Today’s guest post is by Judith Sears, a freelance writer specializing in marketing and corporate communications. A few of her short plays have been given staged readings in the Denver, Colorado area. She says she’s a lifelong Jane Austen fan, and she’s made two pilgrimages to Bath. When she was rereading the ending of Persuasion, she tells me, “Elizabeth Elliot tapped me on the shoulder and wouldn’t stop talking until I wrote it down.” She sent me the story she wrote about Elizabeth’s vulnerability as a single woman, and I’m happy to share it here, along with her guest post on the cancelled chapters of Persuasion.
Jane Austen At Work: The Revision of Persuasion’s Ending
The original draft of the last two chapters of Persuasion is the only part of a manuscript that we have of a novel that Austen subsequently revised and intended to publish.
In his Memoir of Jane Austen, Austen’s nephew J.E. Austen-Leigh writes that she finished the novel in July, 1816, but was dissatisfied with the ending: “She thought it tame and flat, and was desirous of producing something better.” In her revision, Austen expanded Chapter 10 of Volume 2 into two chapters and turned the original Chapter 11 (with some editing and punctuation changes) into Chapter 12 of the finished novel (or Chapters 22, 23, and 24 in a single volume version).
While Jane Austen could hardly write anything “flat,” there is wide critical agreement that the revision is greatly superior to the original draft. The revision develops the novel’s ending much more fully, adding events and pulling in more characters.
In this post, I’ll focus on the simple fact that most of the main characters make an appearance in the revision, whereas in the original draft only Anne, Wentworth and the Crofts, mostly offstage, are involved.
(If you haven’t read the original ending, you can find it online at Mollands.net. You can see a facsimile of the original manuscript here: Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts: Two Chapters of Persuasion.)
The chapters in question tell the climactic events that determine whether Anne and Wentworth will be reunited. The first draft acts as if Anne and Wentworth are all that matters. Their reunion is accomplished in one chapter (Chapter 10/22) with one main scene that takes place immediately after Anne has left Mrs. Smith. The reconciliation scene with Wentworth isn’t “flat.” It’s tender and rather dramatic. But, it’s an awfully quick and easy resolution to an eight and a half year problem.
And, really, in what Jane Austen world does a couple’s union involve only them? Granted, Anne and Wentworth are now more mature, and with “one independent fortune between them” they can’t be stopped, as the narrator acknowledges in both versions (original Chapter 11/23; revised Chapter 12/24). But, that’s not the whole story.
Austen knew this and her revision expands the time frame for reconciliation to two days and involves most of the main characters. A flurry of events—the arrival of the Musgroves, visits, invitations, theatre plans, the sighting of Mrs. Clay and William Elliot—twist and twirl the action towards Wentworth’s decision to declare himself in a letter.
It’s like a lively, complicated country dance and it deeply embeds Anne and Wentworth in the social world of Persuasion. They must interact with multiple personalities and influences, instead of acting as two independent wills.
As to that social world—it’s primarily a contest between the Musgroves, spontaneous and warm, and the Elliots, callous and calculating. The Elliots’ entrance to the White Hart, where the Musgroves are staying, produces a “general chill,” just as their exit produces “ease and animation” (Chapter 11/22). Prior to this, the Musgroves have been a picture of genial confusion, and later, in Chapter 12/23, talkative, open-hearted Mrs. Musgrove’s burbling about Henrietta’s engagement produces a “conscious glance” from Wentworth.
All of the important action of the revised two chapters takes place within the Musgrove circle. This and the contrast in family atmospheres suggests that warmth, informality, and the simple affection of the Musgroves are essential for Wentworth and Anne to be able to find each other. It’s not enough for Anne and Wentworth to be more mature and have one independent fortune, although they are and do. Nevertheless, the sterile Elliot household will always hamper healthy growth, whereas the Musgroves support it.
As an aside, if this is Austen’s point, may we not raise an eyebrow when she gently ridicules Mrs. Musgrove’s “powerful whisper” which delivers “minutiae” (Chapter 12/23) when, in the next minute, she will make all of Anne’s happiness hang on Wentworth overhearing her conversation? (It must be admitted, however, that Austen certainly knows that openness and spontaneity can have advantages and disadvantages and the Musgroves are never presented as powerhouses of discernment.)
Incorporating more characters with more schemes inevitably puts more obstacles in Anne and Wentworth’s path—and this is another improvement of the revision. The convenient offices of Admiral Croft in the first draft are too convenient and force the moment on Wentworth and Anne.
In the revised chapters, both Anne and Wentworth must act and demonstrate their ability to successfully navigate the society that thwarted them nine years earlier.
For example, the revised chapters highlight the rumors about Anne and William Elliot, providing more fodder for Wentworth’s jealousy and worry that Anne may once again be persuaded to give way to familial ambitions. In a delicate social setting, Anne must act to downplay a possible link between herself and Mr. Elliot.
Elizabeth Elliot introduces a complementary obstacle: her insulting invitation to Wentworth raises Anne’s concerns that her family’s heartless snobbery will repel Wentworth. All of these complications, of course, also build suspense, which was short-circuited in the original.
It is interesting that there is one obstacle and one major character that does not appear in the revised chapters: Lady Russell. Lady Russell, who first persuaded Anne to break the engagement with Wentworth, isn’t even a bystander. Anne, whom Lady Russell consulted about budgetary reforms at Kellynch Hall, doesn’t even think about asking Lady Russell’s advice this time around and doesn’t prioritize telling her what she’s learned about Mr. William Elliot.
Lady Russell, who values Anne as the Musgroves do, but values rank, as the Elliots do, is simply presented with a fait accompli in the final chapter in both the first and revised versions. Anne now has the life experience to trust her own judgment and to trust Wentworth’s talents and character.
Anne and Wentworth’s “little history of sorrowful interest” was first introduced in six paragraphs in Volume 1, Chapter 4. The revised chapters recapitulate that history, showing us scene by scene how the second time around, Anne and Wentworth, “more tender, more tried . . . more equal to act, more justified in acting,” achieve their happy ending.
Quotations from Persuasion are from the Norton Critical Edition (second edition), edited and with a preface by Patricia Meyer Spacks (2013). The quotation from Austen-Leigh’s Memoir is from the Penguin edition of Persuasion, edited and with an introduction by D. W. Harding (1965).
“It would be well for the eldest sister if she were equally satisfied with her situation…”
– Jane Austen, Persuasion, Chapter 24
You think you have problems! Whilst you fret about your health—and, candidly, I advise you to take Mr. Robinson’s advice and cut back on the laudanum; if you’re going to complain about your health, at least do what the apothecary tells you!—I am dealing with some truly desperate developments. The Elliot name and estate are in dire jeopardy. And, before I forget, Father has been stricken, leaving me to cope with everything, and the physician urges you and Charles to come to Bath right away.
Shortly after the announcement of Anne’s engagement to Captain What’s-his-worth, Mr. William Elliot stopped calling, which was nothing, as I told everyone, but no sooner had he left Bath than this baggage—she has no surname of dignity, you know—that I had brought to Bath and introduced into the highest society told me that she was needed at home.
I begged her to stay, as the constant praise of Anne was getting oppressive. It was tiresome, having my friends, those few true ones who are left, congratulate me about my sister’s good fortune and her supposed second bloom. Then the gabsters would rave on about her Captain and what an eligible catch he was and ask me, me, if I was jealous.
The very idea. I snapped my fan shut quite sharply and stared down the chit that had the nerve to say that to my face, let me assure you. (It was the fan you admired with the pastoral drawing, trimmed in lace, quite sets off my eyes, so Mrs. Wallis tells me.) Elizabeth Elliot … jealous!
But that was all just annoying. Brace yourself, Mary, because the woman-who-has-no-surname-of-dignity left Bath and has since turned up in a London establishment under the protection of our cousin and the Kellynch heir, Mr. William Elliot.
For the last few months with one hand she fed me sweet lies that Mr. Elliot had intentions toward me—I hope you don’t think I’m such a simpleton as to fall for that, of course not!—whilst the other hand was caressing him.
The gorge rises in me as I write.
Fortunately, Lady Russell came running to tell us the news when it first broke. It was a trial listening to her everlasting concern for our family name until I sat up very straight and reminded her how pleased she’d been that the heir had reconciled with our father. The confused look on her face as she sipped her tea was my only satisfaction in this all-around dissatisfying turn of events.
At least Father and I had the opportunity to compose ourselves before putting in our appearance at the Pump room. How the fans flipped open and the heads bent toward each other to whisper when we entered! To be grist for the on dit of a bunch of frivolous Bath chits was galling, but we carried it off with heads held high.
The next morning, Father and I went immediately to wait on our cousins, the Dalrymples, to shore up our most distinguished connection.
Ominously, both Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret were indisposed. We left our cards. Later, at a café, Mrs. Wallis came by to “do me the favor” of telling me the Dalrymples are not pleased that it’s known that they received the woman-with-no-surname-of-dignity on our behalf.
Upon returning home, Father wrote a note to Lady D., explaining our shock and how awfully we were used. Just as he concluded the note, he suffered a terrible tightening in his chest and collapsed. He has not risen from his bed these three days. The doctor told me to summon the family, which is why I write, and prepare for the worst.
The worst? If Father dies while still in debt, I will be dependent on Mr. Elliot to ensure that the estate pays my dowry. Of course, he has the money, but only imagine the many difficulties and delays, such a conniving blackguard might introduce just to amuse himself.
And, suppose Mr. Elliot marries that wanton? If she has convinced him thus far, what else may she convince him of?
Just imagine it! That bounder and his convenient descending on Kellynch Hall as heirs! The woman who used to be beholden to my favor, my notice, now holding my place? Opening every ball as I have done for nigh on fourteen years? Entertaining as Lady Elliot? Freckled Lady Elliot!
It is not to be borne.
If I am not married, where will I go? I cannot be beholden to those two and the only thing worse than facing her condescension would be being the object of her charity. Unendurable.
But, it occurs to me that I must apply to Anne. I fancy she didn’t care much for the woman-with-no-surname-of-dignity. I shall remind her of my role in bringing Captain Who’sits into our circle. Without my having established the Elliot’s as the fashionable place to be in Bath, do you think he would have bothered with or noticed Anne?
Yes, I shall drop a few hints and I am sure she will be quick to recognize what she owes me. Perhaps the Captain has some unattached friends that would be grateful for an introduction to an heiress of noble name. A widower Admiral would be fine, although if he were very, very wealthy—much more than Anne’s Captain—I would deign to accept a Captain. And, unlike our father, I am quite liberal on the subject of appearance. The fortune will do.
I must close now and get to the Pump Room—more important than ever to see and be seen. Lady R. can sit with Father. You and Charles should hurry to Bath as Father may not last. By the bye, I’ve fired that fraud, Mr. Shepherd, and hired someone else to attend to our financial affairs, for how could we trust the father of such a strumpet? And that’s what I shall say to his face! Something to look forward to.
Here’s a photo from one of Judith’s trips to Bath, of the street where the last scene in the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion was filmed.
Thirty-first in a series of blog posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit “Youth and Experience.” Coming soon: guest posts by Marcia McClintock Folsom and Deborah Yaffe.