On Persuasion (Part 2)

by g

In my first post I focused on the experience of reading Persuasion; how the mode of narration adds to the tension the reader feels as to the fate of Anne at the end of the novel. In this final post I would like to talk about why I enjoyed the ending (other than the fact of me being such a hopeless romantic) and how the narration changes in order to highlight the idea of determinism and hint as to whether or not the the union will be a blissful one. To recap, in my first post I stated; “What is so incredibly beautiful about this novel is that for all of the genealogical and mundane reasons that families align themselves, Wentworth and Anne find compassion in each other again, even after the sociology of world sets walls before the paradise on the other side.”

Determinism is an important term to throw amongst the multiple ways of reading this novel. In short, the societal situation around Anne has seemed to place her in a situation where finding the love of Wentworth becomes more than just righting another wrong, but truly determines whether or not she will be happy. It is evident that Anne must find approval for this match, whether it be an economic satisfaction or one that is tied more to the social propiety or marriage, which for the most part seems to also be economic. But there is also a train of thought that seems to say that at this point Anne is ready to do things for herself rather than constantly be in the service of others. At one point, Charles wishes to go to a play instead of going to a dinner party and Anne almost agrees with him. Something that I would never have expected at the beginning of the novel. She slowly starts to throw away the propriety of her situation in order to satisfy more powerfully primal emotions she has only for Wentworth. But what of his situation? What bridge must he build in order to reach his own happiness with Anne?

To see you,” cried he, “In the midst of those who could not be my well-wishers; to see your cousin close by you, conversing and smiling, and feel all the horrible eligibilities and proprieties of the match! To consider it as the certain wish of every being who could hope to influence you! Even if your own feelings were reluctant or indifferent, to consider what powerful supports would be this! … How could I look on without agony?” (Austen 192-193).

We are very aware that Anne has limitations placed upon her life, but it is not really until this point that we see that Wentworth is also being affected by these limitations. As modern readers of a story in which the author had to sign “by a lady,” on the cover we are a little confused as to why Anne and Wentworth cannot simply disappear into an isolated bliss but must join together in a way that does stir the pot all that much. So what determinism does for the novel is add an element of suspense, deriving power from the idea that during this time most people were marrying out of convenience rather than out of love. Why this ending is so beautiful is because Anne and Wentworth make it work in both realms, and the expanse of eight years without each other becomes a reason to marry instead of a reason to doubt their feelings. In many ways their separation has made a better match, and this idea is reflected in the following;

There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had first been projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.” (Austen 190).

What the ending does is to add hope that although society was at one time incredibly patriarchal when it came to marriage, woman for the most part not really having a say in who they were to marry, there were instances where the sublime emotion of love was still present, and that things can and will change. However, although we are to believe that Wentworth and Anne are going to have a divine life together, we are also lead to believe that they will never escape what society will say of the union. Not that their engagement is un-agreeable, but that it is a communicated statement to the rest of the world and thus will be subject to the opinion of those who might marry for the genealogical advantages rather than the romantic ones. Anne and Wentworth are for the most part economically stable, and they are sure of their feelings for each other, but Anne will still have to “pay the tax of quick alarm,” being married to a sailor who at any time may be called off to war. The world around Anne has so much to say about her “situation,” the persuasion of characters being at all times overbearing as well as troublesome, but all of a sudden with Wentworth she’s free from it all as both of them begin to speak openly with each other, conversing without conviction as to how pride has kept them apart AND how the world has kept them apart. The paradise they feel when they are with each other will conquer any inadequacies society around them may place a top their union and their life together will be infinitely greater than it would have been without.

In Persuasion, why does Austen look to Love in order to conquer the forces of determinism? Can this emotion truly constitute lasting happiness? Has marriage changed from this time? Or are we still under the great influence of those around us?