Final Self-Assessment Essay Guidelines, DUE 5/13/22

Please read over your blog responses, annotated bibs and reflections, and any in-class writing you’ve done on Teams or elsewhere. Please also review your reading journal from beginning to end, to see which texts or discussions attracted your interest or inspired further thought.

Take a few moments to reflect on what you’ve done and what you’ve learned in this class.

Select a few passages from the semester’s work listed above to focus upon your greatest insights, or most challenging problems, or most frequently recurring themes this term. (in the case of reading journal passages, you may quote or attach the relevant passages as you wish) Why do you think these were important? Alternatively, you may pose and answer your own questions about the course readings or your learning this term.

About 1-2 pp., emailed to me by the evening of the 13th.

Thanks for a great term, and good luck,

DM

Persuasion – Details of Time

The opening lines of Persuasion reflect several precise dates:

“‘Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.’

Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer’s hands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of himself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary’s birth–‘Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove, Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset,’ and by inserting most accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.”

Northanger Abbey’s opening gives no hints as to the date when the story is set, while Mansfield Park opens with “about thirty years ago.” Thus, there seems to be a clear progression in Austen’s concern for the setting as she grows more detailed as her writing develops. I think an important question to ask here is whether or not explicit details (like the exact dates she provides in the passage above) is an improvement in her writing, or whether the middle-ground of Mansfield Park (a ball-park date) or the completely ambiguous Northanger Abbey is the most effective.

Personally, I think the ambiguity suits Northanger Abbey specifically because of its tendencies toward the Gothic, and Gothic novels tend to be set in the obscure past. But, as for her purely Romantic works, I prefer not knowing the exact details, yet the progression in her novels seems to show that Austen saw this exactness as an improvement. Why do you think that is? Do these exact dates somehow make the story feel more real, more rooted to the audience’s reality?

Persuasion: social mobility, mentorship

Persuasion, Ch. 1

“But now, another occupation and solicitude of mind was beginning to be added to these. Her father was growing distressed for money. She knew, that when he now took up the Baronetage, it was to drive the heavy bills of his tradespeople, and the unwelcome hints of Mr. Shepherd, his agent, from his thoughts. The Kellynch property was good, but not equal to Sir Walter’s apprehension of the state required in its possessor. While Lady Elliot lived, there had been method, moderation, and economy, which had just kept him within his income; but with her had died all such right-mindedness, and from that period he had been constantly exceeding it. It had not been possible for him to spend less; he had done nothing but what Sir Walter Elliot was imperiously called on to do; but blameless as he was, he was not only growing dreadfully in debt, but was hearing of it so often, that it became vain to attempt concealing it longer, even partially, from his daughter. He had given her some hints of it the last spring in town; he had gone so far even as to say, “Can we retrench? does it occur to you that there is any one article in which we can retrench?”—and Elizabeth, to do her justice, had, in the first ardour of female alarm, set seriously to think what could be done, and had finally proposed these two branches of economy: to cut off some unnecessary charities, and to refrain from new-furnishing the drawing-room; to which expedients she afterwards added the happy thought of their taking no present down to Anne as had been the usual yearly custom. But these measures, however good in themselves, were insufficient for the real extent of the evil, the whole of which Sir Walter found himself obliged to confess to her soon afterwards. Elizabeth had nothing to propose of deeper efficacy. She felt herself ill-used and unfortunate, as did her father; and they were neither of them able to devise any means of lessening their expenses without compromising their dignity, or relinquishing their comforts in a way not to be borne.

“There was only a small part of his estate that Sir Walter could dispose of; but had every acre been alienable, it would have made no difference. He had condescended to mortgage as far as he had the power, but he would never condescend to sell. No; he would never disgrace his name so far. The Kellynch estate should be transmitted whole and entire, as he had received it.”

Persuasion and Gender Equality

            I would like to think about Mary Wollstonecraft’s influence in Persuasion—in particular how notions of gender and equality are taken up by Jane Austen in a novel filled with both silly, insipid, and rational hardy women. In particular, it might be useful to give a gloss of how social class and gender rights are operating in Persuasion (1818)—and how we might think about the influence of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) in the scene between Captain Harville and Anne wherein they discuss the difference of emotions in gender:

“Ah!” cried Captain Harville, in a tone of strong feeling, “if I could but make you comprehend what a man suffers when he takes a last look at his wife and children, and watches the boat that he has sent them off in, as long as it is in sight, and then turns away and says, ‘God knows whether we ever meet again!’ And then, if I could convey to you the glow of his soul when he does see them again; when, coming back after a twelvemonth’s absence, perhaps, and obliged to put into another port, he calculates how soon it be possible to get them there, pretending to deceive himself, and saying, ‘They cannot be here till such a day,’ but all the while hoping for them twelve hours sooner, and seeing them arrive at last, as if Heaven had given them wings, by many hours sooner still! If I could explain to you all this, and all that a man can bear and do, and glories to do, for the sake of these treasures of his existence! I speak, you know, only of such men as have hearts!” pressing his own with emotion.

“Oh!” cried Anne eagerly, “I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures! I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as–if I may be allowed the expression–so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. 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.”

She could not immediately have uttered another sentence; her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.

“You are a good soul,” cried Captain Harville, putting his hand on her arm, quite affectionately. “There is no quarrelling with you. And when I think of Benwick, my tongue is tied.”

            This scene asks us to consider the quality of emotion and the difference in employment of emotion (and employment of life) between men and women during the Regency period. With women seen as having less strong of emotions than men, with Captain Harville using the plethora of literature that writes of the fickleness of women as his evidence. This evidence is quickly shot down however when Anne aptly notes that most literature is in fact written by men during this time period. A subtly powerful statement which speaks not just to the inequality of representation, but Austen’s own voice claiming that literature proves nothing when women were only scantly to be heard across the canon. This brings to my mind the power of what Wollstonecraft achieved in her publication of Vindications, as a woman entering the male-dominated sphere of philosophical enquiry and debate—she was quite singular in her use of this style of rhetoric in advocating for women’s equality in a vein familiar to male and female readers. Furthermore, Anne speaks to the strength of female attachment as having no time limit—no end as it does for Captain Harville in his time estimations (twelvemonth, twelve hours, etc). This is due to the fact that women lack the opportunity for true occupation which Captain Wentworth actually points out earlier in the novel—that he was able to overcome his affection for Anne and the pain at her refusal by going to sea and working in the navy. This difference calls to mind, again, Wollstonecraft’s insistence on the right for women to be equal to men—to be thought of a rational and to be allowed to be a partner in a marriage rather than a high idol or lowly slave. To have a purpose. In particular, when put alongside a well-known quote from Vindication, the parallel threads of dignity and equality offered to the female sex becomes a paramount issue:

“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. Men have various employments and pursuits which engage their attention and give a character to the opening mind; but women, confined to one, and having their thoughts constantly directed to the most insignificant part of themselves, seldom extend their views beyond the triumph of the hour.”

Scenework in Persuasion

The prevailing thought I had reading all of these Austen novels, and in particular Persuasion, is that they feel much more like modern novels than anything else we’ve read so far this semester. There’s an attention to realism which was all but absent in the Amatory fiction we looked at, not merely in terms of place and action which certainly feel better developed than (I’d argue) any other text we’ve read, but also in the psychological depths of these characters. 

Of course, we’ve seen a psychological interest in the inner minds of characters before, most notably in Clarissa, but something felt different about its portrayal here. In Clarissa, the psychological depth comes from the endless considerations of the characters, which are expressed more or less directly to the audience in the novel’s epistolary form. Persuasion operates on very different principles though: here, scene is the main vehicle through which this psychological depth is imparted to the audience. 

Austen’s interest in scene—not just the dialogue but the positioning of characters, the choreography of their movements, the things which go unsaid, and the resulting tension such things create—far exceeds that of any other writer we’ve looked at. Although this is present throughout all of three of the Austen we’ve read, I felt it most intensely in Persuasion, and, in my accounting, it reaches its zenith in the scene in chapter 23 where Captain Wentworth writes Anne the letter that reveals his feelings  (I won’t record the entire thing here because it’s quite long).

To me, this scene amounts to the climax of the novel—perhaps an interesting one, given that there’s no outward danger to anyone and although there is a revelation its one whose drama is considerably lacking when compared to that of, say, the one in Woman of Color, where we discover the existence of a secret first wife. Here, it’s the internal emotions of the characters  that push us to that intensity rather than any outward or external force. 

There’s also a layering here that’s absent from any other text we’ve looked at. The scene mostly consists of a conversation between Anne and Captain Harville about the nature of love, especially as it applies to men and women. This is a prime example of talking around a point rather than openly discussing it, as, without ever being told (at least to best of my memory) the audience understands that Anne is discussing her own feelings for Captain Wentworth. Austen has also carefully blocked out the scene—positioning Captain Wentworth close by, though the reader is unsure whether or not he can overhear, or if he does overhear, if he will understand it for what it is—a declaration of love. The intensity comes not from the literal conversation, but rather from this clever positioning of characters, the layering of said/unsaid, which all create a palpable tension in both the characters (as is revealed in Captain Wentworth’s frantic letter) as well as the audience itself. This was the first time this semester I could viscerally feel the tension in my body. I didn’t just want to see how the scene ended—I needed to. 

Though the scene work in Persuasion hasn’t quite reached what I would term “modern standards” yet—Austen defaults to narration/summary in places modern writers would never dream of, for example, the meeting in the park where Anne and Captain Wentworth discuss their feelings openly—but using it as the main thing through which we understand our characters is undoubtedly a modern technique.