Holly and Amanda from Gun in Act One decided to host a little Persuasion Readalong and asked me if I’d be into doing it with them and I was like “obviously” so here we are. If you missed the first post, go read it to catch up. We’ll wait.
If you haven’t ever read Persuasion, I feel like I should tell you that there will be lots of SPOILERS in this post. Yes, despite the fact that the book has been around for nearly 200 years, I’m warning about spoilers…
So after Captain Wentworth is back in the picture and so cold to Anne, things kind of find a new equilibrium. The Musgroves are really into Captain Wentworth, finding him everything that is gentlemanly and good (see also: rich) and soon he’s spending a lot of time at Uppercross. Henrietta and Louisa are fighting for Wentworth’s attention when their cousin, Charles Hayter, comes back on the scene and he’s all “um, what’s the deal with this Captain Wentworth fellow, Henrietta?” because she’s basically all but engaged to cousin Charles and he’s not so thrilled that she’s spending all this time with the Captain. Wentworth had no idea that there was another fellow on the scene and he just starts spending more time with Louisa instead (apparently sisters are completely interchangeable). This whole situation makes for some fantastic Austen-esque quotes on courtship like “Mr and Mrs Musgrove, either from seeing little or from an entire confidence in the discretion of both their daughters, and of all the young men who came near them, seemed to leave everything to take it’s chance.” They are totally fine to let it all work itself out – fairly laissez faire for parents of the time. Even better is Charles and Mary trying to work out how it’s going to shake out: “Charles gave it for Louisa, Mary for Henrietta, but quite agreeing that to have him [Wentworth] marry either would be extremely delightful.”
The fact that now everyone is all for Captain Wentworth left Holly feeling pretty outraged: How about Mary going on about how cousin Charles is a poor catch for her sister, in comparison to the esteemed Capt. Wentworth: “She has no right to throw herself away. I do not think that any young woman has a right to make a choice that may be disagreeable and inconvenient to the principal part of her family, and be giving bad connections to those who have not been used to them.” Well, that seems to have come full circle from seven (is it seven?) years ago?
It was eight, but the point stands.
So now that the whole Henrietta/Wentworth/Louisa thing seems to have been sorted, Captain Wentworth decides that it’s time for him to head to Lyme and visit with some old Navy friends. And all the young Musgroves are like “oooooh let’s all go, we’re dying to go to Lyme!” They all decide to head out which made Holly point out that this really marks it as a book of it’s time: I feel like a modern author writing about this group of family/friends taking an overnight excursion would have included 100 details about the logistics of how to make that trip happen without cars or phones, but Jane was just all ‘this is how we roll’ and off they went.
They go to Lyme and are having the best time ever, Captain Wentworth’s friends the Harvilles and poor Captain Benwick (poor because his fiancee died right before he was about to get leave to go and marry her – she was related to the Harvilles and they have taken him in to nurse him through his broken heart) are the loveliest people ever. Captain Benwick has taken a shine to our heroine because she is a great listener, is smart, and the cold wind in Lyme has totally brought the bloom back to her cheeks so she’s looking pretty great. While Anne and Mary are out for an early morning walk, they meet a good looking guy in mourning and he looks Anne over and obviously likes what he sees. Later the group thinks that the gentleman may be the Elliot relation that is set to inherit Sir Walter’s title. But they can’t know for sure because his servants didn’t tell the hotel servants anything. It’s their last morning in Lyme but everyone wants to go back one more time to the hills overlooking the ocean and then they will head back. The group is kind of paired up and Captain Wentworth is walking with Louisa who has the Captain jump her down this particularly tricky, steep part of the walk. She does it once and loves it so she makes him do it again. He’s like no, that doesn’t seem like a good idea, let’s not but she makes him do it anyway and she falls and hits her head! “There was no blood, no visible bruise; but her eyes were closed, she breathed not, her face was like death.”
I think Amanda shares your surprise at the violence of this Jane Austen book: the action! The drama of the head injury! So different than escaping to Gretna Green.
Knowing what we know about the group it should come as no surprise that no one is able to do anything right – Anne comes to the rescue with her pragmatism and her practicality and soon has things sorted. They bring Louisa back to the Harvilles who will not hear of anything but nursing Louisa themselves. Wentworth feels that someone should stay with her and since Henrietta can’t even be in the same room as her and Mary is an idiot, he thinks it should be Anne – “if Anne will stay, no one so proper,so capable as Anne”. WELL Mary hears about this and she loses it: “When the plan was made known to Mary, however, there was an end to all peace in it. She was so wretched and so vehement, complained so much of the injustice in being expected to go away, instead of Anne; – Anne who was nothing to Louisa while she was her sister and had the best right to stay in Henrietta’s stead!” And Mary, of course, gets her way.
Louisa ends up being fine, just needs to rest and eventually she returns home, still kind of weak but mostly OK. But that’s for the last section and post…(see also: foreshadowing!)
Can we just take a second to talk about the fact that when a crisis hits, Wentworth feels like the only person that can handle things, the only person that he trusts enough is Anne? I think things are thawing a bit.
And that marks the end of Anne’s stay with Mary. Lady Russell is thankfully returned home and Anne prepares to go to her. She stays a short amount of time before she heads to Bath, hated Bath. There she finds her father and sister completely unchanged (still jerks) and Mrs Clay worryingly closer to the family. She actually overhears Elizabeth tell Mrs Clay the morning of her arrival that there is no need for Mrs Clay to leave now that Anne has arrived because no one cares that Anne has arrived and things will basically be just as they were. For Amanda, trading Mary for Elizabeth bodes well: I’m looking forward to Elizabeth’s outright nastiness more than Mary’s whining.
Guess who else turns out to be in Bath? The Mr Elliot who is set to inherit the baronetcy. He was the man that they saw in Lyme and Mr Elliot soon marks Anne out as his favourite, sitting with her and sharing her opinions, especially as to the dangers of Mrs Clay.
And that’s kind of where we leave things. Amanda and Holly both agree that Persuasion is different in tone to JA’s other work – the excitement of the head injury for one but also Anne as a heroine compared to say Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse. She’s definitely more reserved than either of them but she’s also a good five to seven years older. She’s been disappointed once and has spent the intervening years at the mercy of family that are almost cruel. I definitely have the advantage of knowing what happens in the end so I was curious how Wentworth was stacking up as a romantic JA hero. Holly is a fan of Captain Benwick’s while Amanda isn’t sure about Wentworth. She doesn’t think that his having been disappointed eight years ago is a good enough excuse for his behaviour now.
We all agree that Mr Elliot is up to no good.
If you’re still reading this, well done! That was lengthy. Next week’s the last post – still time to join us. Persuasion isn’t long. Amanda is writing the final post and it will be posted on Gun in Act One!