Palpable Discomfort in Austen’s Prose


Anne Elliot from Andrew Davies' Adaptation 

          “Yes, here I am, Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match. …” He said it, she knew, to be contradicted. His bright proud eye spoke the conviction that he was nice; and Anne Elliot was not out of his thoughts, when he more seriously described the woman he should wish to meet with. “A strong mind, with sweetness of manner,” made the first and the last of the description.
          “That is the woman I want,” said he.”

          I am so very much taken by the conclusion to the seventh chapter from Jane’s Persuasion, when, with so many pages turned in anticipation of their meeting, Anne Elliot caught, finally,  “half an eye” belonging to the Captain Wentworth: just one half-glance in a crowded room stiffed by niceties and Good Society.
          And it is, I think, effortless to empathize; to have, individually, been squeezed – as if juiced – into a place (that couldn’t-be-smaller regardless) with another during a time so completely inopportune …, a moment rounding-out an awkward and, God forbid, intimate parting – to be butterflied, tight-chested, and retracting into oneself: so becoming dimunitive in Presence if only because one had never been quite properly taught to disappear.
          This congested reacquaintance is just a smear of rouge. When it is over, it has since thinned and given shape and made clear so Anne might breathe again, – saying “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over.”
         Captain W. and AE
           She learns soon afterward of what Capt. Wentworth said to Henrietta (and meant never to reach her), that “she was so much altered to be unrecognizable” since their courtship, and this long  after her first “bloom of youth.” It had been but a handful of days when it was announced that Capt. W. had come a-roving; Anne was allowed less than a week to cope with the memory of an engagement, still vivid, and yet poignantly aware of the eight years spent: she is eight years older and eight years too late.
          But he was only acting off an old hurt!, one deep down – bone-deep – and he but uttered a preventative out of earshot to salve himself – sparing her; rather, to spare the real her and wound just the effigy of her memory, her totem, to ward off the spirit he was haunted by.

          As a rapt reader I grit my teeth and breathe-in deep and I shut the book and seethe a little; the problem with Free Indirect Discourse is that I am the narrator, and I am Captain Wentworth, and I am Anne Elliot (and I am all my parallel experiences) – and I am fucked; I shall snarl and spit in bad company, and I will for the time being refuse the Musgroves. Of course, I could remedy this by turning the page, but I shan’t waste away with gossip and letters.



One response »

  1. Great post. You are such a forceful and descriptive writer, and you described this teeth-gritting scene so well. The reader can feel their emotions, and feels for both of them. Whoever said Jane’s writing was lacking emotion obviously missed reading Persuasion.

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