because either way I think that I am leaving something to the wayside. I think maybe she may have been right in some aspects to have followed Lady Russell’s advice, but I do not think it is for the reasons anyone gives. I do not see her as “better” than Wentworth, nor do I think he is undeserving. He seems, to me, to be a kind man throughout the novel, though he is flawed as all humans are. I think maybe she did not realize how much she loved him until she walked away. I have never been in love, so this may seem like a trivial example, but it is what I have. This situation reminds me of when I am in a store, debating over a purchase. Sometimes I do not realize that I really want something until I walk away, and if I find myself constantly thinking about it after I leave, I generally take that as proof that I should return.
Guidance from elders can often be a great asset. I know that I was advised to add a second major to my degree from a relative, and to take business classes when I could. Sometimes the advice may turn out to be good, such as in my case, or not so good. But the thing is, it could be good or bad and you only find out by making a choice. And really, at the heart of this situation (and any), Anne could have ignored the advice. I don’t know that it was passivity rather than malleability. I think that is the right word? In any case, Anne is easily persuaded I think, but I don’t know that she is necessarily passive.
Mathuri: I agree with Jessica, there is definitely no right answer. I think as Anne is young woman in that time period, though fictional, it’s a lot harder to judge a character’s decisions because it made sense to be more reasonable at the time. The system that Anne was subjected to made it seem as Wentworth was “lower” than Anne because he might have had less money (or came from a different family etc.), but in reality it shouldn’t be about that. I think part of me wishes she could have said yes, she would have had “a happy ending” much faster. The other part of me completely understands and empathizes with her. It’s not easy to go against your family and elders’ wishes. I agree with Jessica, I don’t think Anne was passive either. I think she made a decision that might not have been the greatest, but one that she made (as opposed to someone else making it for her).
What do you think led Anne to acquiesce to her family’s wishes? Should families have a say in whom their children marry?
Jessica: Honestly? I think that it was simply that they are her family and she cares about them. I mean, there was obviously some pull in the other direction and she wanted to be with him before saying no, but still. I think that if you have a good relationship with your family, there will always be the desire to make them happy. Granted, her family should have wanted her to be happy in the beginning (like any family should), but that isn’t the point in this case.
As for if families should have a say…that is a difficult one to answer. I think a lot of it depends on your culture, so I can only really speak to my experience and thoughts on the subject. This is not universal by any means. I do not want, nor do I believe it would be right for my parents to arrange a marriage for me as I want to marry for love. However, I would not be against getting their approval when I am dating someone that I think I might eventually want to marry. Actually, I would want their approval. It would tear me apart if my husband and parents did not get along because I know I love my parents and obviously I would love my husband as well.
Mathuri: I think I touched upon this in the last question, but I agree with Jessica. Family is important to Anne and while I don’t think Anne “acquiesced” to her family’s wishes, I do understand why she put a lot of value into their opinion and thought into the decision. If you have a good relationship with your family, like Jessica says, I completely understand why Anne did what she did (regardless of whether I agree with it).
I don’t think family should have a say in who you marry. I think that unless there’s a genuinely good reason (and when I say good reason I mean the guy could be a murderer, versus some sort of prejudiced reason), I think it’s important for the family to support the person’s decision. Especially with close families, it places the person getting married in a hard situation. As it seems like I’m being ambiguous, an example would be a modern version of Anne’s story. If Anne ends up loving a man without much money or without good “career”, it’s understandable that the parents will be worried of whether their daughter would be taken care of. If modern Anne and this man are in love and confident they can survive, the parents should do their best to support them. If they’re right, Anne will continue to have a good relationship with her family and would be able to go to them if things don’t work out.
Captain Harville claims men do not quickly forget about the women they love while Anne claims the same for women. Do you believe men and women differ in their capacities to love and in remaining true to the one they love?
Jessica: I do not think it is a difference between men and women that changes someone’s capacity to love and remain true to the one they love. I think it is a difference strictly between every individual, regardless of gender. There are those who do not quickly forget, those who never forget, and those who seem to forget in the blink of an eye. The thing is, I have known both men and women who are quick to forget and move forward and those who do not forget that easily. So to me, I will reiterate: it is not a difference between men and women.
Mathuri: I absolutely agree with Jessica. There is no difference between men and women in that regard. Some people get over the love quickly, some people don’t. I also think the same goes for remaining true to the one they love. It’s not about gender or sexuality, it depends on each person every time (and I assume another variable is how much you loved that person).
Austen wrote Persuasion as her health was failing, hurrying to finish it before her death. Do you find the novel’s narrative carries any sense of urgency or sentimentality, or any other indication of what the author herself was going through as she wrote it?
Jessica: I think that there may have actually been some level of sentimentality that you might be able to attribute to the circumstances in which she was writing the novel. I am speaking, of course, that Anne eventually resumes her engagement to Captain Wentworth and marries him. I know that Jane Austen never married, and it is entirely possible that it was her own choice. I do actually suspect that maybe it was largely her choice. However, I cannot help but wonder if maybe she had an experience similar to Anne’s, whether her family was involved or not, and walked away from love early on. If I were her and I had done that, I know I would be sorely tempted to make my final novel and the last piece of my legacy to be how I wished my story ended.
I do want to mention though, that when I originally read this question I felt like it was kind of asking if this book may have seemed rushed or otherwise unpolished because of what she was going through (evoked, I think, by the use of “urgency”). In this sense, no, I do not feel that this book is any less polished or rushed than the others. In fact, even though it is not my favourite of her novels, I think that it is very clean and polished. Perhaps one of the most out of the ones she wrote. I think that it came from her experience, both from life and writing, that made it this way.
Mathuri: I think this is an interesting question with an answer we might never know. I love Jessica’s answer; if Austen had any regrets, she could have added them in her last book as a way as her way of expressing herself. I found Persuasion to be interesting because Austen explores the idea of a second chance at love. I think there could have been a lot going on in Austen’s life to choose to do that. One could be she felt she missed out on marriage, and wanted to give her character the chance. Another could be that she never fell truly in love. It could be unrelated to love, maybe Austen was writing this story inspired by a friend who lost that love.
I also read the question as Jessica did, as in did her health affect the quality of this book. I don’t think it did, I liked this book as much as the rest of her works, and that it was clean and polished. I do believe that her rush to finish could have affected the story. If Austen had more time, there might have been another story brewing. What if Mr. Elliot was supposed to be good for her, and Captain Wentworth bad? This story could have ended in a moral lesson of how listening to her family worked in her favour. I’m sad to think of how it must have been for her to write when her health was failing, but it’s interesting to see how a number of factors could have influenced this book in different ways.
Thoughts From Jessica
Well, there you have it! I want to save the majority of my thoughts for the final post in Austen Adventures. Yes, there is one more! In two weeks, you will get to see another set of questions and read the responses Mathuri and I give. These questions will cover elements such as our favourite Austen man, overall thoughts about the books, and views on some of the themes brought to light in Austen’s novels. It will be an interesting one for sure. Until then, you can find us on Twitter at @jess_groom and @mathurimaya. We look forward to hearing from you!