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|Construction and Concision. (Very long.)
Written by Lia
(9/29/2005 5:08 p.m.)
I have long regarded P&P as one of the most succinct novels of my acquaintance, and I think Persuasian is every bit as efficient. Every scene works overtime and this is one of the things I admire about JA. This perhaps won’t be the most profound post but I think it’s interesting to analyze the novel from a writer’s point of view. In doing so I will allude vaguely to future events but I am trying not to introduce spoilers.
In the first four chapters we are introduced to all major (and some minor) characters and settings, even though many of them are still “off-screen.” Mr. Elliott will not appear for many chapters but he has a significant role to play later. We are given hints that he may be a bit unsavory, but they are vague, and from third parties of uncertain reliability, so his character remains an open question. (There has been a fine debate over his character in this GR.) The vagueness is intentional: when we do meet him we won’t be sure which way the wind blows. Also in chapter 1, we are told Elizabeth is wearing black ribbons for his wife, so he is once again available.
Captain Wentworth is also introduced early, but before he is mentioned JA builds Anne’s relation to him. Anne’s “bloom had vanished early,” and Anne’s dislike of Bath arises, among other things, “from her happening to be not in perfectly good spirits the only winter which she had afterwards spent there with [LR].” Anne is familiar with the navy and for some odd reason she has followed Admiral Croft’s career enough to know he was at Trafalgar and the East Indies. She hesitates in mentioning Admiral Croft and Mr. Wentworth, the curate, because she doesn’t want to be too obvious about her persistent tender regard for FW. (If someone mentioned a relative of your ex-, and you replied immediately and authoritatively, ‘Oh yes, he’s doing such-and-such,’ your friends and relatives would know you are still a little too interested in your ex-. In this situation, we can only imagine the resulting cold stare from Sir Walter.) --Additionally, the information that Anne went to school in Bath will have its minor part to play, if only because we moderns don’t like it when gods appear out of the machinery.
Also significant is the early establishment that Anne places far less importance on rank than her family and LR. Sir Walter objects to the navy as a “means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction,” but Anne is in favor of “honesty against importance”; in chapter 3 she says the navy has “an equal claim with any other set of men,” and in chapter 6 the Miss Musgroves observe how “easy and indifferent” Anne is with regard to place. Anne, if she were to marry a navy man, might be thrust into society that is beneath her, but we are told early on this is not a problem for her. (That it is obviously a problem for her father is not only behind the sad history of their relationship, but sets us up for future conflict as well.)
Another set-up for potential future conflict (thus suspense) is LR and her much-vaunted influence (extensively discussed in GR posts). We know she persuaded Anne once but did not have an opportunity to persuade her to accept Musgrove, so we don’t know whether she might have influenced Anne. We are told both their views have changed: LR would have liked to see Anne take an eligible offer. If a new situation presents itself, where will LR stand? If LR and Anne are in disagreement, as they could be, will LR succeed in influencing Anne?
In a way stepping into a novel is like going to a party where you only know one person, your friend the narrator. It’s a bit easier when they’ve told you in advance a little about the people you’ll be meeting so you aren’t presented with 50 new names and faces to remember all at once. The Musgroves are mentioned briefly in chapter 1; Mrs. Clay in chapter 2, the Crofts in chapter 3.
In chapter 5, while we are treated to Mary’s amusing whines and complaints, we are painlessly introduced in more detail to the Musgroves, who we will soon meet. Mary mentions her sons, her husband, and sisters-in-law by name, as well as the parents. Early in chapter 6 we find that the Musgrove family (at least the daughters) would like to be in Bath for the winter and know enough about it that they can say “none of your Queen-squares for us!” Perhaps they’ve been there before. If they do show up in Bath at some point in the story, we wouldn’t be terribly surprised.
JA teases us a little bit by delaying their first meeting, but the first actual meeting between Anne and FW in chapter 7 is brief. If the first meeting had been the scene at the Musgroves it would probably be high melodrama, which JA eschews. As it is, the brief, polite meetings preceding the party at the Musgroves, as well as Mary’s opportunity to unintentionally hurt Anne (“so altered he should not have known you again”) increase our suspense (as well as Anne’s and FW’s). We know her thoughts and his prior to the Big Scene.
In chapters 7 and 8 we learn about FW’s character from his own actions, thoughts, and denial. At the Musgroves he is aware of her presence, he speaks as if trying to deny her importance if not to spite her, but his manner of speaking to Mrs. Musgrove about her generally unlamented son shows he is not cruel or devoid of feeling: his coolness to Anne is because he is hurt and angry. (And to avoid melodrama the exchange about Dick ends with a joke about Mrs. Musgrove’s size.)
In this scene the Hayters are briefly noted, and Wentworth also mentions Harville, a minor character with a future significant role. (He also says, ‘You know how much he wanted money—worse than myself! He had a wife.’ Might be interesting to compare how this Harville fellow lives, when we meet him, with how FW and Anne might have lived had they married in ’06.)
I’m sure I’ve missed things, this is somewhat cursory but this is already too long. The point, I suppose, is amazement at how even some of those little things you gloss over contribute to the solid structure of the novel. (If only I could write so well!)
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