‘Persuasion’ – Jane Austen

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This extract, from Persuasion by Jane Austen, has been nominated by Anna Lowe from Oxted School. Thank you Anna!

Anna’s comments

“Jane Austen shows great dexterity in creating a dialogue which deals with the differences between the ways women and men love without making argument. The dialogue is not a competitive one, as it remains quiet. The hushed words are intensified with the presence of Captain Wentworth, the object of Anne’s love, sitting in the same room. The dialogue is beautifully crafted, and the discussion is developed well without either of the characters becoming argumentative. The tone of Anne Elliot is very gentle yet assured, adding proof to her claims of woman being tender, yet steadfast.

The section is particularly moving, as at this point Anne believes Captain Wentworth to no longer love her. It is clear to the reader that the love of which Anne speaks is her own lasting love for Captain Wentworth. The reader senses also hints at Jane Austen’s wish for freedom and activity, as she writes of the woman at home, domestic, and the man who ‘labours and toils’. It is interesting to her own desire for independence, which is shown through her expressing herself through writing books.

From Persuasion

Poor Fanny! She would not have forgotten him so soon!’

‘No,’ replied Anne, in a low feeling voice. ‘That I can easily believe.’

‘It was not in her nature. She doated on him.’

‘It would not be in the nature of any woman who truly loved.’

Captain Harville smiled, as much as to say, ‘Do you claim that for your sex?’ And she answered the question, smiling also, ‘Yes. We certainly do not forget you, so soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. You have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions.’

‘Granting your assertion that the world does all this so soon for men, (which, however, I do not think I shall grant) it does not apply to Benwick. He has not been forced upon any exertion. The peace turned him on shore at the very moment, and he has been living with us, in our little family circle, ever since.’

‘True,’ said Anne, ‘very true; I did not recollect; but what shall we say now, Captain Harville? If the change be not from outward circumstances, it must be from within; it must be nature, man’s nature, which has done the business for Captain Benwick.’

‘No, no, it is not man’s nature. I will not allow it to be more man’s nature than woman’s to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of bearing most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather.’

‘Your feelings may be the strongest,’ replied Anne, ‘but the same spirit of analogy will authorize me to assert that ours are the most tender. Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer-lived; which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments. Nay, it would be too hard upon you, if it were otherwise. You have difficulties, and privations, and dangers enough to struggle with. You are always laboring and toiling, exposed to every risk and hardship. Your home, country, friends, all quitted. Neither time, nor health, nor life, to be called your own. It would be too hard indeed’ (with a faltering voice) ‘if woman’s feelings were to be added to all this.’

‘We shall never agree on this question’ – Captain Harville was beginning to say, when a slight noise called their attention to Captain Wentworth’s hitherto perfectly quiet division of the room. It was nothing more than that his pen had fallen down, but Anne was startled at finding him nearer than she supposed, and half-inclined to suspect that the pen had only fallen, because he had been occupied by them, striving to catch sounds, which yet she did not think he could have caught.

‘Have you finished you letter?’ said Captain Harville.

‘Not quite, a few lines more. I shall have done in five minutes.’

‘There is no hurry on my side. I am only ready whenever you are. – I am in very good anchorage here,’ (smiling at Anne) ‘well supplied, and want for nothing. – No hurry signal at all. – Well, Miss Elliot,’ (lowering his voice) ‘as I was saying, we shall never agree I suppose upon this point. No man and woman would, probably. But let me observe that all histories are against you, all prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side of the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.’

‘Perhaps I shall. – Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove any thing.’

‘But how shall we prove any thing?’

‘We never shall. We never can expect to prove any thing upon such a point. It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof. We each begin probably with a little bias towards our own sex, and upon that bias build every circumstance in avour of it which has occurred within our own circle; many of which circumstances (perhaps thse very cases which strike us the most) may be precisely such as cannot be brought forward without betraying a confidence, or in some respect betraying what should not be said.’

‘Ah!’ cried Captain Harville, in a tone of strong feeling, ‘if I could but make you comprehend what a man suffers when he takes a last look at his wife and children, and watches the boat that he has sent them off in, as long as it is in sight, and then turns away and says, “God knows whther we ever meet again!” And then, if I could convey to you the glow of his soul when he does see them again; when coming back after a twelvemonth’s absence perhaps, and obliged to put into another port, he calculates how soon it be possible to get them there, pretending to deceive himself, and saying “They cannot be here till such a day,” but all the while hoping for them twelve hours sooner, and seeing them arrive at last, as is Heaven had given them wings, by many hours sooner still! If I could explain to you all this, and all that a man can bear and do, and glories to do for the sake of these treasures of his existence! I speak, you know, only of such men as have hearts!’ pressing his own with emotion.

‘Oh!’ cried Anne eagerly, ‘I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow creatures. I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of every thing great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as – if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.’

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