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The darkness of Emma.

"While the opening paragraphs of Emma immediately locate the "danger" (4) to the heroine's happiness in her flaw of "think[ing] ... too well of herself (3), through the secondary and tertiary characters of the novel, Austen glances at a very different threat to happiness in the forces that lie beyond one's control. We learn of Lieutenant Fairfax's death "in action abroad" (174), presumably in the war with France, of the near death of Colonel Campbell from "a severe camp-fever" (174), and of the deaths of the mothers of Emma, Frank, and Jane when their children were all very young.1 Miss Bates forms a poignant example of the vicissitudes of fortune, while Mr. Woodhouse lives in perpetual terror of accident and illness. Even as we laugh at his absurdly exaggerated fears, the novel subtly validates them. We learn, for example, that the sea did almost kill Jane Fairfax in a boating mishap at Weymouth. Against its lively, comic, optimistic tale of a young woman's moral growth, Emma counterpoints a somber vision of the vulnerability of our lives that anticipates Persuasion. Even as it explores those "blessings of existence" (3) that counteract its devastations, Emma expresses an incipient awareness, developed more fully in Persuasion, of our very limited power to contend with the blows of fortune. Paradoxically, this bleak awareness gives rise to a remarkable affirmation of passion in both novels.

Entirely preoccupied with the dangers of life, Mr. Woodhouse fears everything outside the carefully controlled environment of Hartfield, from a vacation at the sea--'"I am sure [the sea] almost killed me once'" (108)--to a ball at the Crown Inn--'"A room at an inn was always damp and dangerous'" (270); from Mr. Elton's trip to Bath--"Mr. Elton might never get safely to the end of it" (152)--to Emma's short drive home from the vicarage on Christmas Eve--"[H]er father ... had been trembling for the dangers of a solitary drive from Vicarage-lane" (143); from open windows and open doors to an egg not boiled well enough or an apple not baked long enough, all of which might make one ill. His response to the cancellation of the ball-"[T]hey would all be safer at home" (279)--encapsulates the obsessive quest for "safety" that has led him to forego so many of the innocent pleasures of life and to immure himself at Hartfield. And even there, as he cautions Emma, '"[I]t is never safe to sit out of doors'" (50)!

What has made Mr. Woodhouse so morbidly fearful? What has caused him to become so overprotective of himself and, more importantly, of Emma so that she is "Very seldom"' absent from Hartfield for '"two hours'" at a time (338), and when she does leave to visit Miss Bates on the morning after Box Hill, she returns to be greeted by her father with the nonsensical, neurotic question "'[A]nd did you get there safely?'" (419). Notwithstanding his tongue-in-cheek presentation of a psychoanalytic approach to Emma, Avrom Fleishman offers the plausible suggestion that her father's "acute anxiety" may indicate "premature senility" (248). I would like to suggest that Mr. Woodhouse's fears may originate in the death of his wife. Whereas the novel tells us how the mothers of Frank and Jane died--the one from a "lingering illness" (14), the other from "consumption and grief" (174)--it offers no information about the death of Emma's mother. It is tempting to speculate that she may have died suddenly from an accident or a brief illness and that the shock of her death permanently traumatized Mr. Woodhouse. To be sure, the novel indicates that Mr. Woodhouse was always "a nervous man" (6) and "a valetudinarian ... without activity of mind or body" (5). Yet clearly he was sufficiently energetic and healthy to marry, albeit late, and to father two children. In this regard, we may see in Isabella a reflection of the younger Mr. Woodhouse. She too is a nervous, anxious person, overly concerned with her own health and that of her family, but she is also very much in love with her husband and leads a normal married life. Like Jane Bates, Mr. Woodhouse, in his own way, may never have recovered from the shock of losing his spouse. Her death may also have contributed to his opposition to marriage. Just as he tries to forestall physical dangers by encouraging everyone to stay at home, so he tries to forestall emotional anguish by discouraging everyone, especially his own children, from marrying.

Whatever the source of his anxieties may be, Mr. Woodhouse functions at once as a classic comic killjoy--'"The sooner every party breaks up, the better"' (227)--and as a foreboding voice, persistently warning both the other characters and the readers of how fragile our lives really are. H is warnings are vindicated not only by Jane Fairfax's nearly fatal accident but also by the unexpected death of Mrs. Churchill from "[a] sudden seizure of a different nature from any thing foreboded by her general state" (421). We must pay attention, as Joann Morse insists, to Mr. Woodhouse.

If Mr. Woodhouse warns us of the precariousness of life, Miss Bates exemplifies it. Upon the death of her father, a former vicar of Highbury, she and her mother at once lost their social position, their home in the rectory, and, most important, the greater part of their income. Throughout the novel, the Bateses are associated with the imagery of confinement. Mr. Woodhouse laments their "'confined'" '"circumstances'" (184); Mr. Perry worries about Jane's health, "confined" as she is in her aunt's home "always to one [sitting] room," which she must share with her aunt and grandmother (424); and the apartment itself can be reached only by a "'dark[] and narrow[]"' staircase (258). The Bateses are trapped in a poverty so grim that they depend on their friends for treats of food, for apples from Donwell and pork from Hartfield. Their descent in society is all the more striking for its contrast with the rise of others: Mr. Weston has achieved his dream of owning the "little estate" of Randalls (14); Mr. Perry is considering buying a carriage; and the Coles have prospered so well that they now are "second only to the family at Hartfield" "in fortune and style of living" (223). Only John Abdy, who was '"clerk to [Miss Bates's] father twenty-seven years'" (416), has suffered even greater reverses than Mrs. and Miss Bates. Both impoverished and '"bed-ridden"' (416), he must turn to the parish for relief. If "fortune ... ha[s] smiled" on the Coles (223), it has averted its face from the family and the clerk of the late vicar.

Even as she develops multiple examples of the vulnerability of our lives, Austen consistently softens their impact. Arguably the most pitiable figure of Emma, John Abdy never actually appears in it but is only mentioned once in passing by Miss Bates. While talked of much more frequently, Mrs. Churchill, the only character who dies in the course of Emma, also never actually appears. Unlike Louisa Musgrove's accident, which plays a prominent role in Persuasion, Jane's predates the action of the novel, and the information about it is buried in Miss Bates's chatter. The deaths of Lieutenant Fairfax and of the mothers of Emma, Jane, and Frank occurred, of course, many years before the novel begins. By creating temporal and emotional distances between the reader and these characters and events, by relegating them to the outskirts of the novel, Austen carefully subordinates the vision of the fragility of our lives to the novel's primary focus on Emma's moral development.

In this regard, Miss Bates's plight, which in some ways anticipates Mrs. Smith's in Persuasion, highlights the difference between the two novels. While the latter's tragically diminished life is central to Persuasion's concern with "the miscarriages of life," with "suffering and vulnerability" (Wiltshire 196), the main significance of Miss Bates's situation lies not in itself but in Emma's relation to Miss Bates. Emma's cruel insult at Box Hill to this vulnerable woman who has sunk so far below her in society and her subsequent heartfelt repentance form the moral crux of the novel. In itself, Miss Bates's plight is only of secondary significance. Her comic aspects, moreover, as well as those of Mr. Woodhouse, soften the grimness of both her plight and his warnings and partially distract us from them, at least on a first reading. Indeed, we must look closely at this high-spirited novel to see that war, illness, accident, painful reversals of fortune--so prominent in Persuasion--already hover on its periphery.

How does one contend with the miscarriages of life? How does one endure the blows of fortune without sinking into despair? Austen explores these questions in both Emma and Persuasion, particularly in the characters of Miss Bates and Mrs. Smith. The narrator presents Miss Bates as a woman who considers herself "surrounded with blessings in ... so many good neighbours and friends" (20). Introduced immediately in Emma's opening sentence, the concept of blessing is central to the novel as it proceeds to ascertain what truly are the "best blessings of existence" (3). Certainly the blessing of friendship proves essential in one's ability to withstand the blows of fortune. Mr. Knightley, Mr. Woodhouse, the Westons, the Perrys, the Coles offer both emotional and material support to Miss Bates, inviting her to their get-togethers, visiting her--"Mrs. and Miss Bates loved to be called on" (165)--and sending her gifts of food. (2) The solidarity of community, the human bonds of kindness and concern are presented in the novel as, indeed, a great blessing of existence.

The most dramatic example of friendship in Emma is that of Colonel Campbell and Lieutenant Fairfax with its life-altering consequences for Jane. Out of gratitude to Fairfax, whom he regards as having "saved his life" when he was critically ill (174), Colonel Campbell removes Jane in childhood from her life of penury with her aunt and grandmother, gives her a loving home and an "excellent education" (175), and introduces her to a more sophisticated, "elegant society" (176). He thereby enables her to become the social equal of both Emma and, as Mr. Knightley emphasizes, of Frank '"in every point'" but fortune (466). Her marriage to Frank Churchill and future as the mistress of Enscombe would not have been possible were it not for Colonel Campbell's determination to be "a real friend" to Fairfax's orphaned daughter (175).

Although no character in Emma, not even John Abdy, who has a son who cares for him, suffers the many deprivations of Mrs. Smith, Miss Bates adumbrates her in her descent into poverty and obscurity. Like Miss Bates, Mrs. Smith is also associated with images of confinement. Her "limited" "accommodations" in Bath, consisting of "a ... parlour, and a dark bed-room behind" (P 167), recall Miss Bates's small apartment and the dark staircase leading to it. Mrs. Smith finds comfort in the friendship of Anne. Apart from Nurse Rooke, who stops by to chat whenever she has a free half hour, Anne is her only visitor. Like Colonel Campbell, who did "not learn to overlook" (E 174) his debt to Fairfax, and in striking contrast to Mr. Elliot, who abandons Mrs. Smith when she is no longer useful to him, Anne has not forgotten the kindness she received from Miss Hamilton at a critical moment in her life when she was a young girl alone at school, still mourning her mother.

That Anne and Wentworth share a similar capacity for friendship further enhances their suitability for each other. We learn of Wentworth's devotion to Captain Benwick in the crisis of Fanny Harville's death. When he marries Anne, moreover, we are told that he helps Mrs. Smith recover part of her husband's property "by writing for her" and "acting for her ... with the activity ... of ... a determined friend" (274). Loyal, "true friends" (E 528) form in both novels a major bulwark against the blows of fortune as they offer solace and companionship, help improve financial circumstances and prospects in life, and even, in the case of Lieutenant Fairfax and Colonel Campbell, save one's life.

Austen distinguishes in Emma between two kinds of blessings--those that are the arbitrary gifts of fortune and those one attains through one's actions and experiences. Miss Bates is not simply an object of compassion for the Highbury community; like Lieutenant Fairfax, and later Mrs. Smith, she has clearly earned her "blessing[]" of "good ... friends" (20). Her "universal good-will" (20) and genuine warmhearted friendliness to her neighbors that we see most clearly in her interactions with them at the ball have won her their goodwill and affection in return. Even the grumpy Mrs. Wallis bakes her apples for her and graciously delivers them to her home. The opening sentence of the novel immediately identifies Emma, on the other hand, with the gifts of fortune: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich,... seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence" (3). Through "seemed," the text questions whether these really are the greatest blessings of all. For Emma, beauty, cleverness, and wealth prove to be mixed blessings at best, for they foster the conceit and arrogance that lead her to hurt others and threaten her own happiness. The primary narrative of Emma's moral development moves away from these unearned, equivocal blessings to the true blessing of "the knowledge of herself" (449) that Emma attains only through painful experience: "Her own conduct, as well as her own heart, was before her.... She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before" (444).

Unlike Emma, Miss Bates is "neither ... handsome, rich," nor clever--"She had never boasted ... cleverness" (20)--but she does share with Emma the blessing of a "natural cheerfulness" (149), a "happy disposition" (3). Completing the opening list of Emma's blessings, a "happy disposition" is presented, by virtue of its context, as a gift of fortune like beauty or wealth or cleverness. But unlike the others, it is an unequivocal blessing and the single gift that fortune has also granted to Miss Bates: "The ... cheerfulness of her nature," the narrator informs us, was a "mine of felicity to herself" (20, emphasis mine). While in the primary narrative of Emma's development, her "natural cheerfulness" plays a lesser role, enabling her to bear her father's incessant demands with admirable grace and contributing to her appealing vitality, within the secondary vision of the fragility of our lives, a cheerful nature assumes an overwhelming importance, superseding even friendship in enabling one to endure the depredations of fortune. Not only does it guard one from self-pity and despair, but it also enables one to find enjoyment in even a much diminished life.

The introductory description of Miss Bates emphasizes her difficult, constricted life, "devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible," only to qualify it immediately: "And yet she was a happy woman" (20). For Miss Bates, her elderly, failing, deaf mother is not a burden but a treasure, her life not one of deprivations but of blessings. Her cheerful temperament prevents her from pining for what she never had--a family of her own--or for the more secure life she has lost; it enables her to find comfort "in what remains behind" (Wordsworth, "Immortality Ode" 10.100). Joann Morse speaks movingly of Miss Bates's wholehearted "embrace of life, however little it gives her." "[W]hat she does with Knightley's gift of apples in all forms--pies, dumplings, even Mr. Woodhouse's favorite, simple and thoroughly baked"--symbolizes for Morse "her genial transformation of so little into so much."

Just as Mrs. Smith's plight is so much grimmer than that of Miss Bates, so her ability to find joy in so very little is even greater and more remarkable. In its portrayals of Anne, the severely wounded Captain Harville, and Mrs. Smith, Persuasion is preoccupied with one central question--and here I am echoing Robert Frost: what does one do with a diminished life?'1 Of the three, Mrs. Smith presents the most fearsome vision of such a life. In a series of simple, stark clauses that mirror her reduced existence, the narrator notes all that has been taken away from Mrs. Smith or denied her: "She had been very fond of her husband,--she had buried him. She had been used to affluence,--it was gone. She had no child to connect her with life and happiness again, no relations to assist in the arrangement of perplexed affairs, no health to make all the rest supportable" (167). Unable to imagine a "more cheerless situation" (167), Anne is astonished at Mrs. Smith's "disposition to ... be cheerful" (166') and to "tur[n] ... from evil to good" (167). She is happy to tell Anne about the improvement in her condition in the weeks since her arrival in Bath. No longer "confined to her bed" and "suffering ... constant pain," she has also recovered the use of'"[her] hands'" and learned to knit, '"which has been a great amusement.'" Her new skill, moreover, has enabled her to help '"one or two very poor families'" (168).

As with Miss Bates, who plans to visit John Abdy, Mrs. Smith's suffering has not turned her inward, absorbed in her own distress and engrossed in self-pity. Rather, she is able to find both "occupation and enjoyment" and even to help others (167). Her "elasticity of mind," her cheerful resilience is not, Anne concludes, a matter of will but derives "from Nature alone" (167). If a "happy disposition" is one of the "best blessings of existence" in Emma, in Persuasion, a "disposition to ... be cheerful" (166) is the "choicest gift of Heaven" (167).

How are we to understand the suggestion in Austen's last completed novels that the most powerful antidote to the blows of fortune is itself a gift of fortune or providence, bestowed on some but not on others, on Miss Bates, for example, but not on her sister, Jane, who died shortly after her husband, broken by grief and illness? These novels form a striking contrast with the earlier Sense and Sensibility, which presents Elinor's "appearance of cheerfulness" in the face of adversity as a moral virtue (162), achieved only through '"constant and painful exertion'" (299). (4) Insofar as the sisters' prospects for happiness are destroyed by circumstances for which they bear no responsibility and over which they have no control--Edward's long-standing engagement to Lucy and Willoughby's desertion of Marianne for the very wealthy Miss Grey--they too are victims of fortune, and the entire novel is devoted to examining their reactions to its blows. In her struggle to accept her loss, to master her grief, to achieve cheerfulness and tranquility and continue with her life, (5) Elinor serves as Austen's moral model, while Marianne's inability or unwillingness to '"exert [her] self'" (211) makes her the focus of Austen's criticism. Abandoning herself to her grief, she nearly dies, as Jane Bates did, of anguish and illness. (6)

Austen's last novels, however, present so dark a vision of the crushing power of the forces beyond our control that they call into question our ability to contend with those forces. The deaths of so many tertiary characters in Emma, the illness of others, the perils of war and the havoc of accident that hover on the edges of the novel and move to the center of Persuasion create a vision of human vulnerability and suffering that makes Sense and Sensibility's prescriptions of exertion, duty, and cheerfulness seem unrealistic. Against the enormity of our vulnerability, those, like Jane Bates, who cannot rally under the blows of fortune are not criticized. (7) The only parallel in Persuasion to Elinor's repeated pleas to Marianne to '"exert yourself" (AS 211) is Anne's attempt to convince the grieving Benwick to read more prose by "our best moralists" with their edifying examples of patient "endurance[]" (109). This episode ends, however, with Anne's recalling that even the "great moralists" (109) could not always follow their own prescriptions. Certainly Mrs. Smith's Job-like tribulations are so dreadful that only a "merciful appointment" of Heaven (167), according to Anne, has enabled her to bear them; her own exertions would likely not have been sufficient. In Emma, this awareness of our very limited power to contend with the blows of fortune forms a bleak but muted counterpoint to the novel's celebration of Emma's moral maturation, of her ability to change and grow and improve; in Persuasion, it accounts for much of the melancholy of the novel. Reminders of our vulnerability intrude briefly even into the happy endings of both, as Emma for a moment anticipates her father's death in the final chapters and, more significantly, a happily married Anne, in the last sentences of Persuasion, fears only "a future war" (275).

That there would indeed be a future war is something that modern readers might miss but that Austen's contemporaries would have realized the moment they began reading the first chapter of Persuasion, set in "the summer of 1814" (9). Earlier that spring, Napoleon had gone into exile in Elba. The "'peace'" that turns the '"Navy Officers ashore " at the beginning of Persuasion did not last, however (19). With the escape of Napoleon from Elba at the "end of February, the threat of ... war was looming" once again, and by the end of March, "the Admiralty announced a suspension of demobilisation" (Southam 296). Napoleon was decisively defeated at Waterloo in June 1815. In August, Austen began writing Persuasion.

Until the brief allusion in the novel's penultimate sentence, Austen kept the resumption of war out of Persuasion. The last clear date we are given is in chapter 6 of volume 2, which opens with the information that "[i]t was the beginning of February" (176). Wentworth appears in Bath soon afterwards, and Austen keeps the chronology of the remaining six chapters of Persuasion deliberately vague as she quickly moves Anne and Wentworth to their happy ending, reuniting them before Napoleon's escape at the very end of the month. For contemporary readers, however, if not all nineteenth-century readers, this gap between their knowledge that war would resume and the characters' ignorance would have implicitly but powerfully reinforced Persuasion's vision of the fragility of our hopes and expectations, of the uncertainty of our lives and the slipperiness of our futures. (8)

Yet this same melancholy vision gives rise to the extraordinary validation of passion in Austen's last novels. In Persuasion, and already in Emma in the love of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax, we see the elevation of passion over prudence, propriety, and, surprisingly, even over duty. Admiral Croft succinctly notes the impact of war on romance: '"We sailors, Miss Elliot, cannot afford to make long courtships in time of war'" (98-99). And so he and Mrs. Croft married within only a few days of meeting: '"How many clays was it, my dear, between the first time of my seeing you, and our sitting down together in our lodgings at North Yarmouth?'" (99, emphasis mine). Their whirlwind courtship would have horrified Lady Russell, but it produced one of the happiest marriages in Austen's canon.

Persuasion's explicit rejection of Lady Russell's values--"There was nothing less for Lady Russell to do, than to admit that she had been pretty completely wrong" (271)--is also implicitly dramatized in the little episode in which Anne, riding in the carriage with Lady Russell in Bath, is so intent upon observing whether Lady Russell has noticed Wentworth on the street that she misses the opportunity to make eye contact with him herself: "The part which provoked her most, was that in all this waste of foresight and caution, she should have lost the right moment for seeing whether he saw them" (195). The association of caution, foresight, and, by implication, prudence--all values of Lady Russell--with waste is of telling significance. In a world of war, accident, and crippling illness, these values have no place, for they keep lovers apart and delay happiness and fulfillment. They waste life. This waste is literally exemplified by the death of Fanny Harville while she and Benwick were prudently delaying their marriage until he could make his fortune. (9) All that really matters, as indicated in the emblematic episode in the carriage, is that Anne and Wentworth see each other, make contact, and reunite.

As in Sense and Sensibility, "exertion" is also an important concept in Persuasion, but it assumes a significantly different goal. No less important than Wentworth's life of "exertion" in the navy (32) or Anne's "great" "exertions" in the crisis on the Cobb (137) are their exertions on behalf of their own happiness. Once reunited with Anne, Wentworth tells her of his reaction to the news of Louisa's engagement to Benwick: "'[N]ow I could at least put myself in the way of happiness, I could exert myself" (264). And he rushes off to Anne in Bath. Anne, who acts so effectively during Louisa's accident and who takes "the ... trouble of exertion" to draw out Benwick in conversation (108), must learn to act for herself as well as others. "In spite of the formidable" presence of her father and sister at the concert (197), she steps forward to greet Wentworth, determined not to let him pass by with merely a bow. As he tells her later, this overture did encourage him. If in Emma an insult at a picnic assumes climactic importance, in Persuasion this "little advance" towards Wentworth (197), this small initiative to regain the man she loves is as significant as Anne's exertions on the Cobb. The woman who forfeited her happiness eight years earlier must actively "advance" it now.

Anne, of course, is not a victim of fortune's blows. Her suffering originates in her decision to break her engagement to Wentworth on the advice of Lady Russell. As she explains to him at the end of the novel, she felt it was her '"duty"' (268) to obey Lady Russell's counsel because "[t]o me, she was in the place of a parent'" (267-68). Her sacrifice recalls Edward Ferrars's choice in Sense and Sensibility. While she gives up an engagement to a man she loves, he maintains an engagement, out of a similar sense of duty, to a woman he no longer loves, but who, he believes, sincerely loves him. Elinor tacitly acquiesces in Edward's sacrifice of their happiness to honor and duty and indeed "glorie[s] in his integrity" (306). While Austen, however, soon releases Elinor and Edward from his decision through Lucy's elopement with Robert, in Persuasion she defers the rescue of Anne from the consequences of her choice for eight long years.

Persuasion focuses entirely on the long-range consequences of a decision to sacrifice personal happiness in the name of a higher principle. (10) And the consequences are devastating. Anne, to be sure, is a paragon of fortitude and quiet resignation, but she is also a faded, withdrawn, intensely lonely woman, so devoid of vitality that Wentworth finds her almost unrecognizable. So shattering is Austen's vision of the physical and psychological costs of Anne's sacrifice, so painful her portrayal of Anne's empty, diminished life that they call into question the validity of that sacrifice and undercut Anne's attempt to justify it to Wentworth. Not only Lady Russell's caution and prudence, but also Anne's overly scrupulous sense of duty have blighted and wasted her life. For Lady Russell is not, after all, Anne's mother. Ironically, from the little we know of Anne's mother, of Anne's closeness to her and similarity to her, and of her own unhappiness in her marriage to the dreadful Sir Walter--Lady Elliot was "not the very happiest being in the world" (4)--it is likely she may well have approved of the love of Anne and Wentworth.

Emma anticipates Persuasion's vindication of passion in the love of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. Like Admiral and Mrs. Croft, they knew each other for a very brief time before they become engaged at Weymouth; like the Crofts, their love is associated with the sea, with the "laws" of "nature and ... desire" (Auerbach 116). (11) Their secret engagement is far more imprudent and improper than any action of Marianne and Willoughby's, and their deception of the entire Highbury community, including their families, over a course of months is, as Emma exclaims, '"much beyond impropriety!'" (433). It is immoral. Yet Austen gives them their happy ending. Their genuine love for each other, free on both sides, as the novel emphasizes, from monetary considerations, clearly has a value that overrides both social norms and conventional morality. Considering the difficulties of Jane's situation, Emma soon agrees with Mrs. Weston in excusing her actions, observing that "'[o]f such, one may almost say, that 'the world is not theirs, nor the world's law'" (436). This echo of Romeo and Juliet with its secretly married lovers enhances the sympathetic portrayal of the love of Frank and Jane. That Romeo and Juliet, moreover, are destroyed by the vagaries of fortune in the failure to deliver a letter implicitly reinforces the novel's vision of the vulnerability of our lives and further legitimizes the attempt of Frank and Jane to secure their happiness.

Frank, to be sure, is presented as morally inferior to both Jane and Mr. Knightley, but he is fifteen years younger than Mr. Knightley and has time to mature. That he, the heir of Enscombe, wishes to marry the penniless Jane is also to his credit. The implicit parallel between Frank and Romeo, moreover, serves to mitigate Frank's flaws even as Austen points them out. His praise of Jane's beauty to Emma, for example--'"Did you ever see such a skin?--such smoothness! such delicacy!'" (521)--is meant to strike us as tasteless, or to use Austen's vocabulary, as indelicate, and it certainly helps confirm for Emma the "high superiority" of Mr. Knightley (524). Like the gift of the piano, however, it also reflects the impetuous exuberance of a very young man, very much in love. (12)

The centrality of physical passion in the courtship and marriage of Frank and Jane forms a striking contrast to the absence of such passion--an absence the narrator deliberately emphasizes and approves--in Marianne's decision to marry Brandon with "no sentiment superior to ... esteem and ... friendship" (SS 429). While in Sense and Sensibility, Elinor deplores the undue influence even upon herself of Willoughby's handsomeness and liveliness, "which it was no merit to possess" (377), and conspires with her family to bestow Marianne on the good, devoted Brandon as a "reward" for his "sorrows" (429), the marriage of Frank and Jane is based not on some "moral calculus" (Hopkins 157) (13) of merit or desert, but, like that of Romeo and Juliet, on a powerful, perhaps similarly instantaneous attraction. They differ, of course, from Shakespeare's "star-crossed lovers" (Prologue 6) in their being, ultimately, the '"child[ren] of good fortune'" (E 483). Linked to the most famous portrayal of passion in English literature, the love of Frank and Jane represents a significant and welcome departure from the dreary devaluation of passion at the end of Sense and Sensibility.

In Persuasion, Austen creates a much larger world than that of Sense and Sensibility. Its geographical immensity--Mrs. Croft "'ha[s] crossed the Atlantic four times, and ha[s] been once to the East Indies'" (76)--is paralleled by a wider, more complex awareness of human experience, suffering, and love. If Sense and Sensibility presents Marianne's renunciation of passion when she marries Brandon as a laudable act of maturity, Persuasion presents Anne's break with Wentworth at the same age of nineteen as a tragic mistake. As Nina Auerbach, among others, observes, Persuasion is an "inverted Sense and Sensibility" (115). What I am arguing is that this "often ... noticed" (Auerbach 115) change is directly linked to the melancholy vision of the precariousness of our lives that dominates Persuasion and is already present in Emma. Whether our lives are governed by fortune or by providence matters less than the awareness that the forces beyond our control are very great and our ability to contend with them very limited. As a result of this awareness, a natural cheerfulness becomes a very precious blessing, self-fulfillment supersedes self-abnegation, and passion is rewarded in Emma and celebrated in Persuasion.

Anita Soloway taught in the English departments of Barnard College and Queens College, CUNY, for many years. She recently retired from Tel Aviv University's Department of Foreign Languages.


This essay is dedicated to the memory of my teacher and mentor, the extraordinary Joann Morse of Barnard.

(1.) Noting the emphasis on the deaths of the three mothers in the opening scene of the WGBHBBC production of Emma with Romola Garai, Allesandra Stanley observes that this production "casts an unusual touch of darkness on the outer edges of the story."

(2.) Mr. Woodhouse sends Miss Bates gifts of food--of course, Emma makes the arrangements-but does not leave Hartfield to visit her.

(3.) Frost's appropriately autumnal poem, "The Oven Bird," concludes with the following lines: "The question that he [the bird] frames in all but words / Is what to make of a diminished thing" (13-14).

(4.) Stuart Tave offers an illuminating discussion of "the exertion of Elinor Dashwood" (74) in his chapter on Sense, and Sensibility (74-102).

(5.) When Elinor reveals to Marianne that she has known about Edward's engagement to Lucy for four months, Marianne exclaims: '"Four months! ... So calm!--so cheerful!"' (297).

(6.) In Jane Bates's case as well, her anguish may have exacerbated her illness.

(7.) But the narrator does criticize Frank's mother for her failure to be satisfied with her marriage to Mr. Weston, who could not afford the opulent lifestyle of Enscombe: she "ought to have found more in it" (13).

(8.) The ideas in this paragraph were first presented in a paper I gave on "Money, Marriage, and War in Persuasion" at the NEASECS conference at Yale University in October 2013.

(9.) I am indebted to Robert Hopkins's discussion of the implications of their delayed marriage (153-54).

(10.) In this regard, Austen differs from her Victorian successors who quickly release Dorothea Brooke and Esther Summerson from their noble, self-sacrificing decisions. Jane Eyre must wait longer but is miraculously restored to Rochester after a year.

(11.) Like Persuasion, Emma emphasizes the paradoxical aspects of the sea, associating it at once with both "danger" and "romance" (Auerbach 127). The sea almost kills Jane, yet it is there that she and Frank fall in love.

(12.) I am indebted to Patrick McGraw's illuminating observation that Austen "uses the quote from Shakespeare to highlight Frank's impetuosity" (219). While McGraw argues that Austen develops the implicit parallel with Romeo "to criticize Frank" (220), I regard the parallel as casting him in a more sympathetic light.

(13.) Hopkins uses this phrase in his discussion of the marriage of Anne and Wentworth, claiming that it too is not based on "moral calculus" (157).


Auerbach, Nina. "O Brave New World: Evolution and Revolution in Persuasion" ELH 39.1 (1972): 112-28.

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Title Annotation:AGM 2016: Washington D.C.
Author:Soloway, Anita
Publication:Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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