Thursday, March 4, 2010

3/4 DP - A Little Persuasion

Well, as I nearly predicted, nothing today is quite in the same class as the question on Monday from the man whose situation made me think of Frank Churchill from *Emma*. But, in continuation of my recent trend of keeping all my comparisons confined to a single novel, today I turn to Miss Austen's *Persuasion* for inspiration, a work to which I referred last week when some threads turned into stereotypical remarks on the question of whether men or women are kinkier. I still hold that Anne Elliot's conversation with Captain Harville on the subject of gender-based constancy ought to be required reading for all posters if not the topic for a mandatory qualifying essay before posting at all.

L1: LW1 is doing a number of things right, and certainly is making a rather better widower than Sir Walter Elliot. Sir Walter, though in his mid-fifties, has retained the good looks to which, in conjunction with his baronetcy, he owes his acquisition of a wife of character, a woman whose judgment, if she might be pardoned the youtful infatuation which made her Lady Elliot, had never required indulgence since. As it was only the prudence and economy of Lady Elliot that kept Sir Walter from exceeding his income, it is unsurprising that, thirteen years after her death, he finds in expedient to let Kellynch Hall and remove to live in Bath, even though he has only lived up to the standards of a handsome baronet. But it is in the parental field where Sir Walter shines. After making one or two unreasonable applications shortly into his widowhood, he has prided himself on remaining single for the sake of his daughters. His oldest daughter, who most resembles him in both beauty and brains, is a great favourite, and for her sake he might well give up almost anything that he was not very much tempted to do.

But as *Persuasion* opens and Sir Walter plans his relocation, a little threat appears on the horizon in the form of Elizabeth Elliot's intimacy with Mrs Clay, the daughter of Sir Walter's lawyer/agent, Mr Shepherd. Lady Russell, the neighbour of the Elliots who has been the closest thing Anne in particular has had to a mother since Lady Elliot's death, even convinces Anne to warn Elizabeth of unpleasant possibilities. Elizabeth is certain Mrs Clay has no designs on Sir Walter; Anne is less convinced, but the possibility ranks high among the reasons that Mr William Elliot, Sir Walter's heir, reinstates himself in Sir Walter's good opinion. Mr Elliot's initial intention is to marry Anne and keep a son-in-law's eye on Sir Walter in order to restrain the baronet from an imprudent second marriage (which might lead to that most dreadful thing, a male heir). When Anne's reunion with her former fiance Captain Wentworth makes this impossible, Mr Elliot consoles himself by convincing Mrs Clay to surrender her chance of marrying Sir Walter in exchange for the possibility of wheedling her way into marrying Sir William.

Now, LW1 has done a good many things right. He has been, we can reasonably assume, a devoted husband, supported his wife through her final illness without requiring to be propped up by an outside affair (see: recent letters to Mr Savage), and dedicated himself in his widowhood to his career and raising his son. There is very little requiring stern corss-examination. One might question his making a point of his mother-in-law's age, and his use of the word AWESOME almost entirely undoes the favourable impression he makes, but the two most interesting points are his relatively good opinion of the boyfriend amd why he feels creepy. If we compare this letter to the letter from the old flame of Mrs Alzheimers, this LW mentions the woman being attractive once, whereas the other LW cannot go two sentences without bringing up Mrs A's strong sex drive. This LW seems more intrigued by the unexpected possibility of resuming a long-dormant sex life than consumed by lust for the source of the possibility.

I fear I cannot say so many nice things about the conduct of the babysitter. In her favour, she does have the ability to make herself agreeable to children. But she has brought up sex between them in the conversation, apparently multiple times, despite being hired recently. And now she escalates the situation by bringing up her crush and her restlessness. Well, it's certainly enough to provide for a fun time on the witness stand. On the whole, I think it would be better for the boy if she's just calculating rather than sincere. She'll be nicer to him while the situation lasts and the ending will be cleaner.

My best guess as to what's really going on is that this is a sort of variation on *Death on the Nile* or *Endless Night* and that the boyfriend is in on it. She has spread out a lure in conversation, and detected a flicker of interest. Now she is upping the ante, planning to marry LW1, clean out his savings and the boy's college fund, and then return to her true love. But it's just a guess.

L2: Dear me - what a piece of work! I almost feel like expressing deep sympathy to LW2 that the only thing she feels that she can do to stand out and merit being the centre of attention is to become pregnant. I might advise her mother-in-law not to be alone with LW2 or eat or drink anything prepared by LW2 until both babies have safely put in an appearance. The most interesting point of speculation may well be whether her husband ought to have seen that something of this nature would arise.

But if LW2 wants to witness the possible effects of a late pregnancy that would really be a blow to the younger generation, she might consider the plight of Mr Elliot. Having married for money, acquired his fortune, and had the good luck to bury the wife who provided him with little other than his healthy income, he is prepared to go to great lengths to keep Sir Walter single, though not to quite such an extremity as to marry Elizabeth. He might perhaps have been considering such a course before his fortunate meeting with Anne in Lyme (though ostensibly he never discovered her identity until long afterwards) and the realization that marrying the other Miss Elliot would be considerably less of an ordeal, but he cannot bring himself to it at the last, contenting himself with eloping with Mrs Clay, thus saving Sir Walter from the clutches of one designing female, at least.

I have seen it predicted by those who have enjoyed looking into the future of Miss Austen's characters that Mrs Clay does not succeed in getting Mr Elliot to marry her, but that she has the resourcefulness to return to Sir Walter and marry him at last, so that seven years after the end of *Persuasion* we greet the birth of a little heir to Kellynch, and enjoy seeing Mr Elliot seethe in the background.

L3: It is really rather a pity that advice columnists must of necessity provide questioners with answers that are in the questioners' best interest. If ever there were a time to consider what would be better for the poor friend in question (barring true moral repugnancy, but it is hard to imagine it being there and LW3 failing to nail it chapter and verse to the cross), it would be now. Who would not love to tell LW3 that of course she must absolutely drop the terrible horrible awful very bad friend right this instant? After all, surely that must be in the best interest of the friend.

I get double duty out of Sir Walter Elliot, who provides me with a parallel for this letter as well as for L1. It does not take long after he agrees to let his estate to consider who might make the most desirable sort of tenant. Mr Shepherd rather shrewdly advances a naval officer just returned to shore as just the sort of tenant Sir Walter might want.

But Sir Walter has strong objections to the navy, a profession which he would not want to see adopted by any friend of his. His objections are twofold. A naval career often brings men into an undue distinction and confers upon him honours of which his father never dreamed. Also, life at sea cuts up a man's youth and vigour to such an extent that a sailor grows old faster than any other man. He instances Lord St Ives and Admiral Baldwin, men with whom he had been in company and to whom he'd had to give place, despite Lord St Ives having been the son of a country curate and Admiral Baldwin appearing to be 60 or 62 when his true age was no more than 40.

It is left to Mrs Clay to soothe things over. She does so with some skill, beginning with the line that, "We are not all born to be handsome." She goes on to instance the various travails and risks attached to the profession of the lawyer, the physician and even the clergyman. But she comes to the happy conclusion that, while each profession is noble and honourable in its turn, it is only those who are not obliged to take up any profession at all who can maintain the health, vigour and beauty of youth well into their middle years.

L4: I fear I have almost nothing to say about when LW4 should disclose his physical peculiarity. But it might cheer him up to take Mrs Clay as an example. Sir Walter prizes beauty as highly as he does birth or fortune, perhaps higher than fortune. At the end of the novel, he is reconciled to Anne's marriage by considering that Captain Wentworth's superiourity of appearance offsets Anne's superiourity of rank. Early on in the novel, we discover that Mrs Clay has a variety of drawbacks to overcome if she wishes to become Lady Elliot - freckles, a projecting tooth and a clumsy wrist. Sir Walter has made severe comments upon these defects. Elizabeth, a beauty herself, cannot conceive of her father's being attracted by someone so far from pretty. Anne, however, fears that Mrs Clay's abilities of insinuation may prove more dangerous than attractions merely personal might do, and she is proved at least partially right. When Anne joins Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs Clay in Bath, Sir Walter fancies Anne in better than usual looks, compliments her on her appearance, and asks what she's been using for her complexion. Anne replies that she has used nothing, not even (repsonding to a follow-up) Gowland's (I have read that Gowland's doubled as a treatment for various social diseases, which lends considerable substance to the novel's theme of the changing social order given the worth of the navy and the decrepitude of the gentry). This surprises Sir Walter. Anne cannot do better than she has done, cannot be better than well, but otherwise he would recommend the constant use of Gowland's, adding that Mrs Clay has been using it at his recommendation, and that it has completely carried away her freckles. As it does not appear to Anne that Mrs Clay's freckles have at all decreased, she takes this as an alarming sign of Mrs Clay's having made a good deal of progress towards her assumed goal. The moral for LW4 is that the art of pleasing should carry him a good deal farther than a minor peculiarity can set him back.


  1. Greetings and salutations, hrumpole. As always, I enjoyed your take on these letters, but, if I may say, I particularly enjoyed your moral for LW4. A very nice bow, tied around a splendid package. I would never suggest that you utilize this device for each letter, but, for what it's worth, I am willing to say that should you ever decide to do so, I would greatly enjoy the effort! :-) Of course, please know that's not to say that I don't thoroughly enjoy your current offerings! I do. It's only to say that I particularly enjoyed the moral.

    Thank you for a most engaging read. As always.

  2. Thank you, SB1, for the kind comment. I am in the midst of coping with a corrupted rundll32.exe and having no luck with fixes that have worked for others, but luckily I kept my old computer and may not be badly put out in the long run.

    I like your idea about the moral, and shall likely make a conscious effort to include one more often.

  3. If there's anything Mermaid is in favor of, and would also greatly enjoy the effort towards, it's a very nice bow, tied around a splendid package. With this in mind, hrumpole, I do hope you'll take our beloved SmagBoy up on his suggestion. ;)

  4. You pretty much completely rock. We'd like to front page you on The Fly, if you're interested. Please ping me at