30 October 2011

you pierce my soul: a jane austen letter

I read an entire book to get to one letter. It was 234 pages in Persuasion before I got to—
Miss A.E—

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. —Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?—I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice, when they would be lost on others. —Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating in


I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening, or never.

Emphasis mine, all mine. And were this letter mine.

There is something so rewarding in getting to this letter from Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. I can't believe I'm about to say this about Jane Austen, but there are some clunky, mediocre sections of this book, but I push through those because I know this letter is at the end.

Yeah, I totally just critiqued Jane. To atone for that {someone with Jane Austen in her blog name, digging into her beloved idol!}, I'm going to offer this praise and hope I don't get kicked out of the I Heart Jane Austen Society {that I don't actually belong to}: No one else can so exquisitely create insufferable relations like Jane Austen, and she showcases that in Persuasion.

With a completely quiet and straightforward delivery, she gives us characters so laughable that we can't help but thank our lucky genealogy that they aren't in our family. I think her genius lies in never allowing Anne Elliot, our lovely heroine, to mock her father or her sister, no matter how much they warrant an eye roll or a derisive snort.

Jane does the same thing in Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth knows how ridiculous her mother and most of her sisters are, but we see that she knows how to deal with their emotions and dramatics and self-centered drivel. In Elizabeth's position and given her verbal prowess, most of us would take every opportunity to cut and dice and remind her mother that the world does not revolve around her and her hypochondriac histrionics.

But Elizabeth doesn't do that; instead, she guides her silly sisters and sets a good example and tries to cover their social gaffes.

In Anne Elliot and Elizabeth Bennet {and Elinor Dashwood; I can't leave her out of this list}, we have examples of how we ought to act, and just reading about them makes you feel like a better person, like someone who can handle tricky co-workers and meddling mothers {not talking about you, Mama!} and people who are more concerned with the latest fashion than with what's happening in the big world.

Thank heavens for Anne Elliot's example and ability to manage her preening, egotistical, out-of-touch father: that and the letter from Captain Wentworth at the end of the book are what keep me reading Persuasion, even as I roll my eyes at some sections.

{I may have read Jane Austen's books repeatedly, but I have yet to learn her heroines' ability to not roll their eyes at silliness.}

Take the big drama section when Louisa Musgrove takes a tumble on a pier at Lyme. It's written in a "this happened and then this happened and then this happened and after that, there was this" style that doesn't lend itself to getting emotionally caught up in the moment—as clearly all the characters are.

I mean, it must be shocking to see someone smack her head against a stone walkway, but when I read this section, I mostly think, 'Was it really that bad? Or are these people overreacting? This is the time when they believed that if you had a cold, you should be kept in bed for three weeks. And they believed in using leeches to suck your blood to make you better. They clearly were not health authorities; maybe Louisa just needs some smelling salts and then the story can move on.'

By the end of the scene, though, you realize that this is a pivot point in the story—from this moment, something changes in Anne and Captain Wentworth's relationship—and you find yourself needing to re-read the last few pages to try to get into the drama.

Or at least I do. But the second reading leaves me cold still and I blame it all on Jane's prosaic, practically bullet-pointed presentation of the drama.

Eh, I think. At least there's that letter at the end of the book to redeem this.

After spending 234 pages with insufferable relations, self-centered people, and blase descriptions of action, when you get to this written declaration of love, you stop breathing, just as, I'm sure, Anne Elliot did when she read this letter for the first time.

And that is why I keep reading Persuasion: to get to the point where I don't breathe.


  1. You know that I agree. I had to set aside my judgements when Louisa took that tumble and just let it play out. It is definitely a pivotal moment. http://naphtalia.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/f-w/

    Thanks for thinking of me. :)

  2. I'm so glad we're united in this...!



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