Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Pleasures of Persuasion - Jane Austen

                     I had watched Persuasion on Sunday afternoon, the Ciaran Hinds/Anne Root version.

It doesn't matter which of the many versions there are out there, though; every time I finish the screen version,  I immediately reach for the novel.  There is something about how Anne responds to the world around her that just can't be captured on the screen.  It is an interior novel, through Anne's eyes for the most part, and a movie can't capture those interior thoughts and impressions deeply enough.  It can only show the surface.  So I find the movies always lack a depth that I know Persuasion the novel has.  This time though, I thought I would try one of my annotated versions, Persuasion by Jane Austen - An Annotated Edition edited by Robert Morrison.
 I have not read an annotated version of one of my favourite novels before, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Too much information?  Would it be difficult to read the story and read all the extra information without losing my place, or the pace and flow of the story?  Well, it helped that Persuasion isn't a fast novel.  It's slow and thoughtful.  This means that taking the time to read the annotated notes on each page was easy to do.  Each annotation had something to do with what was on the page, as well, so it was in keeping with that point in the chapter.

Illustrations grace this edition, so many wonderful images and paintings from the time Jane Austen lived, and of the places mentioned in the novel.  Places that could be like Uppercross or Kellynch, and actual paintings, drawings, and reproductions of maps of  Bath and surroundings, Lyme and surroundings, are all shown in detail. The political changes, and the historical especially: the War with Napoleon is the backdrop to Persuasion, with the war just ending as the novel opens.  Admiral Croft who rents Kellynch, when the Elliotts have to decamp to Bath, has just been released on half-pay as the war is over and he needs a place to live with his wife. And of course, Captain Frederick Wentworth, who has made his fortune in the war, and now seeks a wife to settle down with.

I won't go through the details of the plot, since I will assume that most of you gentle readers have read Persuasion already.  I have as it is one of my very favourite novels.  So I was anxious and curious to see if the annotated version would add anything to what I had already gleaned from my readings, and from reading about Jane Austen herself in her biography by Claire Tomalin.

 Well, I learned a lot.  There is much more to this annotated version than I expected.  It brings in texts and books and ideas and criticisms about Persuasion, that have occurred ever since it was published in 1817.  What the annotated version gave me especially, was an understanding of how Persuasion fits into the world Jane Austen was writing in.  Especially, the literature world then.  I did not understand how much she liked the Romantic poets - even though they are brought up by Anne Eliot in the novel, to Captain Benwick - and that Persuasion is the first novel where she tried to use the setting to show her heroine's mind.  The walk from Uppercross to Winthrop, and the scenery around Lyme are the two big examples of nature being used to show Anne's pain.   In the Uppercross scene, one annotated note says:

"Anne's walk to Winthrop is often cite as an example of Austen's new commitment to a darker and more passionate world in which she values feeling over prudence, and in which she explores her own deep sense of personal sorrow through techniques and natural settings that are more commonly associated with her major poetic contemporaries Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats and Shelley......In their quiet and restrained fashion......Austen's last works are part of the new movement in English literature.  She has learned that the natural setting can convey, more surely than any abstract vocabulary, the movements of an individual imagination." p 127

At Lyme, the annotated notes suggest: " In her description of the 'immediate environs of Lyme," Austen comes "nearer to the Romantic poets than in anything else that she wrote," declares Althea Hayter.......Hayter proposes that Austen's own memories of Lyme, coupled with her reading of Coleridge's hypnotic poem [Kubla Khan], might have cast a 'strange glow' over the landscape, and now it would be the dark cliffs, the rocky fragments, the green chasms, the forest trees, that she felt moved to describe in Persuasion, as the setting for Anne Elliott's 'sorrowing heart', secretly yearning for the the love that she believed she had lost forever." pg 141

Now read the actual text of Persuasion for the first glimpse of Lyme and environs:
    " The scenes in its neighborhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, 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; - the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme, and above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state........."p 140

I stress that neither the annotated notes/author nor myself are suggesting that Jane Austen was becoming a Romantic writer; what jolted me was the understanding that the Romantic poets had moved her , so that she as a writer was trying to use what their poetry was showing her about landscape, and the heart, in her work.

In  Lyme, we the reader are aware that Jane is resigned to having lost Wentworth forever.  She is grieving, she is sorrowful, her heart is broken, yet still she can see the world around her, still respond to nature, and indeed to the grief of Benwick, whom  she is just about to meet. And in that discussion with Benwick, who reads only the Romantics, she suggests that he adds essays and other books to his readings, to give him a sense of morality and resolve to overcome his grief.   It also reveals the true character of Anne Elliott, that in the midst of her own private grief and loss of hope, she can rally - and this is how, by using the guidance of books to show her the way.  I just love how Austen uses books in her novels!

It really bothers me now that in the screen version I have, Anne smiles when she is at Lyme at the beach for the first time. I understand why the actress would show this - the change of scenery, being at the ocean - is renewing, revitalizing - but Anne would be contemplative.  The chasms and luxuriant forest life and rolling ocean would be her outlet to  express the powerful emotions that she is not free to reveal.  She should be shown alone, along the seashore, or gazing out at sea, sadly.  Or smiling ironically, in awareness that the world goes on even when her hopes have ended.  Anne is never bitter, and at the end of her evening with Benwick, she is self-reflective enough to say,
      "When the evening was over, Anne could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme, to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which  her own conduct would ill bear examination."
                                                                                               p 149

I think it's at this point that I know I would love Anne Elliott dearly as a friend.  So while Jane Austen uses nature in a different, modern way, her main character is not Romantic, or tragic.  She is self-aware, reflective, and humourous, and a marvelous creation.  The irony, gentle wit, poking fun - and indeed she might have been poking fun at the tragic Byronic character by making him be Benwick in the novel, who despite his great despair at the loss of his true love, very quickly - too quickly, all agree in the book - falls in love again.  I really enjoyed the Annotated version for giving me a glimpse of Jane Austen the writer at work. 

I love seeing how the books being published in her time affected her writing, and her growth as an author.  I enjoyed reading the bits of criticisms and essays used, although I did not always agree with the ideas, they still gave a deeper meaning to what was happening in the story.

Things I did not know:
- I did not know that Jane loved Scott's poetry, or was a huge fan of Fanny Burney and Maria Edgeworth.  I will have to look for the novels now!
-I did not know that Austen changed the final chapters of Persuasion: she didn't like the original ending, so she cancelled the final two chapters and replaced them with three final ones of the published novel.
-The two cancelled chapters are the only section of any of her published novels to survive in manuscript.

I really enjoyed reading this annotated version.  I loved the notes about other authors and who she admired as a writer, and who admired her.  I enjoyed reading about all the little ideas, character references, other books, that Jane uses in Persuasion, or refers to, or links with. It makes for rich reading, and plunged me into the world of 1812 to 1816.  I think I was even dreaming of Regency England last night.......I loved reading about the differences in carriages, and why Wentworth's removing little Charles from Anne's back is so significant, and the reason why Elizabeth won't invite anyone to dinner, when the Harvilles invite every body. Regency England comes to life in reading this annotated version.

I think I love Persuasion even more, now.


Geranium Cat said...

This does sound like an interesting and enriching way to read a favourite book. Some of the things you say it discusses sound fascinating. I think I would have been rather put off as when I read an annotated Anne of Green Gables I found it very distracting that it kept telling me things I knew (I'm a compulsive footnote reader - so I usually much prefer endnotes!). I think, though, that it had been seen very much as a study guide by its editor, whereas this sounds more aimed at Austen lovers? People who want background which adds to the reading experience rather than just to explain the odd archaism? Persuasion is such a wonderful novel, and I love the version with Hinds and Root - and yes, if I watch it, it immediately sends me off to the book for just the reasons you say.
Hope you are recovering well?

Susan said...

Geranium Cat: I have an Annotated Alice in Wonderland that one day I want to read, too. I have never seen the annotated Anne of GG! I have to read footnotes too, so that was why I was wondering if it would interfere with reading Persuasion. I think because I knew the story so well, I was able to stop and read the footnotes and it added to my reading. I hope you give it a try one day, you sound like you might enjoy it too :-)

Interesting that we both go back to the book as soon as the movie ends, isn't it? I think because even though that wonderful letter from Wentworth is there, we don't get to see them talking after, in their walk, and even though the movie ends on the boat - I want more! which the book, gives me. Books satisfy, don't they? :-)

Kathleen said...

It's wonderful when a movie inspires reading and vice versa. I've yet to read Persuasion and am feeling inspired to do so...maybe this year?

Eva said...

I read an annotated P&P and was underwhelmed...sounds like this annotation series is much better!

Bybee said...

Show me annotated and I'm there! Knowing this, my son bought me an annotated copy of Charlotte's Web that I've enjoyed over and over. The first time I ever saw one of these was at my undergrad college library. Alice in Wonderland and I thought it was the coooooooooooolest thing I'd ever seen in my life.

Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen, so I know I'd have great fun. I also love the Hinds/Root film version.

Aarti said...

Wow, what a great way to read a favorite book! Persuasion is my favorite novel, too. I think an annotated version of many of Austen's books would be a great way to bring in the rich context - for example, to know that Bingley is "new" money while Darcy is "old" money, and that Mrs. Elton's money came from the slave trade.

Vintage Reading said...

Very perceptive post on Persuasion. Quite a few things I did not know! Love the picture of Anne on your annotated edition. That is exactly how I imagine her to look.

Alex in Leeds said...

I've never read an annotated copy but it sounds an interesting exercise especially with a text you know so the notes won't necessarily form your opinion of the book for you. I'm always astonished by how many authors have written a biography of Austen - it seems to have been a rite of passage in the 1930s and 1940s!

Susan said...

Kathleen: Oh, I hope you get inspired soon! I really do love the book, for many years now.

Eva: Who did the annotated version of your P&P that you read? I'd be curious if I have that edition, I have an annotated one for P&P that I have to read yet.

Bybee: Ooh, an annotated Charlotte's Web! I' like to see that. I have to admit that I own a copy of the Annotated Alice in Wonderland and have never read it yet! *avoids glare from booktwin's eyes* I will, I promise! I'm delighted you enjoy them like I do :-)

Maybe when you come back this year (summer? fall?) to the US you can get to a library....I know, not really possible. Still, for one day in the future. I love that Persuasion is your favourite Austen too!

Aarti: It was so much fun to get to know more about the book, and even better that it didn't detract from the story at all for me. I loved seeing all the knowledge that is behind the story. It's fun that you and Bybee and I love Persuasion so much, too :-)

Vintage Reads: Really, that is how you see Anne? I don't see her as having hair quite that dark, because she seems to be so mousy especially in the beginning, so faded. It is a lovely picture of a sweet woman, isn't it? on the cover. I'll have to think about how I do see her.

Thanks for the comments on the perceptiveness, I have say that the annotated info helped with that! lol I was so delighted to find that reading the annotations only enriched my reading of the novel.

Alex in Leeds: I know, there are a number of biographies out on her, aren't there? I'm always careful with biographies because they are always written with an idea of the subject in mind, and the information presented can be slanted. That's one reason why I enjoyed this annotated version so much, because the author presented from such a wide variety of sources, and different ideas are presented so that the reader can see the kinds of ideas and criticisms about the text are available. The best of the bits, is how I thought of it. And it was interesting, for me.

Susan D said...

Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen, and certainly the Amanda Root film version is the best.

But I recently got both annotated version from the library, and after finishing the first, I felt I'd lost something of Persuasion. It seemed to bring home to me how much of the dialogue and interaction seems to be described rather than quoted, if that makes sense. I skimmed through the second one, but now I really want to just read it straight. And watch the movie again.

Susan said...

Susan D: that is an interesting reaction to the annotated version you read. The version I have, commented on how in Persuasion we get a lot of the action seen through Anne's eyes, in interior monologue and reactions. Was it that, that you weren't aware of before? The annotator made the point of saying that this was one of the first novels to do this which makes it feel more modern. A forerunner to Virginia Woolf, etc. I thought that was a good point, and possibly why I like Anne so much, because she is gentle and sweet, and reacts more to the world around her. She's not active like Emma and Elizabeth Bennett are.

They do give quite a reaction, either good or bad, the annotated versions, don't they?

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