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Saturday, 25 April 2020

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: Dr Copeland and Jake Blount [updated]

In the previous blog post, I was whining about the political and religious speeches in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Now I’m going to disagree with myself (which you might have noticed I frequently do, if you follow this blog): the political speeches of Dr Copeland and Jake Blount (to John Singer and to the reader) build up to the argument, the confrontation between the 2 of them, which is an excellent scene.  
As I have written before, Dr Copeland, the black doctor, cannot stop talking about “the purpose” or “the mission”, and Jake Blount, the drunkard, cannot stop talking about “knowing” and “the truth”. Both of them are Marxists—Dr Copeland speaks of Karl Marx and apparently compares him to Jesus in his Christmas speech, and names one of his children after him; Jake Blount calls himself a Red, a radical, and always rants about capitalism. Both of them, in their anger and bitterness, feel lost because they cannot talk to anyone else about their ideas, so they come to John Singer. 
I reckon there must be many readers like me, who wonder what would happen if they had a conversation. Carson McCullers lets them cross paths many times, but they never have a real talk till near the end of the novel, and she handles it masterfully. It is astonishing that at the age of 22-23 and in the year 1940, she could have written so well the character of Dr Copeland and inhabited his mind—his rage, his disappointment, his sense of injustice and oppression, his hatred of “the oppressors” and deep distrust of “the white race”, his humiliation, his desperation and helplessness. Carson McCullers seems to depict him with ease. 
It is even more remarkable that she could have written a character like Jake Blount—a bitter, self-pitying drunkard obsessed with Marx’s ideas, and deeply racist. Throughout the novel, his actions already show that he’s a rude, unpleasant, obnoxious man, but the scene at the Copelands exposes him for what he is—he fills his head with theories and cannot see any individual, doesn’t care about anybody, and just wants to use people (specifically William, Dr Copeland’s son) as his pawns. He’s also deeply racist, without quite realising it—at least twice in the chapters where we’re in his mind, there’s mention of a “Negro smell” (the scene at the Copelands’ house, and the fight scene). He seems to follow eugenics. 
The depiction of the 2 characters, and their confrontation, shows Carson McCullers’s deep understanding of racial relations and ability to get into the minds of such different characters. But to me, it’s more fascinating that she’s capable of seeing through, and portraying, the type like Jake Blount, who talks about equality and such wonderful ideals but has no feelings for the individual and is willing to sacrifice a few people for “a higher cause”. Blount becomes worse in the novel—he doesn’t particularly seem to care about John Singer, only himself, and then it turns out that he’s been eating at Biff Brannon’s restaurant without paying and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  
Dr Copeland isn’t much better. He’s more sympathetic and likable, but he is also obsessed with ideas (better conditions for black people) but takes out his rage on his wife, alienates his own children, fails as both a husband and a father, and has little patience or kindness with his daughter Portia. Portia is the one who holds everything together. 
In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, except for John Singer, who is blank on purpose for people to interpret in any way they like, Biff Brannon is the weakest character of the 5, mostly because he doesn’t have the same complexity and depth. Mick Kelly is another good character, clever, and likeable—the one who gets a glimpse of something beyond her daily life. The 3 finest scenes in the novel, I think, are the scene of Mick discovering Beethoven, the scene of the traumatising incident (which I won’t spoil), and the scene of the argument between Dr Copeland and Jake Blount. 
This is an excellent novel. I’m going to read more of Carson McCullers’s works.



Addendum: I’ve just read a few articles about Marxism in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and would like to expand on my points. There are spoilers.
I think it’s a mistake to read the political passages straight—see the characters’ politics as Carson McCullers’s politics. She’s depicting poverty, racial disparity, and despair in a Southern town in the 30s, and there is no doubt that her sympathies lie with the people she created. She portrays them as they are, depicts them with compassion, and helps the reader understand why they are who they are and why they do what they do—we understand, for example, why Dr Copeland has a deep distrust of “the white race” and convinces himself that John Singer must be Jewish, or why Jake Blount turns into a Marxist.  
However, Carson McCullers isn’t propagating any political message—The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a more subtle and complex book. Jake Blount, as I wrote above, is a complex man. Throughout the book, he has many rants about the system, about capitalism, about inequality, and the story seems to support his ideas, but there are 2 important scenes near the end of book that must force us to re-examine his ideas and see his approach in a different light—the confrontation with Dr Copeland, and the scene where he and Biff Brannon talk about the fight. I think a reader misreads the book if they read through the book and read those 2 scenes, but afterwards still read the political passages straight and don’t question the Marxist’s thinking. It is clear that Jake Blount has some fancy ideals, but he’s ready to sacrifice people for a cause and incapable of seeing them as individuals. It is not only racism—he is indifferent to human lives, and seems to have no regret when a tragedy happens because of the messages he has been spreading. 
Note too that he is full of self-pity, rude to everyone, and always speaks against the system but doesn’t have John Singer’s dignity and self-respect. Blount has been eating at Biff’s café without paying and has been rude to him, then says that if he had money, he still wouldn’t pay, but is shameless enough to take Biff’s money before he leaves town. He thinks that he gave Singer everything, but only thinks about himself when Singer’s dead, and leaves all of Singer’s affairs to others (Biff) to take care of. Blount, to me, is a despicable man. 
To clarify, I’m not saying that Carson McCullers, in her portrayal of Blount, is mocking Marxists or taking an anti-socialist stance—she isn’t propagating any political message, she’s depicting the characters. It is more subtle and nuanced.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: John Singer and the reader

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a very good, enjoyable novel. At the same time, I can’t help feeling tired of the political speeches—you know, the Marxist speeches and anti-Nazi speeches and religious speeches and race speeches (I’m using the polite term “speech”, some of them are actually rants). 
These speeches serve the book—they’re not pointless digressions from the author, and if they’re intended by Carson McCullers to be some messages to readers (which I doubt), it’s not overt. My reaction says something about me, more than the book itself.   
As written in the previous blog post, the novel is about the lonely lives of 4 people in a Southern town who are drawn to a deaf-mute named John Singer. They come to him to talk, to pour their hearts out, to treat him as a confidante and a priest and a therapist—they turn him into a personal god in their minds and tell him all the things they want to say but can’t say to anyone else. 2 out of these 4 are desperate, bitter, and angry at the world—Jake Blount, the mad alcoholic, ceaselessly raging against injustice and wealth disparity, can’t stop talking about “the truth”, and Dr Copeland, the black doctor and Marxist, can’t stop talking about Marxism and race and “the purpose”. 
In addition, there are a few religious speeches here and there throughout the book, and Mick’s neighbour/ friend is a Jewish teenage boy called Harry Minowitz, who reads newspapers and goes on and on about Hitler and Nazis.    
Part of me just wants to tell them to calm their tits and stop saying the same things over and over again. I even think, Jane Austen was wise not to put political ideas in her books—over time, political ideas in literary works easily become old-fashioned, irrelevant, or just tiresome (Tolstoy is a great writer, but I doubt that there are many people today who would take his ideas seriously). 
These speeches capture well the political climate in a Southern town in the 30s, and help characterise the people in the book. Carson McCullers’s depiction of Dr Copeland, I must say, is remarkable—how could a white woman at the age of 22-23 get into the mind of a middle-aged black doctor, filled with rage and disappointment? So when I say The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is marred by its politics, I suppose it says more about me than about the book itself. 
Anyway, I’ve decided to modify my approach: I’m going to read the novel like I’m John Singer—I’m going to read it like these people attach themselves to me and go on and on about ideas I don’t care about and I don’t understand why they keep talking and keep saying the same things. Carson McCullers, somehow, in writing these characters’ thoughts and rants, puts the reader in the position of Singer. Biff aside, who comes to watch rather than unburden himself on Singer, the other 3 characters are each occupied with a single subject, and they come to Singer not to have a conversation, but to have a monologue. 
I picked up The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, thinking it’s about loneliness and communication difficulties, but now I think it’s about something else, something harder to describe. Mick Kelly, Jake Blount, and Dr Copeland come to John Singer because they feel lonely, and they feel lonely because they cannot share their thoughts with anyone, but they don’t really look for friendship, and don’t see Singer as a friend. They come to him to talk, to have someone listening, and imagine that he understands—but does he? The question hardly seems to bother them. 
If we look at each of these characters, Jake Blount is rude and hostile, pushing everyone away (see his conversation with Biff, when Biff attempts to know more about him), Dr Copeland alienates the people closest to him because he takes out on his own family his rage at the world and at himself, and Mick keeps to herself for a large part of the story and doesn’t try to get closer to her older siblings or anyone at school (until later, she becomes closer to Harry). With Singer, they just use him, and talk and talk, without any interest in him as a person. 
In a way, their loneliness seems to come from something within them—their egotism, their inability to see beyond themselves, perhaps. 
The irony is that the person that they see as a personal god, the only one who is wise and understands, is a blank. The only person Singer sees as a friend is his deaf-mute friend, the Greek, Antonapoulos. 
Does Antonapoulos see Singer as a friend, and love him in the same way? Now that is another question.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: Carson McCullers’s insights

Lately I’ve been reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The novel is about people in a small town in Georgia in the 30s. Each chapter focuses on the perspective of 1 character: Mick Kelly, a 13-year-old girl in boy’s shorts who loves classical music and dreams of writing music or making inventions; Biff Brannon, a restaurant owner who has an unhappy marriage and takes an interest in Mick; Jack Blount, an angry, bitter alcoholic who’s always raging against injustice and income inequality; Dr Copeland, a frustrated black doctor who takes out his anger at the world on his own family and loses them as a consequence; and John Singer, a lonely deaf-mute that everyone gravitates towards and sees as a wise, understanding confidante. 
There are also many other characters, and they’re all interconnected. John Singer eats every day at Biff’s restaurant and rents a room from the Kellys, where Portia work as a housekeeper; Portia is Dr Copeland’s daughter; Singer first sees Jack Blount at Biff’s restaurant and takes him in before Biff’s wife, Alice, kicks him out; Mick takes care of her younger siblings Bubber and Ralph, and Bubber likes Baby Wilson, who is Biff’s niece (Alice’s sister Lucile’s daughter), and so on. 
The point I’d like to make is that the novel has a range of characters, each chapter focuses on a character’s perspective, and Carson McCullers shows an astonishing understanding of human nature and ability to inhabit very different characters—even more astonishing when she was only 23 when the book was published.   
Her prose is also brilliant, so I’m going to share some quotes to let her speak for herself: 
On loneliness: 
“It was funny, too, how lonesome a person could be in a crowded house.” (P.1, ch.3) 
“She could be in the middle of a house full of people and still feel like she was locked up by herself.” (P.2, ch.5) 
This is something everyone can relate to. 
On longing: 
“Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.” (P.1, ch.3) 
On grief: 
“When he tried to remember her face there was a queer blankness in him. The only thing about her that was clear in his mind was her feet—stumpy, very soft and white and with puffy little toes. The bottoms were pink and near the left heel there was a tiny brown mole. The night they were married he had taken off her shoes and stockings and kissed her feat. And, come to think of it, that was worth considering, because the Japanese believe that the choicest part of a woman.” (P.2, ch.2)  
I like this a lot, because anyone who has known grief knows that it’s a strange thing—sometimes you think of things that you wouldn’t have expected to think about, or sometimes, when you seem to be doing fine, grief takes over you, unexpected. 
“The light was very bright in Doctor Copeland’s eyes and her voice was loud and hard. He coughed and his whole face trembled. He tried to pick up the cup of cold coffee, but his hand would not hold it steadily. The tears came up to his eyes and he reached for his glasses to try to hide them.” (P.1, ch.5) 
Some readers might argue that’s not grief, but in a way it is—Portia reminds him of his failure as a father, and makes him grieve for the children he has lost, even though they’re all alive. 
On the shock of a child you know doing bad things: 
“It was true that in Bubber there was a tough, mean streak. He was acting different today than he had ever acted before. Up until now he was always a quiet little kid who never really done anything mean. When anybody’s feelings were hurt it always made him ashamed and nervous. Then how come he could do all the things he had done today?” (P.2, ch.5) 
That passage follows some wonderful scenes, though I won’t spoil them for those who haven’t read the book. 
The best moments are probably when the characters see something beyond themselves, such as when Mick wonders about John Singer: 
“She wondered what kind of music he heard in his mind that his ears couldn’t hear. Nobody knew. And what kind of things he would say if he could talk. Nobody knew that either.” (P.1, ch.3) 
Or when Mick realises her father’s loneliness: 
“That was when she realized about her Dad. It wasn’t like she was learning a new fact - she had understood it all along in every way except with her brain. Now she just suddenly knew that she knew about her Dad. He was lonesome and he was an old man. Because none of the kids went to him for anything and because he didn’t earn much money he felt like he was cut off from the family. And in his lonesomeness he wanted to be close to one of his kids - and they were all so busy that they didn’t know it. He felt like he wasn’t much real use to anybody.” (P.1, ch.2) 
Most of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is about the characters’ loneliness, yearning, despair, and their attempts to communicate, to reach out for companionship and understanding. A lot of the times they misunderstand or get misunderstood, or all they get is a one-sided relationship. But above is one of those moments when a character understands another, and they have a conversation.  
There is also a magnificent moment in the novel, when Mick listens to Beethoven for the first time, and gets a glimpse of something beyond herself, beyond her daily life. I won’t put it here though, you need to read it in the book.  
The book is full of insights, and Carson McCullers writes so well. 
The other day, I saw someone on Twitter write that, except for Tolstoy’s best novels, he never read any book that showed so much love for the characters as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. That’s probably true.

Friday, 17 April 2020

The original ending of Persuasion and Jane Austen’s writing process

I’ve just read an interesting article about Jane Austen as an elusive figure, and how little we know about her: 
https://lithub.com/the-many-ways-in-which-we-are-wrong-about-jane-austen/ 
Indeed, we know very little about Jane Austen. The only thing I feel I can be sure about is her ethics and views on love and relationships, as evident in her works (and letters), but we don’t know her politics and views on anything else from her novels, which is why she’s claimed by everyone, by all groups of people with opposing views. Her works are so subtle and full of irony that she’s often liked by people she would have detested. We don’t know her views from the letters either—most of them were burnt by Cassandra, Jane’s estimated to have written about 3000 letters, of which about 160 survive. 
Her life too isn’t very clear either—we only have a few facts. 
I myself don’t agree with every single thing in the article. I would hesitate to call Jane Austen a radical or a revolutionary—Helena Kelly sees the characterisation of some hypocritical clergymen in her works as a depiction of a world in which “the Church ignores the needs of the faithful”, whereas I see it as a depiction of hypocrites. The 2 subjects that seem to interest Austen the most, in all of her works, are self-deception and hypocrisy. Also, for a good, honest clergyman as a counterexample, see Edmund Bertram. He has faults, but he’s kind and considerate. 
Her works certainly contain some social criticism, as she’s writing about society as it was. But how critical she was and what changes she wanted is quite a different matter.  
That being said, it’s an interesting article, and a good reminder of how little we actually know about Jane Austen. The part I find most fascinating is about Henry Austen’s untruths and attempts to create a completely false image about her sister: 
“On Henry’s telling, his sister’s books sprang into life fully formed—painlessly, effortlessly. According to him, Jane’s “composition” was “rapid and correct,” a flow of words that “cost her nothing,” washing through her to appear, as “everything” she wrote appeared, “finished from her pen.” We are to imagine no labor, no dedication, no ambition, no intellect or skill, but simply a “gift,” a “genius,” an “intuitive” power of invention. For modern-day readers, schooled in the image of Jane’s near contemporary the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, hopped up on vast quantities of opium, writing down his famous poem of Xanadu and Kubla Khan while still in an inspired dream, this is an attractive idea. It allows us to imagine Jane’s novels not as pieces of deliberate, considered art but instead as whatever we like—a wrestling with her own repressed desires, a rewriting of her own unhappy love affairs, even an accidental tapping into a wellspring of culture and language. Jane’s novels have been read in all these ways, and others besides.” 
This is wrong. Jane Austen took her writing seriously, worked hard on her novels, and revised them heavily. We might not have Susan (original version of Northanger Abbey) or First Impressions (original version of Pride and Prejudice) or Elinor and Marianne (first draft of Sense and Sensibility, which was in epistolary form), but we have the unfinished The Watsons and Sanditon. Her manuscripts were “dotted with crossings out, additions, and alterations”. 
When we read The Watsons and Sanditon, and in a way, Persuasion, and compare them to her finished works, we can see that Jane Austen was the type of writer who laid out all the facts, completed the story, then came back to revise and add flesh to the skeleton. Reading unfinished works may be unsatisfying, but it sheds some light on the writing process. In Persuasion (the working title was The Elliots), which she wrote during her illness and didn’t see to its publication, there are places where it looks obvious that she meant to fill in later.   
In addition, in the case of Persuasion, she rewrote the ending. 
I might have read the cancelled chapters before and forgotten about them, now I’m surprised. If you haven’t read them, here’s the link: 
https://pemberley.com/janeinfo/pcanchap.html 
(Hint: there’s no letter!). 
The final ending is so much better—longer, more subtle, and much more romantic (see my blog post about the glances in Persuasion). 
To get back to Helena Kelly’s article: 
“Henry’s “Biographical Notice of the Author” appeared in the first, joint edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which was hurried through the printing presses a scant five months after Jane died. The notice is short but crammed with what might politely be called inconsistencies. Having assured his readers that Jane’s novels appeared almost without effort, Henry includes in a postscript a misquotation of Jane’s own famous description of her work as akin to miniature painting—“a little bit of ivory, two inches wide, on which I work with a brush so fine as to produce little effect after much labour.” In the notice, Henry says that Jane never thought of having a book published before Sense and Sensibility, even though he was well aware that Susan/Northanger Abbey had been accepted for publication in 1803.” 
It’s good that her family came out to acknowledge her as the author so far known as “a Lady”, but note that her epitaph made no mention of her writings. 
Personally I find it deeply insulting that Jane Austen in popular culture is often stuck in the image of chicklit, romance, light reading, and comfort reading. A lot of the people who claim to like her say that her books are light, bright, and sparkling, then they get surprised and disappointed when she turns out to be much more serious (the case of Mansfield Park). 
I keep saying these things because, with my other favourite writers such as Tolstoy, Melville, or Flaubert, I don’t have to defend them, I definitely don’t have to say they were serious writers, whereas Jane Austen’s novels can be enjoyed on a superficial level and often invite a superficial reading.  
We don’t need to talk about ideas to talk about her seriousness—I’m more interested in her techniques and innovations. Austen needs to be seen in context—she was doing something different. In the first 3 novels, she was responding to 18th century popular works, parodying the sentimental novel and the Gothic novel, and satirising clichés and hackneyed conventions of the time. When suggested by others to try some other genres, she insisted on going her own way.  
In the last 3 novels, she was responding to herself, in a way—for example, in Mansfield Park, she created a heroine who was the opposite of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, and an anti-heroine who was very similar to Elizabeth Bennet on the surface; after Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, who judged everything correctly and noticed everything others overlooked, she created Emma Woodhouse in Emma, who misinterpreted everything she saw; after writing about Emma, who tried to be a matchmaker and was therefore the persuader (or dissuader), she wrote Persuasion and created Anne Elliot, who was the persuaded.   
Also in the last 3 novels, she wrote each novel as different from the last as possible, in style and tone—after the light, bright, and sparkling Pride and Prejudice, came the sombre, introspective, and serious Mansfield Park; after Mansfield Park was the relaxed, funny Emma; then after Emma, she wrote Persuasion, which was autumnal, melancholy, romantic, and full of feeling. 
Jane Austen’s often underrated, because her genius is not obvious. She created a distinctive voice for each character. Free indirect discourse may seem commonplace now, but she was among the first practitioners—probably the first English novelist to use it extensively, and she perfected it in Emma.  
Her great works were achieved after much labour—lots of revisions, even if they appear effortless.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Reading women

1/ As I said earlier, I intended to read more women this year.    
My favourite writers who are female have been, for a few years, Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. Recently I’ve added Edith Wharton. 
In the past, there were a few other female writers I liked a lot, such as Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath, Isabel Allende, etc. but overtime, their works no longer have the same impact (though I intend to reread, or read more of, Toni Morrison, and see what happens). 
At the moment, my favourite writers are Jane Austen, Lev Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Gustave Flaubert, Vladimir Nabokov, Edith Wharton, and Emily Bronte. 

2/ I’ve just realised something interesting.  
My favourite period for literature is the 19th century. When it comes to Russian literature, I’ve read a large part of Tolstoy’s fictional works (except Resurrection, which I didn’t finish, the plays, and some short stories), and some of Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Turgenev, Gogol, Leskov, Lermontov, but not a single work by a female writer. 
When it comes to 19th century British literature, however, I’ve realised that my reading of women is not bad at all: I’ve read Jane Austen’s 6 novels plus Lady Susan and the unfinished The Watsons and Sanditon, 3 George Eliot novels (Adam Bede, Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, not to mention about 1/3 of The Mill on the Floss), 6 out of 7 Bronte novels (Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and probably some other works I can’t think of at the moment. 
In fact, I seem to know the women better than the men—I’ve only read a few Dickens books, a few Wilkie Collins books, a few Stevenson books, etc. and none by Thackeray, Trollope, or Hardy. 
This hasn’t been a conscious desire to read more women, but a combination of interest in classic works (especially Frankenstein and Middlemarch), assigned reading (such as Shirley and Daniel Deronda), and a tendency to read more works by the same author (especially if I like the author).   
Now that I’ve written it down, I realise the holes in my knowledge of Victorian literature—I should actually read more Dickens, and check out Hardy, Trollope, and Thackeray. 

3/ Does this mean that British literature has more great/ celebrated female writers than others, at least in the 19th century? 

4/ I do think people should read widely and diversify their reading. 
However, as I’ve said many times before, I have problems with much of the talk about literature and diversity. 
- The most important thing, when we’re talking about literature, is quality—literary merit, genius, greatness. The other day, I saw someone complain about James Wood’s list of great literary works (in some book) that only a small percentage were by women. People say the same thing when attacking the Western canon.  
I mean, forget about contemporary literature, think about the history of literature and see how many women were writing, and how many women were at the top. There is no doubt that in history, women were seen as inferior and didn’t get the same opportunities as men, and didn’t have “a room of their own” (to use Woolf’s phrase), but that’s exactly why most classic works were written by men.
The only way to have a much higher percentage of books by women on such lists is to include contemporary or more recent works, which haven’t been tested by time, or to replace great works by men with less good works by women just to have more women, which is an anti-artistic, philistine approach.
- People should read widely, but should also read deeply. To me personally, I place much more emphasis on reading deeply, which is why I read slowly, read multiple books by the same author, reread books, and never rush to read a certain number of books per year. 
- I wonder if the people who attack the Western canon and say that books by dead white male authors are irrelevant to people of colour realise that by the same (asinine) logic, books by writers of colour are irrelevant to white people.
- I have noticed that a lot of people who loudly push for diversity in reading don’t seem to realise that other countries exist—they read books by non-white writers in Western countries or non-white writers who write in English, ignoring foreign/ translated books.   
Some others don’t seem to realise that other countries have classics—they mostly read contemporary literature, which includes translated literature, but not translated classics, and also rarely read English classics outside school, which suggests that they dislike the Western canon more because they don’t enjoy classics. 
- There is nothing wrong with reading mainly classics. Some people, including me, prefer to focus on works that have stood the test of time. 
See some of my blog posts on related subjects: 
A call for humility in approaching classic literature
The idea of relevance and relatableness in the arts
A riff on “dead white men”
Long novels and the Stockholm syndrome theory
I should repeat: I do think people should read widely, and diversify their reading. This is also a note to myself. 

5/ This is embarrassing, because I’ve read so little, but if I have to compile a list of classic novels by women that I think everyone should read, here it is:
- Jane Austen: Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice
- Edith Wharton: The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence
- George Eliot: Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda
- Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
- Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
- Anne Bronte: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
- Mary Shelley: Frankenstein.
These are the books I recommend, not only to those who are interested in reading books by women, but to anyone who is serious about literature.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Midway through A Backward Glance

It probably shows how bad my concentration is, or how little patience I have, during the lockdown that midway through Edith Wharton’s autobiography, I’m thinking of abandoning it.  
It’s just not very compelling, which is a surprise. Wharton had a rich, fascinating life: she was extremely rich and was brought up in fashionable society, had a privileged life, had many intellectual friends (including Henry James), travelled often between Europe and the US and travelled widely, had many interests from architecture to gardening and interior design, wrote a book called The Decoration of Houses and a book called Italian Villas and Their Gardens, started writing fiction quite late in her life but became enormously successful (bestsellers), had many accomplishments, had an affair, got a divorce, then later in France worked tirelessly in her charitable efforts for refugees and the injured, and got appointed Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. She also became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, for The Age of Innocence.
Compared to many people in her time, especially women, Wharton had a fascinating, eventful, and enviable life. 
And yet, the autobiography seems really dull and repetitive. The Wharton of A Backward Glance isn’t the Wharton of The House of Mirth or The Custom of the Country or even The Age of Innocence—the book isn’t really funny, and even though there’s some irony, some mockery here and there, there’s none of the sharpness we see in the novels, probably because she’s writing about real people. It’s quite bland and dull.  
I’m nearly halfway through the book. She begins the autobiography talking about the background, her ancestors, family, then her childhood. In the adult chapters, she spends lots of time writing about the cultivated minds she knows, the intelligent, cultured people who help her with her writings (Walter Berry, for example), which becomes repetitive and tiresome after a while, as all the figures she mentions become fused together and get mixed up. 
There are things I’m interested in that don’t get discussed in the book, such as her feelings about her mother Lucretia, or her marriage with Teddy. She doesn’t even write about the events that led up to the marriage. In short, in terms of personal life, it is a very conservative, and not at all frank, autobiography. 
I can’t help thinking of Speak, Memory, which is stamped with Nabokov’s strong personality and filled with enthusiasms; in A Backward Glance, Edith Wharton’s personality doesn’t come out very strongly. 
At this point, she hasn’t said anything about The House of Mirth. I may still pick up the book again, as I’m interested in her writing process, inspiration, ideas, thoughts on the success of her books, etc. I don’t know anything about the background of The House of Mirth, but my copy of The Age of Innocence mentions her original ideas, which were completely different. I’m interested in her writing process and artistic decisions, and also interested in her views on other writers, contemporary or classic. It’s just a pity that so far there’s so little of it. 
Or maybe I just have very short attention spans these days.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Ethics in Persuasion and the Jane Austen myths

Many people often foolishly think Jane Austen’s a romance author—the mother of chicklit. Indeed all her 6 novels follow the marriage plot, and if we’re talking about the bare plot, they all have the same one (a heroine, a hero, some obstacles, a female rival, a foil to the hero), but there are a lot more things going on and the novels are all different. The idea of plot is meaningless as the history of literature also boils down to a handful of different plots, used over and over again.
Some other people mistakenly think she’s chiefly concerned with manners. That appears to be true, as her novels are seen as comedy of manners—but what Jane Austen’s chiefly concerned with is not manners but the mind, the character, the moral principles underneath the manners. She’s interested in ethics. She uses the marriage plot to write about ethics, about self-deception and misunderstanding, about moral education and mental growth.    
Jane Austen’s ethics, in my opinion, are more sophisticated than both George Eliot’s and Edith Wharton’s. 
George Eliot’s ethics are built around the central idea of sympathy—people should love and sympathise with others, and shouldn’t be selfish. 
Edith Wharton’s main concern seems to be the conflict between society and individual—in The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country, her ethics are mainly to do with self-respect and dignity; whilst in The Age of Innocence, her ethics are about self-respect and the sense of duty. 
These 3 writers all have different strengths, and they’re all great, so I’m not putting down George Eliot and Edith Wharton in order to champion Jane Austen. I’m comparing the ethical aspect of their works. When I say Jane Austen’s ethics are more sophisticated, I mean they’re not built around a central idea—she deals with different moral values or principles, as well as different shades and different degrees of the same moral value. 
An example is the concept of pride in Persuasion. In the book, the word “proud” appears 8 times in Persuasion, “pride” 18 times. In my blog post about Anne Elliot’s personality, I wrote that Jane Austen made a distinction between bad pride (arrogance, self-satisfaction, self-importance), as in Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Mary, and good pride (self-respect, confidence), as in Anne. 
However, there’s a 3rd kind of pride in Persuasion (this is the problem of blogging before finishing reading): Frederick Wentworth’s pride. His attempts to attach himself to Louisa Musgrove at the beginning are, in his words, “the attempts of angry pride”. 
“… There he had seen everything to exalt in his estimation the woman he had lost; and there begun to deplore the pride, the folly, the madness of resentment, which had kept him from trying to regain her when thrown in his way.” (Ch.23) 
Later, he admits that a few years ago, in a better position, he was too proud to ask Anne again. His pride is in the sense of a wounded ego. 
Also in Persuasion, Jane Austen writes about the different shades of the concept of resolution. Frederick Wentworth initially sees Anne as lacking resolution. 
“She had used him ill, deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.” (Ch.7) 
He says to Louisa:
“"... It is the worst evil of too yielding and indecisive a character, that no influence over it can be depended on. You are never sure of a good impression being durable; everybody may sway it. Let those who would be happy be firm…"” (Ch.10) 
Throughout the novel, he’s the one who has to grow and learn:  
“There, he had learnt to distinguish between the steadiness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will, between the darings of heedlessness and the resolution of a collected mind.” (Ch.23) 
Some people are more attracted to an openly resolute character, but Jane Austen reminds us that there’s a difference between the steadiness of principle and the obstinacy of self-will. 
Jane Austen’s idea can be seen clearly in Mansfield Park. Yesterday I saw someone say that she didn’t like Fanny Price because she’s not defiant. I’ve also seen lots of people call Fanny passive, or remark that she’s characterised by negation (whatever that means). Such misreadings are due to a shallow understanding of Jane Austen and a juvenile idea of resolution. There is nothing passive about holding fast to your principles, standing by your own belief and judgment, and resisting pressures from different sides. Fanny is defiant—just not in a noisy way. In fact, she’s more defiant than all of Jane Austen’s heroines. Her resolution is the steadiness of principle, and the resolution of a collected mind. 
In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is similar—her personal respect for her father and her sense of duty to her don’t allow her to defy him openly, but she has her own set of values, and refuses either to flatter Lady Dalrymple or to drop her friendship with Mrs Smith, of whom her father disapproves. 

There’s something else I find interesting. Frederick Wentworth fears that Lady Russell, who years ago persuaded Anne to reject him, would now persuade her to marry William Walter Elliot. It is true that she does try, but Anne tells him the difference: 
“"... If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty, but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated."” (ibid.) 
The novel examines the moral dangers of persuasion, but Jane Austen makes a distinction between persuasion on the side of safety, and on the side of risk. Lady Russell’s advice to decline Wentworth’s proposal did break their hearts, but at the time it’s sound advice. He comes back now a captain, with lots of money, but we can’t say that he would have achieved all that if Anne had accepted him. Perhaps he had the potential and ambition in him, or perhaps the rejection drove him to prove himself—we don’t know. Anne herself thinks Lady Russell wasn’t wrong, and she wasn’t wrong to reject him. 
But her friend’s attempt to persuade her to accept William Walter Elliot is altogether a different sort of persuasion.  
More can be said about Persuasion and Jane Austen’s other works, but I think that’s enough for now. It’s her misfortune that her novels can be enjoyed on a superficial level. Contrary to general perception, Jane Austen’s much more sophisticated, ethically and artistically.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

The glances in Persuasion

I’ve finished rereading Persuasion. It is a great novel. There is, indeed, a bareness to the book, but it doesn’t matter—there is a sense that everything else is unimportant, the novel is about feelings, and the finest moments in Persuasion are between Anne and Frederick Wentworth.
In Jane Austen, there are lots of glances, and the glances are full of meaning.
Here’s an example in Persuasion, when Mrs Musgrove is talking about her dead “poor Richard”:
“There was a momentary expression in Captain Wentworth's face at this speech, a certain glance of his bright eye, and curl of his handsome mouth, which convinced Anne, that instead of sharing in Mrs Musgrove's kind wishes, as to her son, he had probably been at some pains to get rid of him; but it was too transient an indulgence of self-amusement to be detected by any who understood him less than herself…” (Ch.8)
There’s a similar moment later, when Mary says something snobbish and self-important:
“She received no other answer, than an artificial, assenting smile, followed by a contemptuous glance, as he turned away, which Anne perfectly knew the meaning of.” (Ch.10)
These subtle moment escape everyone else, but Anne notices, because she understands her Frederick.
Now, this is the scene in Lyme, when they see William Walter Elliot for the 1st time:
“It was evident that the gentleman, (completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance, a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, "That man is struck with you, and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again."” (Ch.12)
Then later, they see him again at the inn:
“"Ah!" cried Captain Wentworth, instantly, and with half a glance at Anne, "it is the very man we passed."” (ibid.)
Without saying much, Jane Austen conveys, in these glances, that Frederick still cares about Anne and wants to see her reaction, and that Anne notices it all.
My friend Himadri has written about erotic passion in Persuasion, so I won’t write much about it, except to say that, like him, I do think “Austen understood the nature of the erotic better than most: it is, after all, a state of mind. The successful depiction of the erotic lies not in the physical detail, but in the minds of the characters.”
In Persuasion, there are some moments that are particularly erotic. When Anne realises that Frederick Wentworth has taken little Charles away from her:
“Her sensations on the discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings. His kindness in stepping forward to her relief, the manner, the silence in which it had passed, the little particulars of the circumstance […] But neither Charles Hayter's feelings, nor anybody's feelings, could interest her, till she had a little better arranged her own. She was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle; but so it was, and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover her.” (Ch.9)
The action seems to be nothing—but it’s the nearness of Frederick that makes her so nervous. 
Himadri mentions another moment, when Frederick helps her get into the carriage. Instead, I’m going to mention a different moment, when Anne is in a carriage in Bath and suddenly sees Frederick Wentworth, whom she hasn’t expected:
“Her start was perceptible only to herself; but she instantly felt that she was the greatest simpleton in the world, the most unaccountable and absurd! For a few minutes she saw nothing before her; it was all confusion. She was lost, and when she had scolded back her senses, she found the others still waiting for the carriage, and Mr Elliot (always obliging) just setting off for Union Street on a commission of Mrs Clay's.” (Ch.19)
Jane Austen writes masterfully of the battle between sense and sensibility in Anne Elliot—Anne tells herself to stay calm and feels ashamed of her agitation, but cannot control her emotions. We can see that in the scene of the walk—she occupies her mind with poetic descriptions of autumn to distract herself, but cannot help trying to listen to Frederick and the Musgrove sisters.
Then when she learns of Louisa’s engagement to Captain Benwick:
“No, it was not regret which made Anne's heart beat in spite of herself, and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy!” (Ch.18) 
Back to the scene in Bath, just a look at Frederick Wentworth is enough to make her feel confused and lost. She’s ashamed of her own reaction. Then when he sees her, unprepared:
“He was more obviously struck and confused by the sight of her than she had ever observed before; he looked quite red. For the first time, since their renewed acquaintance, she felt that she was betraying the least sensibility of the two. She had the advantage of him in the preparation of the last few moments. All the overpowering, blinding, bewildering, first effects of strong surprise were over with her. Still, however, she had enough to feel! It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery.
He spoke to her, and then turned away. The character of his manner was embarrassment. She could not have called it either cold or friendly, or anything so certainly as embarrassed.” (Ch.19)
Jane Austen understood so well the stirrings of the heart. But both Anne and Frederick are unsure about each other, so they have to restrain their emotions, and keep glancing at each other, trying to guess at each other’s feelings.
Here is the scene at the theatre:
“As her eyes fell on him, his seemed to be withdrawn from her. It had that appearance. It seemed as if she had been one moment too late; and as long as she dared observe, he did not look again: but the performance was recommencing, and she was forced to seem to restore her attention to the orchestra and look straight forward.
When she could give another glance, he had moved away. He could not have come nearer to her if he would; she was so surrounded and shut in: but she would rather have caught his eye.” (Ch.20)
Soon after:
“Such was her situation, with a vacant space at hand, when Captain Wentworth was again in sight. She saw him not far off. He saw her too; yet he looked grave, and seemed irresolute, and only by very slow degrees came at last near enough to speak to her. She felt that something must be the matter. The change was indubitable. The difference between his present air and what it had been in the Octagon Room was strikingly great. Why was it?” (ibid.)
Whenever they’re in the same room, they’re always conscious of each other’s presence, everything else becomes unimportant.
“As she spoke, she felt that Captain Wentworth was looking at her, the consciousness of which vexed and embarrassed her, and made her regret that she had said so much, simple as it was.” (Ch.21)
Note that Jane Austen writes “she felt”—Anne isn’t looking, but she knows he’s looking at her. Again later:
“The careless expression was life to Anne, who saw that Captain Wentworth was all attention, looking and listening with his whole soul; and that the last words brought his enquiring eyes from Charles to herself.
[…] She had spoken it; but she trembled when it was done, conscious that her words were listened to, and daring not even to try to observe their effect.” (Ch.22)
As he cannot ask, he has to listen to her words. As she cannot tell him how she feels, she has to communicate it in her conversations with others. Much of speech in Jane Austen, especially in Persuasion, has double meaning.
“She felt its application to herself, felt it in a nervous thrill all over her; and at the same moment that her eyes instinctively glanced towards the distant table, Captain Wentworth's pen ceased to move, his head was raised, pausing, listening, and he turned round the next instant to give a look, one quick, conscious look at her.” (Ch.23)
That is a great scene of overheard conversation, which leads to what I think is the most romantic love letter in literature.
In Persuasion, as we can see in these glances, Jane Austen captures so well the joy, passion, agitation, confusion, jealousy, embarrassment, and shame of someone in love. She might have worked on a small canvas, but she achieved perfection, with her understanding of human nature. Her novels are still read over 200 years later—they are here to stay.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Persuasion: Anne Elliot’s personality

People may have different favourites (mine is Fanny), but Anne Elliot is the wisest and most understanding of her heroines: she doesn’t make hasty judgment like Elizabeth Bennet, she doesn’t have an over-active imagination and misread every situation like Catherine Morland or Emma Woodhouse, she’s not so jealous like Fanny Price, etc. Enough has been said of her patience, sensitivity, understanding, loyalty, and sweet temper. 
There are some other aspects of Anne’s personality that I find interesting. 
1/ She has pride. 
This is pride in the good sense—not the bad sense as in Pride and Prejudice
Interestingly, the word “proud” appears 8 times in Persuasion, “pride” 18 times. Jane Austen makes a distinction between bad pride (snobbery, self-satisfaction, self-importance), as in Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Mary, and good pride (self-respect, confidence), as in Anne. 
When Anne moves to Bath to reunite with her family, after some time in Uppercross, she’s surprised to find that her father and sister have the same self-importance and arrogance as before, being in Bath, without feeling the degradation of having had to leave their house Kellynch-Hall to cut down on expenses. 
“She might not wonder, but she must sigh that her father should feel no degradation in his change, should see nothing to regret in the duties and dignity of the resident landholder, should find so much to be vain of in the littlenesses of a town; and she must sigh, and smile, and wonder too, as Elizabeth threw open the folding-doors and walked with exultation from one drawing-room to the other, boasting of their space; at the possibility of that woman, who had been mistress of Kellynch Hall, finding extent to be proud of between two walls, perhaps thirty feet asunder.” (Ch.15)  
Later, when Sir Walter tries to regain contact with his relative the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honourable Miss Carteret: 
“Anne had never seen her father and sister before in contact with nobility, and she must acknowledge herself disappointed. She had hoped better things from their high ideas of their own situation in life, and was reduced to form a wish which she had never foreseen; a wish that they had more pride; for "our cousins Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret;" "our cousins, the Dalrymples," sounded in her ears all day long.” (Ch.16)  
Anne also says to William Walter Elliot (mostly called Mr Elliot in the novel): 
“"I certainly do think there has been by far too much trouble taken to procure the acquaintance. I suppose" (smiling) "I have more pride than any of you; but I confess it does vex me, that we should be so solicitous to have the relationship acknowledged, which we may be very sure is a matter of perfect indifference to them."” (ibid.) 

2/ Anne isn’t as soft as she seems. 
In the previous blog post, I wrote that Anne appeared soft and persuadable.  
Look at these lines, when Anne is told by Mary that Captain Wentworth has said he finds her so altered: 
“He had thought her wretchedly altered, and in the first moment of appeal, had spoken as he felt. He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill, deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.” (Ch.7) 
This is of course what Anne thinks Captain Wentworth thinks, but her assumption isn’t far off—later we hear him speaking to Louisa Musgrove about a character that is “too yielding and indecisive”. 
However, Anne isn’t so feeble and weak-minded. An example is when Sir Walter wants her to go with him and Elizabeth to see Lady Dalrymple, the day she means to see her old friend Mrs Smith (formerly Miss Hamilton). He insults Mrs Smith, and finds it shocking that Anne should want to associate with her, but in the end, she keeps her appointment, whilst they keep theirs. She doesn’t drop her friendship because of him. 
It is a particularly interesting scene: 
“"Westgate Buildings must have been rather surprised by the appearance of a carriage drawn up near its pavement," observed Sir Walter. "Sir Henry Russell's widow, indeed, has no honours to distinguish her arms, but still it is a handsome equipage, and no doubt is well known to convey a Miss Elliot. A widow Mrs Smith lodging in Westgate Buildings! A poor widow barely able to live, between thirty and forty; a mere Mrs Smith, an every-day Mrs Smith, of all people and all names in the world, to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be preferred by her to her own family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland! Mrs Smith! Such a name!"
Mrs Clay, who had been present while all this passed, now thought it advisable to leave the room, and Anne could have said much, and did long to say a little in defence of her friend's not very dissimilar claims to theirs, but her sense of personal respect to her father prevented her. She made no reply. She left it to himself to recollect, that Mrs Smith was not the only widow in Bath between thirty and forty, with little to live on, and no surname of dignity.” (Ch.17) 
The final line is excellent—in a few words, Jane Austen shows the irony of the situation, Mrs Clay’s awareness, Sir Walter’s obliviousness, and Anne’s quiet contempt for her father. 
This is also one of those moments where Jane Austen leaves something unsaid. 

3/ Another argument against Anne’s persuadable temper is the case of William Walter Elliot. 
Lady Russell, the same friend who over 7 years ago persuaded Anne to reject Frederick Wentworth, now tries to persuade her to accept William Walter Elliot. It doesn’t work. We know that Anne still loves Frederick, but there’s little reason for her to think that there’s any hope for her and him getting back together. She trusts her own judgment. 
The passage is so good:  
“Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.
Mr Elliot was too generally agreeable. Various as were the tempers in her father's house, he pleased them all. He endured too well, stood too well with every body. He had spoken to her with some degree of openness of Mrs Clay; had appeared completely to see what Mrs Clay was about, and to hold her in contempt; and yet Mrs Clay found him as agreeable as any body.” (ibid.) 
Jane Austen’s novels, especially the last 3, are too great, too magnificent to be reduced to self-help books, but people also read her for passages like this. Reading her works, we can see that Jane Austen has no illusion about anything, including herself—nothing fools or escapes her. 

4/ To look again at the passage above, I find it amusing that some readers dislike Fanny Price for being judgmental, but not Anne Elliot. 
It should be made clear that I’m not saying Anne is judgmental—the cliché that people shouldn’t judge is foolish, we must judge things to be right or wrong, people to be trustworthy or unreliable, and so on. The thing I find funny is why the same people who take no issues with Anne judging Mr Elliot based on a general distrust because he’s too agreeable, criticise Fanny for judging Henry and Mary Crawford based on their comments and actions. 
But of course, these readers think so because they like Henry and/or Mary, and misjudge their character.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Various thoughts on Persuasion

1/ As I reread Persuasion, I realised that I didn’t remember it quite as well as most of Jane Austen’s other works. 
I forgot, for example, that Anne Elliot moves around quite a bit: at the beginning of the story, she’s at Kellynch (Kellynch Hall) with her family, then she stays at Uppercross with her sister Mary and Mary’s husband Charles Musgrove, then she goes to Lyme with the entire group, then back to Uppercross, then she visits Kellynch before moving to Bath with her family. 

2/ Look at these lines about Mary: 
“Though better endowed than the elder sister, Mary had not Anne's understanding nor temper. While well, and happy, and properly attended to, she had great good humour and excellent spirits; but any indisposition sunk her completely. She had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used.” (Ch.5) 
“Resources for solitude” are important to Jane Austen, who highly values introspection and self-reflection. The line reminds me of the shallow Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, who likes fun, cannot sit still, and gets bored easily because she has no resources for solitude. 
It’s also true for Emma Woodhouse—she has self-reflection and is capable of recognising her own fault (better than Mary Crawford), but Emma is essentially about a young woman who lacks resources for solitude and turns into a busybody.  
See what Anne thinks about the Musgrove sisters: 
“Anne always contemplated them as some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance; but still, saved as we all are, by some comfortable feeling of superiority from wishing for the possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments; and envied them nothing but that seemingly perfect good understanding and agreement together, that good-humoured mutual affection, of which she had known so little herself with either of her sisters.” (ibid.) 
That’s a good quote. 

3/ Sir Walter Elliot is such a snob—see his reasons for being against the Navy: 
“"…First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man. I have observed it all my life. A man is in greater danger in the navy of being insulted by the rise of one whose father, his father might have disdained to speak to, and of becoming prematurely an object of disgust himself, than in any other line…"” (Ch.3) 
Mrs Clay takes a dig at him: 
“"…it is only the lot of those who are not obliged to follow any, who can live in a regular way, in the country, choosing their own hours, following their own pursuits, and living on their own property, without the torment of trying for more; it is only their lot, I say, to hold the blessings of health and a good appearance to the utmost: I know no other set of men but what lose something of their personableness when they cease to be quite young."” (ibid.) 
That’s delicious. 
The conversation is ended abruptly however, and the narrative moves onto Mr Shepherd and the tenancy applications—this is one of the few places where we can tell Jane Austen meant to fill in later, as she was racing against her illness. 

4/ See what Mrs Croft says to her brother, Captain Wentworth: 
“"But I hate to hear you talking so like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days."” (Ch.8) 
Later, when she’s asked by Mrs Musgrove about her travels: 
“"Pretty well, ma'am in the fifteen years of my marriage; though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies, and back again, and only once; besides being in different places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Streights, and never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies."
Mrs Musgrove had not a word to say in dissent; she could not accuse herself of having ever called them anything in the whole course of her life.” (ibid.)  
I always dislike it when some people denigrate Jane Austen for being narrow and talk as though she’s unaware of the world outside “the little world” she depicts. She might work on a small canvas, but that passage above shows a glimpse of a larger world, and also suggests her thoughts about women and men. 

5/ Look at this passage, when Anne goes for a walk with Mary, the Musgroves (the brother and 2 sisters), and Captain Wentworth: 
“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves, and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. She occupied her mind as much as possible in such like musings and quotations; but it was not possible, that when within reach of Captain Wentworth's conversation with either of the Miss Musgroves, she should not try to hear it; yet she caught little very remarkable.” (Ch.10) 
Is it just me, or does Anne seem to force herself to think about lines of poetry, instead of enjoying nature for what it is? Maybe I’m being unfair to her, thinking of Fanny Price’s rapture in Mansfield Park, but it feels like Anne occupies her mind in such musings and quotations so as to distract herself from Captain Wentworth and the Musgrove sisters, which doesn’t quite work.

6/ This is when Anne recommends some prose to Captain Benwick, who’s grieving his lost love: 
“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.” (Ch.11) 
I’m not suggesting that Jane Austen is Anne Elliot (she is none of her heroines, and people must throw in the bin the asinine idea that she’s Elizabeth Bennet), but I can’t help wondering if she ever feels that way about herself: “eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination”. 
This is an interesting line about Captain Benwick: 
“…For, though shy, he did not seem reserved; it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints…” (ibid.) 
I like that. 

7/ This is the most important line in Persuasion, which sums up the idea of the entire book: 
“Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character.” (Ch.12) 
It is Anne’s view, but the entire story of Persuasion supports the view—Captain Wentworth, apart from realising that he and Anne still have feelings for each other after many years, also has to learn that “a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character”. 
The idea of moderation and balance, as I’ve written several time before, seems also to be Jane Austen’s philosophy, as demonstrated by her 6 novels: balance between sense and sensibility, between emotional display and emotional restraint, between a romantic and pragmatic view of marriage, etc. 
In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen creates Elizabeth Bennet, a witty, independent, and resolute heroine, who, for example, stands up for herself by saying to Lady Catherine “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me” (Ch.56). In Mansfield Park, she creates Fanny Price, a resolute heroine in a different way, who on the surface appears passive but holds fast to her principles, resists persuasions and threats from all sides, and stands by her decision all the way to the end. 
Then in Persuasion, Jane Austen creates a heroine who appears soft and persuadable, and shows that a resolute character can sometimes be bad, by depicting Louisa Musgrove, resolute in the extreme—headstrong, stubborn, and heedless of consequences. 

8/ I should be writing about the style of Persuasion, but can’t help picking up the various interesting remarks. For example, after “the domestic hurricane” of the Musgrove kids and the Harville kids, comes this observation: 
“Everybody has their taste in noises as well as in other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity. When Lady Russell not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camden Place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newspapermen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint. No, these were noises which belonged to the winter pleasures; her spirits rose under their influence; and like Mrs Musgrove, she was feeling, though not saying, that after being long in the country, nothing could be so good for her as a little quiet cheerfulness.” (Ch.14) 
Relatable. 

9/ Speaking of relatability, look at this line: 
“"Now I have done," cried Captain Wentworth. "When once married people begin to attack me with,--'Oh! you will think very differently, when you are married.' I can only say, 'No, I shall not;' and then they say again, 'Yes, you will,' and there is an end of it."” (Ch.8) 
People never change—this is why Jane Austen endures. 
I suppose this line is more amusing to me than to other readers, but I get this kind of attack “oh you will think differently (when you’re older)” whenever I happen to mention I don’t want children. 

10/ Anne Elliot is different from Jane Austen’s other heroines in many ways. She is older, approaching “the years of dangers”; she is also more mature and more understanding, without delusions. There is a resignation about her that the other characters, being younger, don’t have.   
Unlike the other heroines, Anne doesn’t have a close relationship with either of her sisters. Even Fanny Price, who is often neglected, is close to her cousin Edmund, and when she returns to Portsmouth, finds a close friend in Susan. Anne isn’t close to either Elizabeth or Mary—she is neglected and taken for granted by everybody. 
This is something I remembered from my last reading, but I forgot that Anne didn’t particularly like her family—she tolerates them, rather than like them. 
When Admiral Croft talks about Sir Walter and the mirrors all over Kellynch Hall, for example (the excellent line “I should think he must be rather a dressy man for his time of life. Such a number of looking-glasses! oh Lord! there was no getting away from one's self.”—Ch.13), Anne is amused, in spite of herself. 
When she has to go to Bath to reunite with Sir Walter and Elizabeth:
“Anne did not share these feelings. She persisted in a very determined, though very silent disinclination for Bath; caught the first dim view of the extensive buildings, smoking in rain, without any wish of seeing them better; felt their progress through the streets to be, however disagreeable, yet too rapid; for who would be glad to see her when she arrived? And looked back, with fond regret, to the bustles of Uppercross and the seclusion of Kellynch.
[…] Anne was not animated to an equal pitch by the circumstance, but she felt that she would rather see Mr Elliot again than not, which was more than she could say for many other persons in Bath.” (Ch.14) 
It’s noted earlier that during the time at Uppercross and Lyme, she barely thinks of her family in Bath, though of course a large part of it is because of Captain Wentworth. 
Once she’s in the house: 
“Anne entered it with a sinking heart, anticipating an imprisonment of many months, and anxiously saying to herself, "Oh! when shall I leave you again?".” (Ch.15) 
The unhappiness with silly family members is more obvious in Persuasion than in other novels (I’m not counting Fanny, who finds much to be unhappy about in her real parents, but who doesn’t grow up with them—to her, family is the Bertrams).
And what does Anne think, when she asks herself why William Elliot suddenly wants to talk to her family again after several years of estrangement, and thinks it must be because he wants to marry Elizabeth? 
“Elizabeth was certainly very handsome, with well-bred, elegant manners, and her character might never have been penetrated by Mr Elliot, knowing her but in public, and when very young himself. How her temper and understanding might bear the investigation of his present keener time of life was another concern and rather a fearful one. Most earnestly did she wish that he might not be too nice, or too observant if Elizabeth were his object…” (Ch.15) 
 Yep. Anne has no illusion about her sister.