The Final Chapters of Persuasion: Austen's Passionate Revision.
The existence of manuscript chapters with writing that Austen mostly discarded has inspired a great deal of commentary by critics, nearly all of them agreeing that the revised conclusion of the novel is startlingly better than the much-emended versions in the original chapters. In a short essay in 1986, Brian Southam summarized the differences between them, contrasting the "confusion and excitement" of the events Austen placed in the Crofts' lodgings in her first drafts, with the "outward calm and spaciousness" of the scene at the White Hart Inn. He concludes by refuting Henry James's idea that Austen's writing process was "swift and effortless," demonstrating that what she finally worked out is "a triumph of rethinking won through trial and error" (323).
I am following the extensive and thoughtful commentary on the cancelled chapters and Austen's revised ending of her novel in this essay, as I try to imagine and then highlight the thinking and rethinking that Jane Austen brought to her work in reconstructing the last chapters. Reading the two endings together brings a reader to the surprising discovery that Austen had not figured out exactly how she was going to end her novel or resolve the issues it explores, including Anne's initial powerlessness and silence, and her gradual emergence as an articulate and passionate woman. Long ago, I wrote about the revised chapter 11 in an essay about teaching one scene each from Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion (Folsom). Now, in writing about the first draft of Persuasion's ending and all three of the final published chapters, I am trying to explore what may have been Austen's thinking as she so brilliantly superseded her earlier draft.
Studying the facsimile of the manuscript pages allows a reader to see the writer working hard to create a dramatic ending. The manuscript page headed "Chap. 10" begins with Anne Elliot walking through the streets of Bath, anxiously pondering all she has just learned about Mr. Elliot from Mrs. Smith and framing unanswerable questions about what she should do (314). In an excellent essay on the manuscript pages, Katie Gemmill points out that these unanswerable questions have a "frenzied tone," and she cites them: '"How to behave to him?--how to get rid of him?--what to do by any of the Party at home?--where to be blind? where to be active?--"' (P 314; Gemmill 112). As Gemmill observes, the result is to present Anne as agitated and perplexed, not calm and thoughtful as she has been in many scenes since the visit to Lyme, able to absorb and then recover from her own strong feelings (113).
In the manuscript of chapter 10, as Anne walks, she happens to meet Admiral Croft near his lodgings. Another careful reader of this draft is Paul Wray, who argues that in order to get Anne and Wentworth together in this draft, Austen "alters the character of Admiral Croft." Wray correctly observes that when the admiral urgently insists that Anne must stop in and see Mrs. Croft, without telling Anne who else is there, his deceptive behavior is completely unlike the friendly, hearty, good-humored admiral we have seen at Uppercross, Kellynch, and in the streets of Bath.
Once Anne is inside his house, in the manuscript chapter, Admiral Croft "insisted on Anne's sitting down" to wait in a room where, to her surprise and dismay, she finds that Captain Wentworth is already there, sitting by the fire. Admiral Croft abruptly calls "'Frederick'" to come and speak with him outside the room, and though he firmly closes the door, Anne overhears her name and the word "'Kellynch'" spoken repeatedly (316). The reader comes to understand that Admiral Croft is delegating Captain Wentworth to ask Anne if the report the Admiral has heard is true, that she will marry Mr. Elliot, and to tell her that, if it is true, the Crofts will leave Kellynch so that Anne and Elliot can live there. Wentworth comes back in the room, "irresolute & embarrassed," and then speaks in a "voice of effort & constraint" (316-17).
The conversation Austen developed here between Anne and Wentworth is painfully awkward for them both. Anne must remain sitting in intense agitation through Wentworth's excruciatingly long, hesitant speech before she can finally reply, briefly but firmly, that the admiral is '"misinformed"' and that there is '"no Truth in any such report'" of her marrying Mr. Elliot (317-18). Their understanding is achieved in a "silent, but a very powerful Dialogue" (318), followed by their review of the past that Austen later put into the new chapter 11 and in the new chapter 12.
There are several ways that, even though flawed, this scene makes sense. It is logical that Anne would be preoccupied in thinking about Mrs. Smith's revelations about Mr. Elliot and that she would be trying to figure out what she should do about notifying her father and sister about his "true character" (Gemmill 112), as she had tried to decide about warning Elizabeth about Mrs. Clay. The idea that Admiral Croft has heard a rumor that Anne is engaged to Mr. Elliot is also logical, as the two have been seen together by various people in Bath. The scene places Anne abruptly in a situation of intense feeling with "No time for recollection!--for planning behaviour, or regulating manners!" (315) as she has often experienced elsewhere in the novel. It highlights the kindness of the Crofts, evident in earlier scenes, in their willingness to give up Kellynch if that will help Anne, for whom they care. It repeats a pattern of Anne overhearing conversations about herself. It then puts Anne and Wentworth alone together in the same room, while the Crofts discreetly avoid interrupting them, so that they can talk. It shows Wentworth's passionate nature in his emotional effort to ask the question he fears to ask. But the resolution, the "silent ... Dialogue;--on his side, Supplication, on her's acceptance," is a tepid and unconvincing way to reach the conclusion: "They were re-united" (318).
As many commentators on this draft have pointed out, it keeps Anne sitting down while Wentworth is standing. Worse, as Wray argues, the relationship between Anne and Wentworth, which since the scenes at Lyme has had Wentworth "turning into listener, Anne Elliot into speaker," is reversed, now making her again the listener and him the speaker. Even more disappointing, the scene as written in this chapter 10 abruptly changes the story's direction and essentially ends the novel by forcing a direct meeting between Anne and Wentworth, who struggle through an agonizing conversation to get to the desired resolution.
The manuscript of these so-called cancelled chapters of Persuasion contains actual dates of Austen's writing. The first manuscript page, marked "Chap. 10," has the date "July 8." The manuscript of "Chapter 11" ends with the word "FINIS" and the date of "July 18.--1816." This date is exactly one year before Jane Austen died. The many cross-outs and emendations suggest Austen's struggle in the ten days she spent writing these chapters, as does an earlier "FINIS" she wrote and dated "July 16" on the verso of leaf 14. Her conclusion completed, according to her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, "her performance did not satisfy her. She thought it tame and flat, and was desirous of producing something better. This weighed upon her mind, the more so probably on account of the weak state of her health; so that one night she retired to rest in very low spirits" (147). James Edward does not mention the obvious crossings-out, rewriting, and revising that show how much Jane Austen struggled with the first half of the chapter 10 she finally discarded. The very first page of the cancelled chapter 10, for example, has at least nine lines totally obscured by being crossed out with heavy ink marks.
But he goes on convincingly in his account of how Austen decided to rework the ending: "The next morning she awoke to more cheerful views and brighter inspirations; the sense of power revived; and imagination resumed its course" (148). Cassandra noted that Jane finished Persuasion on August 6 (Minor Works, facing 242), so these dates mean that Austen wrote a new chapter 10 and a new chapter 11, with the brilliant scene at the White Hart Inn, and revised and recopied parts of her old chapters 10 and 11, which became parts of the new chapters 11 and 12, in just nineteen days. And as James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote about the new chapters 10, 11, and 12, "Perhaps it may be thought that she has seldom written anything more brilliant" (148). Most critics of the published ending agree with him.
One approach to studying the original and the revised endings is to study the exact words, the cross-outs, and insertions in the manuscript pages, and the way in which they are either discarded or transferred and rewritten in the final version. One critic who has reconstructed Austen's struggles in writing the manuscript chapters 10 and 11 is Jocelyn Harris. In A Revolution Almost beyond Expression, Harris sorts out hundreds of choices of diction, the probable writing process, and the implied purposes of Austen's deletions and corrections of these two chapters. Her book uncovers hidden meanings of Austen's painstaking, multiple revisions of words and sentences in the first half of the manuscript chapter 10 and then her drastic discarding of much of that work.
John Wiltshire, who has also carefully deciphered the writing in Austen's original chapter 10, figured out the writer's first, second, and even third choices of language in the pages of the manuscript where Anne sits waiting in the Crofts' drawing room while the Admiral and Captain Wentworth talk outside the closed door. In his reconstruction of Austen's changing intentions about this scene that she created to bring Anne and Wentworth together, he points out that it presents "the reiterated trope of Anne's unhappy and partial overhearing" of conversations about herself. "As before in Persuasion, Anne Elliot hears herself spoken of, again only in snatches, but in this scene it is even in a context she cannot understand. Her powerlessness is graphically represented by the door" behind which the two men talk about her (156, 158). The reason for Austen's feeling dissatisfied with this ending, Wiltshire speculates, is that once again she "has left her heroine in a powerless, actually silenced condition" (160).
Another way of reading the two chapters 10 side by side, which is the idea of this essay, is for a reader to try to imagine Jane Austen's thinking--and even her pleasure--in tossing out the whole agonizing scene in the Crofts' rented parlor and returning to her story, slowing it down, greatly expanding it, and adding more participants than in the earlier version. It makes us imagine a writer reveling in her fresh ideas and refreshed powers, as her nephew suggested, enjoying the opportunity to bring so many characters back into new scenes where they all behave and speak totally in character. Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot, for example, now appear in two different scenes in chapter 10: first in their own rooms in Camden-place, and then at the White Hart Inn as they deliver cards and an invitation to their rooms for the next evening. In both scenes, Austen depicts them outdoing themselves in pomposity, stinginess, and arrogant elegance.
As in the cancelled chapter 10, Anne begins the new chapter 10 pondering the truth she has learned about Mr. Elliot from Mrs. Smith, but not while walking through the streets of Bath. As Gemmill points out, in the new chapter 10 Austen portrays Anne back in her father's lodgings in Camden-place, with a "more measured mixture of Anne's distress at discovering Mr. Elliot's villainy and her quiet confidence about how to proceed" (112). Anne spends the rest of the day with her father and sister, whose insulting comments about Lady Russell reveal again his obsession with appearance and her scorn of reading, and with Mrs. Clay, whose flattery of Elizabeth is answered by Elizabeth's weirdly blase comments about Mr. Elliot. Anne is forced to see Mr. Elliot again when he calls in the evening. He tries again to engage Anne's curiosity about the praise he says that he has heard about her, not knowing how much his allusions to the unnamed source of this praise--Mrs. Smith--bring into her mind the "least excusable" aspects of his past (233). But now, her behavior is guarded and reserved; she is "decidedly cool to him" in order to undo any prior suggestion of an "intimacy" between them (232). To her relief, he says that he is leaving Bath the next morning, to be gone for two days.
Austen begins her most masterful revision of the ending by imagining what would happen when unexpected visitors arrive in Bath. The next morning, just as Anne looks for a moment to go to enlighten Lady Russell about Mr. Elliot, Austen has Mary and Charles Musgrove surprise the Elliots by dropping in unannounced at their Camden-place residence (234). Sir Walter and Elizabeth, after they realize that the Musgroves do not expect to stay with them because they are already settled at the White Hart Inn, rise to the occasion and happily show off their fancy drawing rooms to Mary.
Austen arranges a way to explain why the Musgroves have come to Bath, which members of the family have come, and which ones are still back at Uppercross, by allowing Anne to have a private talk with Charles Musgrove while Mary is being regaled with "mirrors and china" (237). Charles gives her a "very plain, intelligible account" of Mrs. Musgroves plan to come to Bath to buy wedding clothes for Henrietta and Louisa. In the account, Anne "saw a great deal of most characteristic proceeding" (235). Austen takes the time to develop the cordial and amusing conversation between Charles Musgrove and Anne, allowing Anne to laugh as she hears about how Charles and Benwick are becoming friendly brothers-in-law as they become better acquainted at Uppercross, and enabling Charles to describe how Louisa has been changed by her accident. The logic of who would remain at home and not go to Bath--Mr. Musgrove, Louisa, Captain Benwick, Mrs. Harville and her children, and the little Musgrove boys--and who would make the unexpected outing--Mrs. Musgrove, Henrietta, Charles and Mary Musgrove, and Captain Harville--Charles explains, exactly as Anne observes: with a "great deal of most characteristic proceeding."
It's impossible not to imagine Austen herself feeling relieved to get back into the world with these characters she knew so well. She manages a complicated but logical sequence of visits, conversations, and chance encounters, facilitating events in both the new chapter 10 and the new chapter 11 by the brilliant contrivance of having many people able to come and go in the "spacious" "dining-room" of the Musgroves' rooms at the White Hart Inn (240). That morning after the Musgroves' arrival, when Anne goes there to welcome Mrs. Musgrove, the narrator says, a "morning of thorough confusion was to be expected. A large party in an hotel ensured a quick-changing, unsettled scene" (240). Captain Wentworth and Anne are both present in this relatively neutral setting during the first day after the Musgroves' arrival, with Austen managing a moving cast of visitors. She dramatizes an argument between Mary and Charles about theater tickets and captures Mary's excited comments about sighting "her own cousin," Mr. Elliot, words that embarrass Anne and thwart Wentworth, although they allow Anne to indicate Mr. Elliot's unimportance to her (241).
The "reintroduced Musgrove party," as Gemmill notes, "creates continuity between the two volumes," providing "readers with final access" to these characters (117). As James Edward Austen-Leigh remarked, "the pictures of Charles Musgroves goodnatured boyishness and his wife's jealous selfishness would have been incomplete without these finishing strokes" (148). Still, the various personalities and conversations make clear the challenge for the writer to arrange a meeting between the two silenced lovers who are still constrained by the necessary decorum of meeting in a semi-public place. Chapter 10 ends without resolving that stalemate.
Austen then figured out a way to assemble a different group of people the next morning in the Musgrove rooms at the White Hart Inn. Chapter 11 begins with Anne going in the morning as she had promised to the Musgrove apartment, where she hears "immediately" that Henrietta and Mary have gone shopping, giving Mrs. Musgrove "the strictest injunctions" to require Anne to stay there until they return (249). Captains Harville and Wentworth are already there so that Wentworth can write a letter arranging to have a portrait of Benwick reframed for Benwick to give to his new fiancee, Louisa. Mrs. Croft has come to the inn to welcome Mrs. Musgrove to Bath, and the two older ladies are sitting together and chatting. Anne has "only to submit, sit down, [and] be outwardly composed," even though she is "plunged at once in all the agitations" that she had expected not to begin so soon (249). Capturing Anne's surprise, the narrator says, "There was no delay, no waste of time" in Anne's inner response to the electrifying presence of Captain Wentworth: "She was deep in the happiness of such misery, or the misery of such happiness, instantly" (249-50).
A particularly effective quality of this scene, one which has not been carefully analyzed in most of the criticism of chapter 11, is Austen's scrupulous attention to the speakers' physical placements and tones of voice in the scene. Wiltshire is one critic who does analyze it: he says, "the physical relations between the figures in the room are configured as aural relations," reintroducing "the trope of overhearing" (161). Unobtrusively but specifically, Austen locates these five people in the Musgroves' apartment parlor, indicating their distances from each other and the pitches of their voices. Two minutes after Anne enters the room, Captain Wentworth tells Captain Harville that he will now '"write the letter we were talking of, Harville,'" and he goes to a separate table to be "engrossed by writing" and "nearly turning his back on them all" (250).
In a diagram of these placements, Wentworth would be seated at a table--perhaps a small writing desk--at the other side of the room from the area where the two ladies are seated. At this point, Captain Harville is also seated, but seems "not disposed to talk," while Mrs. Musgrove is telling Mrs. Croft the story of Henrietta's engagement, "just in that inconvenient tone of voice which was perfectly audible while it pretended to be a whisper" (250). Anne must be seated near the ladies, though she "felt that she did not belong to the conversation" but at the same time could not "avoid hearing many undesirable particulars." The awkwardness persists as Mrs. Musgrove recounts such a "great deal" of "[m]inutiae" about her daughter's romance with Charles Hayter in her "powerful whisper," that Anne "hoped the gentlemen might each be too much self-occupied to hear" (250). The confessional nature of Mrs. Musgroves story enables Anne almost telepathically to imagine Wentworth's impatience with such talk, for she has frequently been able to read his disdain at something he overhears. The scene thus picks up and varies the novel's pattern of allowing characters to overhear other people's conversations even before the conversation between Anne and Harville as well as the pattern of Anne reading Wentworth's mind.
When the two ladies' conversation turns to deploring long engagements, Austen sets up another kind of overhearing from what happens elsewhere in the novel. Here Anne and Wentworth are both overhearing the same apparently irrelevant conversation, but one that has personal meaning to them both. The two ladies each offer warnings about uncertain engagements, and both women recall instances from their own experience of the dangers of long engagements. Their comments seem so oddly pertinent to Anne and Wentworth's own experience eight years before, perhaps even hinting at an excuse for Lady Russell's advice, that Anne feels "an unexpected interest," and she "felt its application to herself, felt it in a nervous thrill all over her" (251). She instinctively glances over to where Wentworth is seated and perceives that he stops writing, raises his head, listens, and then turns round to give "a look--one quick, conscious look at her" (251). Austen's writing here seems to slow down, pause, repeat words to describe this deeply meaningful but almost imperceptible exchange. Then, as so often happens to Anne in earlier scenes, as she registers this external experience inwardly, she feels shock and resulting confusion that briefly overcome her normal consciousness, and the two ladies' talk is "only a buzz of words in her ear" (251).
Meanwhile, Captain Harville "had in truth been hearing none" of the ladies' conversation (251), for Austen imagines that this one of the "gentlemen" is so absorbed in his own thoughts that he tunes out the ladies' voices, and that, plainly, the other gentleman has been attending to their voices, as he cannot help listening to anything that Anne may be hearing. Captain Harville now leaves his seat and moves to a window, and Anne, who seems absent-mindedly to be watching him, becomes aware that he is motioning to her to come stand by him. A kind of silent communication takes place, with Captain Harville merely smiling at Anne and giving "a little motion of the head," indicating an invitation that she correctly interprets as meaning, '"Come to me, I have something to say'" (252). Austen conveys Harville's assumption of a friendship between himself and Anne by this gentle, undramatic gesture. Anne willingly leaves her seat and goes to stand with him at the window, "at the other end of the room from where the ladies were sitting, and though nearer to Captain Wentworth's table, not very near" (252). The striking difference between this scene and the one in the cancelled chapter 10 is, as Wiltshire notes, that "the positions of speakers and listener [are] reversed" (161).
With this change of Anne's location, the two ladies' voices fade out, and now the only two speakers are Harville and Anne. As the conversation between these two unfolds, again it is impossible not to feel Jane Austen's pleasure at creating this long, leisurely conversation. She seems easily to imagine how these two adults, a man and a woman, connected only by their recent acquaintance and easy friendship, but without the painful intensity of any romantic involvement, might enjoy exploring their own thoughts with each other. The captain opens with his story about the portrait of Benwick and ends his speech with a mournful remark about his sister, Fanny Harville, for whom the portrait was originally intended: "'Poor Fanny! she would not have forgotten him so soon!'" (252). Anne replies "in a low feeling voice" (252). When she says, '"It would not be the nature of any woman who truly loved,"' Harville smiles, implying that she is making a claim for all women (253). Undefensively, Anne smiles in return, and confirms that he is right. The two then debate whether men or women are more constant in love, or which sex is more predisposed '"to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved'" (253).
Another quality of this conversation that has not been much discussed in the criticism is its improvisational nature, as Anne and Harville both try out arguments defending the constancy of their own sex, picking up the novel's interest in contrasting the lives of men and women. The tones of this exchange at first seem musing, friendly, respectful, and rather relaxed. "Both enjoy their debate, but they are talking quietly so as not to disturb Wentworth's writing," Wiltshire says (162). Each one is speaking with feeling, but each responds to what the other says with tact, sometimes with playfulness, and in an open spirit. Neither one is in a hurry, since both Anne and Harville are waiting for someone else to be ready to do something. Both are invested in the argument, and both are talking about personal experience and personal sorrow, though the reader knows much more than Harville can of Anne's secret life. When Anne directly describes her own experience--'"We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us'" (253)--Harville points out that this description does not apply to Benwick, who has been living with the Harvilles, so she willingly revises her argument. '"True, ... very true; I did not recollect; but what shall we say now, Captain Harville?'" (253). He likewise kindly offers a way to refute his argument that all literature, including "'[s]ongs and proverbs,'" all prove '"women's fickleness'": '"But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men"' (254).
The questions of how much Wentworth can overhear of their conversation, and of whether or not Anne intends for him to overhear her words, have been discussed by various critics. Several critics declare that Anne intends her speeches to be heard by Wentworth. Tony Tanner writes that Anne "hopes that the nearby Wentworth ... will hear them and detect the personal message contained in the general statements" (241). Linda Bree says that Wentworth "overhears the whole" of Anne's speeches (34). Even the editors of the Cambridge edition say that Anne's "speeches to Harville form the heroine's declaration of love to the listening Wentworth" (lxxxii). Harris, too, says that "Anne declares her love within Wentworth's hearing" (190).
These statements do not, I think, capture the subtlety of this scene, nor do they do justice to Austen's careful way of making clear that Wentworth cannot hear everything that Anne says, nor do such statements capture the meanings of what Anne actually does say. The questions can be more accurately answered by noting what the narrator says about the levels of the speakers' voices, and by noting how Austen implicitly and explicitly measures the distance between the window where the two speakers are standing and the writing table where Wentworth is sitting. For example, Anne's first speech is "in a low feeling voice," suggesting that Wentworth probably could not hear exactly what she says. Harville next tries out an argument that men's love is stronger than women's love, based on the idea that men have greater physical strength, and Anne replies with an argument that women's love lasts longer than men's, just as women are longer-lived than men.
But not wanting to win the debate by insisting on women's experiences, Anne follows this argument with a description of the necessary struggles and courage of men's lives, a speech reflecting her generosity of spirit. She repeatedly addresses Captain Harville as "'you,'" as she names the hardships and demands of a sea-captain's life, which he certainly has experienced, but her description of course reveals how vividly she has imagined Wentworth's life: "'You have difficulties, and privations, and dangers enough to struggle with. You are always labouring and toiling, exposed to every risk and hardship. Your home, country, friends, all quitted. Neither time, nor health, nor life, to be called your own. It would be too hard indeed' (with a faltering voice) 'if woman's feelings were to be added to all this"' (254).
The last words of Anne's deeply felt speech are spoken "in a faltering voice," so it seems that Wentworth must be able only to perceive the ardor in her tone but not to catch all of her exact words. Surprisingly, at that moment, "a slight noise" calls their attention to the formerly "perfectly quiet" quarter of the room where Wentworth sits: "It was nothing more than that his pen had fallen down, but Anne was startled at finding him nearer than she had supposed" (254). Her thought indicates that Anne has at least subconsciously measured her distance from Wentworth, and at least subconsciously figured out that Wentworth probably could not hear her exact words. But perceptively reading his slight movement--accidentally dropping his pen--Anne surmises that Wentworth "had been occupied by them, striving to catch sounds, which yet she did not think he could have caught" (254). Anne's almost clairvoyant knowledge of Wentworth's mind suggests that Austen intends to show that he could not have caught those sounds. With his attention drawn to Wentworth, Harville apparently raises his voice and calls out to his friend, '"Have you finished your letter?"' Wentworth answers briefly, '"Not quite. ... I shall have done in five minutes.'" Harville replies that '"[t]here is no hurry on my side.... I am in very good anchorage here"' and then turns back to their conversation, "smiling at Anne" and "lowering his voice" (254).
This seems to be the moment when Wentworth begins his letter, for his first words are, '"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach'" (257). Then he writes his piercingly passionate letter, ardently offering himself again to Anne, '"with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago"' (258). Near the end of the letter, after he has overheard more of the conversation, he writes, '"I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice, when they would be lost on others'" (258). He thus indicates his incomplete overhearing of Anne's exact words, but also his heartfelt attention to her beloved voice and way of talking.
It is right after Wentworth drops his pen that Harville tries out the argument about all literature proving women's fickleness, ending with his offered answer, '"But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men"' (254). Anne accepts his offer, and says, '"Perhaps I shall.--Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books,'" and she notes men's advantage in education and in telling their own stories: '"the pen has been in their hands'" (255). This is funny because the pen has been in Wentworth's hand and funny because he has just dropped it. And it's ironic because Jane Austen is pointing out how few books were written by women, and because she is writing this one and letting Anne declare, '"I will not allow books to prove any thing'" (255).
Giving up the idea of using books to prove his point, Harville draws on his own experience, and his impassioned voice betrays how deeply he feels about it: "'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"' (255). His heartfelt descriptions of a sea-captain's anguished farewell and the same man's ecstatic homecoming are clearly his own vivid memories of parting and reuniting with his own wife and children. But at the end of describing his own powerful personal experience, Harville seems to realize that, although these are his real feelings, they may not necessarily be all men's feelings, so he adds, '"I speak, you know, only of such men as have hearts!'" as he is "pressing his own with emotion" (255).
In response to such an impassioned speech and such personal memories, Anne likewise raises her voice. "'Oh!' cried Anne eagerly, 'I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you.... I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman'" (256, italics added). The exclamation "Oh!," the word "cried," and Anne's vigorous diction ("utter contempt," "dared to suppose") make it clear that she speaks up strongly in response to the powerful personal feeling in Harville's speech. That Wentworth can clearly hear not just her voice but the words of her "eloquent assertion of human equality" (Wiltshire 164) is proven by his picking up of her exact language in his letter: '"You do us justice indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating in F. W.'" (258, italics added). Both incredibly touching and almost ironic, Wentworth's letter and his renewed passion for Anne Elliot offer a correction to her side of the argument about men's and women's constancy. He has loved only Anne.
When Anne makes her last exceedingly kind and self-revealing argument, "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,'" her voice has undoubtedly sunk to barely audible, and after she finishes, she could not have "uttered another sentence" because "her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed" (256). Wentworth could have overheard the sorrowful tone of her final claim, but not exactly what she says, which Wiltshire points out "is hardly a declaration of love," but an "expression of feeling" notable for "its wryly ironic retrospective sadness" (163). Captain Harville, with kindness equal to Anne's, acknowledges her beautiful speech in his final concession: "You are a good soul.... There is no quarrelling with you.--And when I think of Benwick, my tongue is tied."' He puts his hand on her arm "quite affectionately," and lets her have the last word (256). At last, she is able to express to Captain Harville feelings "long withheld in silence" (Wiltshire 163), and he responds with good-natured simplicity.
The answer to the question, "does Anne declare her love to Wentworth?" must be, "no, not exactly." Austen makes it possible for Anne to express her passionate feelings, but only the reader can hear and understand every word, and only the reader can fully know how eloquent Anne Elliot can be, after all. The beauty of the scene, however, is that even if he cannot hear every word, Wentworth can still witness Anne's generous, reflective way of speaking in a conversation that engages her as an equal, thinking person. He can perceive her intelligence and warmth, and he definitely hears the deep emotion in her voice as she speaks of "true attachment and constancy" in men. He responds with his passionate letter.
A very interesting argument in Jocelyn Harris's book on Persuasion is her speculation about the effect on Jane Austen of reading the anonymous review of Emma written by Sir Walter Scott and published in March of 1816. Austen certainly did read it--though she might not have known who wrote it--because she mentions it in a letter of April 1. In his review, Scott comments perceptively on Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma, but overlooks Mansfield Park, as, in her letter, Austen noticed and regretted. But he concludes his unsigned review with a gently worded reproach to "authors" who no longer seem to celebrate the power of romantic passion. He asks, "Who is it, that in his youth has felt a virtuous attachment, that however romantic, or however unfortunate, but can trace back to its influence much that his character may possess of what is honourable, dignified, and disinterested?" (296). Scott deplores the pattern in recent novels of ignoring "Cupid" in favor of "calculating prudence," and he ends his essay with a tribute to "the influence of a passion which has been well qualified as the 'tenderest, noblest and best."' Harris suggests that perhaps reading Scott's reproach to authors and his tribute to romantic passion encouraged Austen to "turn a tame, flat, manuscript into her last, most passionate text" (61-62).
Wentworth's letter reveals the complexity of Austen's conception of his character and also stands out as the only passionate declaration of love that Austen ever wrote: '"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago.... I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant'" (258). Now, as he enters the debate on men's and women's constancy, he says that he was '"never inconstant."' He always loved Anne, even when he was angry. Captain Wentworth's letter, more explicit and heart-wrenching than any statement by Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, is another breakthrough for Jane Austen, another sign of her renewed confidence in her powers and her rights, as she reconceived her book.
When Wentworth leaves the room with Harville, without a glance or a word to Anne, and then abruptly returns and hands her his letter "with eyes of glowing entreaty," Austen's words capturing Anne's feelings are in explosive language: the "revolution which one instant had made in Anne, was almost beyond expression" (257). After the kinds of little distractions and agonizing delays that Austen is so good at imagining, the two lovers are able to walk alone together on "Union-street" (a street that had not existed in Bath when Austen lived there, but whose name perfectly fits her purpose now), then turn into the "comparatively quiet and retired gravel-walk" and exchange again "those feelings and those promises ... that had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement" (261). Exploring the novel's hidden premise that renewed love and mature love may be even better than its first fulfillment, Anne and Wentworth are "more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting" (261). Austen rarely repeats words in a sentence unless they are in a character's speech, but here, the six repetitions of the word "more" in her account of Anne's and Wentworth's happiness indicate Austen's own passionate invitation to the reader to celebrate their reunion. Later in chapter 11, Anne calms her "high-wrought felicity," to grow "steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment" (266). The chapter concludes with Anne and Wentworth talking about the past, analyzing their own earlier decisions, and allowing Wentworth to describe his discovery that he '"must learn to brook being happier than I deserve"' (269).
It is true that some plot threads are dropped in Austen's three brilliant final chapters. Anne never gets to enlighten Lady Russell about Mr. Elliot's despicable past, but perhaps that interview is not really needed since Mr. Elliot's quitting Bath for London and his setting up Mrs. Clay there makes clear "how double a game he had been playing" (273). Still, it is striking how much of the original chapters 10 and 11 Austen could retain in the new chapters 11 and 12. Wentworth's explanation of his discovery that he still loved Anne and thought of her as the model of womanly perfection, his remorse at Louisa's accident, his shock at discovering that the Harvilles considered him as practically engaged to Louisa, his anguish in recognizing his horrible mistakes in relation to both the Musgrove girls, and his ecstatic relief at Louisa's engagement to Benwick were all vividly worked out in Austen's first attempt at imagining what he would explain in his "re-union" with Anne (262-64).
However, when Austen recopied and revised the second half of the original chapter 10 for the final chapter 11, Harris explains, she changed the free indirect speech she had used for Wentworth's discoveries, putting it more powerfully into his own spoken words to Anne: '"I was considered by Harville an engaged man! ... I was startled and shocked'" (P263; Harris 52). Wentworth's "account becomes more dramatic and self-blaming," says Harris (53), demonstrating new depth of self-knowledge and willingness to admit his own mistakes. But the subtlety of the revised ending, Wiltshire writes, "is a sign that the novelist's imagination is now in full poetic command of the inner meaning of the narrative that she has worked on" (162-63). In the original chapter 11, Austen had already figured out and written how Sir Walter and Elizabeth in their ways, and Mary Musgrove in hers, would react to the news of Anne and Wentworth's engagement, and how it would have shocked Mr. Elliot when it sprang upon his consciousness (270-72). She had already written the forgiving paragraphs about Lady Russell that she finally put in chapter 12: "There was nothing less for Lady Russell to do, than to admit that she had been pretty completely wrong, and to take up a new set of opinions and of hopes.... She loved Anne better than she loved her own abilities" (271-72).
But carefully comparing every word of the old chapters 10 and 11 with the new chapters 11 and 12 allows the reader to see the subtlety and absolute rightness of Austen's many small revisions and modifications in the language of her first draft. The revisions show, as Gemmill says, "the various ways her genius operates when she goes back ... to the foundation that she has laid in her draft" (122). Reading the two versions together enables the reader once again to imagine that we can watch Jane Austen, the gifted, confident, secure master writer, revising and perfecting her brilliant final novel.
Marcia McClintock Folsom is Professor Emeritus of Literature at Wheelock College. She is the editor of Approaches to Teaching Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Approaches to Teaching Austen's Emma, and, with co-editor John Wiltshire, Approaches to Teaching Austen's Mansfield Park, and Approaches to Teaching Austen's Persuasion (forthcoming). Recent essays include "Emma: Knowing Her Mind," Persuasions 38 (2017).
Austen, Jane. Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts: A Digital Edition. Ed. Kathryn Sutherland. 2010. www.janeausten.ac.uk.
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--. Minor Works. The Novels of Jane Austen. Ed. R. W. Chapman. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1965.
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Bree, Linda. "Introduction." Persuasion. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 1998. 7-37.
Chapman, R. W., ed. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. 1923. Oxford: OUP, 1965.
Folsom, Marcia McClintock. "The Privilege of My Own Profession: The Living Legacy of Austen in the Classroom." Persuasions On-Line 29.1 (2008).
Gemmill, Katie. "Jane Austen as Editor: Letters on Fiction and the Cancelled Chapters of Persuasion" Eighteenth-Century Fiction 24.1 (2011): 105-22.
Harris, Jocelyn. A Revolution Almost beyond Expression: Jane Austen's Persuasion. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2007.
Scott, Sir Walter. Review of Emma: A Novel. Oct. 1815. Quarterly Review 14 (Mar. 1816): 188-201. Rpt. Jane Austen: Critical Assessments. Ed. Ian Littlewood. Mountfield, East Sussex: Helm, 1.998. Vol. 1. 287-96.
Southam, Brian. "Persuasion: The Cancelled Chapters." The Jane Austen Companion. Ed. J. David Grey, A. Walton Litz, and B. C. Southam. New York: Macmillan, 1986. 322-23.
Tanner, Tony. Jane Austen. 1986. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.
Wiltshire, John. The Hidden Jane Austen. Cambridge: CUP, 2014.
Wray, Paul. "Persuasion: Why the Revised Ending Works So Well." Persuasions On-Line 38.1 (2017).
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|Title Annotation:||AGM 2018: Kansas City, Missouri; Jane Austen|
|Author:||Folsom, Marcia McClintock|
|Publication:||Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2018|
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