Provoking Thought

March 26, 2009 at 10:33 am (books) (, , , , , )


Kate from Norfolk sent this thought-provoking comment, upon reading a little history I’ve written about FANNY SEYMOUR (Emma’s sister, she married the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton):

Lots of wonderful research and information, quite fascinating. Makes you realise exactly where Austen got her material from – it was all around her!

Which does make my job — as an historian trying to get from Austen ideas of how their world functioned then — that much more fascinating, especially after re-reading the last chapter of Persuasion. Bruce, a reader commenting via our Jane Austen in Vermont blog (see the post on Mary Ellen Bertolini’s recent talk for the Vermont chapter of JASNA), sent me back to Persuasion when he commented that the peace during this period was that of 1814, before Napoleon’s escape from Elba, before Waterloo. Wanting to read what Bruce had picked up on (especially as critics castigate Austen for NOT including — or so they believe — the political world around her), I looked up the Republic of Pemberley’s online copy of the novel.

In that last chapter, the narrator tells readers:

 “Sir Walter, indeed, though he had no affection for Anne, and no vanity flattered, to make him really happy on the occasion, was very far from thinking it a bad match for her. On the contrary, when he saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight, and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims, and felt that his superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced against her superiority of rank; and all this, assisted by his well-sounding name, enabled Sir Walter, at last, to prepare his pen, with a very good grace, for the insertion of the marriage in the volume of honour.” [emphasis added.]

These thoughts resonated with me, especially after reading about Belinda Colebrooke’s desire to marry young John Shaw Stewart (Emma often spells his last name Stuart). Their problem: Belinda as a ward in Chancery had to ask the court’s permission to marry — and Stewart was seen as her inferior. Especially in terms of money. And wasn’t that Wentworth’s situation when he first sought the hand of Anne???

Critics may think Austen didn’t write about the political situation, or the clashes of the social classes… but look closer and you’ll see that she indeed did write about more than happy couples and fairytales.

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