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Saturday, 18 March 2017

'DEFECTS' OF JANE AUSTEN'S 'PERSUASION'

There are indeed defects in Persuasion.

Mrs. Smith is conspicuously a plot device.

And Lady Russell needs more working on, if we are to appreciate fully Anne's respect for her. Lady Russell lacks individuality. The kind of person who foists boring 'tiresome' publications on you, insisting that you should read them, and who dresses for public occasions in a 'hideous' manner, is at least a little repellent. We have only Elizabeth Elliot's word on these matters; but why disbelieve her?

A major problem with Lady Russell is that (as in the case of Colonel Brandon) she is given insufficient direct speech: and her few utterances are generally bland. Too much is left to indirect assurances that Anne was fond of her.

Maybe - had she been well enough - Jane Austen would have done more to both characters before publication. I think she would have liked to develop the novel at greater length. But at the time she was not only ill but also enduring great anxiety caused by the financial troubles of her brother Henry, who was shortly to be bankrupted.

To be fair, Jane Austen takes a certain amount of trouble to establish Mrs. Smith as a plausible and interesting character. A large portion of Chapter 17 (much more than Jane Austen normally allots when introducing a new minor character) is taken up with her life story, an account of her present condition and praise of her spirit, courage and outlook.