Persuasion: a novel of love

September 8, 2013 at 2:08 pm (books, diaries, jane austen, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , )


Ah….

I have just finished Persuasion, one volume (along with Northanger Abbey) of six in a new-to-me complete set of Jane Austen novels.

all austen

Bought in the spring (April), they departed England at the height of summer (July 1st); to arrive in the north-eastern United States on the cusp of Fall (September).

They are the Chapman, 3rd edition. The leather binding melts in my hands, so soft to the touch, reminding me of the exquisite feel of one leather-bound volume once residing in the library of Mrs Gosling (sent, so kindly sent, by Martyn Downer).

bookplate_Mrs Gosling

I hope next to pick up Mansfield Park, to decide at last whether to propose the paper topic I’ve long had in my head, or work on some other project.

The rekindled love of Captain Wentworth for Miss Anne Elliot is too well-known to need much information here; but how difficult, being let in on the personal correspondence and journal confessions of the Smiths & Goslings, not to muse on others who in real life were thwarted in obtaining marital happiness, without much anxiety — and years of waiting.

Richard Seymour’s family seems to have endured much in this line. Two sisters — TWO! — who were sorely tried. The first, his sister Dora, was persuaded by her own family – Richard a reluctant persuader – to give up marrying the Rev. Mr. Chester.

In October, 1835, Richard writes in his diary:

“letter from John & Dora announcing her attachment & engagement to Mr. Chester: Rector of Elsted. John disapproving on acc:t of small means £400 per an. Wrote to Dora as kindly as I c:d–“

Announcing her attachment AND engagement…

John was the eldest Seymour brother, Sir John Culme Seymour.

Kindly Richard, the following day, wrote “to John & my Mother, urging as much consideration as possible to Dora’s wishes”.

Two days later, and he has ridden from Mapledurham (Mrs Smith’s home) to Blendworth (Lady Seymour’s home), to discuss family business.

By the end of the week he has gone “to Elsted. Found Mr. C:– entered on his affairs – w:h proved below the amount named and cannot be strictly called more than £330 per an – (£3700 in the Funds and his living ab:t £200 per an) & 23 acres of Glebe — pretty spot – returned home – talked to Dora – who soon agreed to write to him, expressing her decision to comply with the advice of her Mother & Brothers & relinquish her hopes. I added a note to this–“

Dora returns to Mapledurham with her brother, “thinking the change w:d be useful to her”.

At the time, Richard was bearing his own grief: the death of his son, Fanny’s first child.

“my visit to Blendworth sadly hurried, but glad to have made it for Dora’s sake – I trust she has acted as is most for her real happiness–“

Dora married Mr Chester two years later, in August 1837. They had only a few years together, before Mr Chester’s untimely death, in April 1841.

* * *

That same year, 1835, Richard’s diary speaks of a “Letter from Mrs. Vyse, expressing Col:l. V’s continued disapproval of GHV’s attachment”

GHV was George Howard Vyse; his “attachment” was to Lizzy, Richard’s next-to-youngest sister. Whatever Colonel Vyse’s disapproval was based upon, it was intransigent. For nearly twenty months had passed since Richard’s notation, on Sunday 12 January 1834, that, “Between the Services, to my great surprise G.H.V: {George Vyse} came in — full of affection to dear Lizzy  I trust they will yet be happy together-“

This couple would not marry until August 1839!

* * *

There is also, closer to home, the story of Augusta Smith, Emma’s eldest sister. Emma herself was the first of the six sister’s to marry. Augusta followed in the following year. She too, like Lizzy Vyse, seems to have been the subject of her father-in-law’s enmity.

An extraordinary letter, written in November 1828, exists. The Rev. Henry Watson Wilder, an old suitor of Augusta’s, laid his own tormented thoughts at Mrs Smith’s feet:

“My dear Madam

You will I am sure be surprised at this letter; I fear it may cause you some uneasiness but if I have not mistaken the kind feelings of regard you have hitherto expressed towards me you will I think forgive me  … Though many months have now passed since my intercourse with your family has ceased, much as I have thought on the subject I have most sincerely convinced myself that no other woman is likely to supply the place your eldest daughter has long held in my affection…”

Emma’s diary accounts for the arrival of this letter, two days later. Henry Wilder then calls; the date is marked by being the 30th Birthday of James Edward Austen.

Emma’s diary marks out the progress:

  • Charles, Mr Wilder & Augusta walked into the city to Mr. Lawford’s
  • Mamma had a long conversation with Mr Wilder
  • The party in town accompanied by Mr. Wilder went to see the Zoological garden

and finally:

11/23 “All the party & Mr Wilder went to St. James Church … the afternoon we went to see the Edridges  Lady Smith & Miss Bennett called here  Augusta was engaged to marry Mr Henry Wilder  He came to drink tea here”

Emma and Edward married within the month, on the 16 December 1828; the Wilders, four months later.

But when had Henry Wilder first declared himself? And was he the reason that a romance with a young doctor – a man (according to the Austens’ daughter Mary Augusta Austen Leigh) who had the approbation of Lady Elizabeth Compton’s family at Castle Ashby — went nowhere?

Perhaps, like Anne Elliot, it was easy to give up a second man (in Anne’s case, Charles Musgrove) when the first man was so decidedly unavailable. And perhaps, like Anne, Augusta could revel in a revival of feelings kept dormant for several years.

One sentence, towards the end of Persuasion struck me with great force (page 240): “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 tired, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment…”

A month before the marriage of her eldest daughter, Mrs Smith was writing bride Emma Austen, “I really think his {Henry Wilder’s} love is always encreasing; he spends most of the mornings with her, as well as the Evenings. Fanny & Eliza are almost tired of seeing him here, & want to know whether he will be as much tied to her side after marriage; I flatter them with hopes that he will not. What say you to it? You have had a little experience now. I do hope Edward pities you a great deal; cheers you & comforts you.”

Jane Austen may never have married, but she seems to have been intuitively attuned to the feelings of those who loved, lost, and lived to regain that emotion.

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