After my sister and I watched the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion in December, I decided to reread the novel again. I’ve been thinking it works well to read it in January because it’s about second chances and new beginnings.
I love the passage in which Jane Austen tells us Anne Elliot “had been forced into prudence in her youth” and “learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning” (Volume 1, Chapter 4). And I love the marginal note next to it in a first edition, which may have been written by Jane’s sister Cassandra: “Dear, Dear Jane! This deserves to be written in letters of gold.”
I like the speed with which Anne’s sister Mary recovers her spirits when Anne comes to visit her at Uppercross Cottage: “She could soon sit upright on the sofa, and began to hope she might be able to leave it by dinner-time. Then, forgetting to think of it, she was at the other end of the room, beautifying a nose-gay; then, she ate her cold meat; and then she was well enough to propose a little walk” (Volume 1, Chapter 5).
And I like the description of the Musgroves, who, “like their houses, were in a state of alteration, perhaps of improvement” (Volume 1, Chapter 5). This comparison also seems appropriate for January, a time when so many of us attempt to make alterations, perhaps improvements, in our lives.
I’m fascinated by the scene in which Anne encounters her former fiancé, Captain Wentworth, for the first time in eight years, and tries to reason with herself that since so much time has passed, she ought not to feel so much:
How absurd to be resuming the agitation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness! What might not eight years do? Events of every description, changes, alienations, removals,—all, all must be comprised in it; and oblivion of the past—how natural, how certain too! It included nearly a third part of her own life.
Alas! with all her reasonings, she found, that to retentive feelings eight years may be little more than nothing.
(Volume 1, Chapter 7)
I’ve underlined and memorized many passages from this novel over the years, and I think my all-time favourite is probably Mrs. Croft’s response to Captain Wentworth when he says he “hate[s] to hear of women on board” a naval vessel:
“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.” (Volume 1, Chapter 8)
I took this photo of Halifax Harbour and McNabs Island on a walk at Point Pleasant Park earlier this week.
When I visit Point Pleasant I always think of Jane’s brother Captain Charles Austen and his wife Fanny, who sailed past McNabs Island into Halifax Harbour in 1809 and again in 1810 and 1811, when he was serving on the North American Station. And of her brother Admiral Sir Francis Austen, who lived at Admiralty House in Halifax between 1845 and 1848, when he was Commander-in-Chief of the North American and West Indies Station.
Fanny Austen often sailed with Charles and endured the hazards of several voyages, including a snowstorm in late November 1809, when they were sailing out of Halifax on board HMS Indian on their way back to Bermuda. My friend Sheila Johnson Kindred has written about the storm in her splendid book Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister: The Life and Letters of Fanny Palmer Austen: “Just out of Halifax the Indian met ‘strong gales with sleet and snow.’ By the evening the ‘gale increased’ and ‘the ship was labouring and shipping heavy seas.’” Fanny was caring for her first child, Cassy, who was eleven months old, and she was almost seven months pregnant with her second child. The journey must have been extremely difficult. “Imagine Fanny’s relief,” Sheila says, “when land was sighted and they ‘made all sail’ for St David’s Head, Bermuda, arriving in St George’s on 12 December after a harrowing voyage of fifteen days, almost twice as long as the journey usually took.”
If you’d like to know more about Charles and Fanny Austen, Francis Austen, and their families, and the places they visited when they were in Halifax, you’ll find more details in the walking tour Sheila and I created a few years ago when the Jane Austen Society (UK) held a conference here.