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Friday, 22 April 2016

Jane Austen: Revising the Final Chapters of 'Persuasion'

Thanks to the existence of the famous 'cancelled' chapter and the Memoir written by Jane's nephew in 1870, we appreciate the rigour with which Jane, even in failing health, revised and polished her writing – a practice she recommended to her nephew and niece when they tried writing fiction. James Edward Austen-Leigh rightly said the re-engagement of the hero and heroine had been in a totally different manner in a scene laid at Admiral Croft's lodgings. But her performance did not satisfy her. She thought it tame and flat ... She cancelled the condemned chapter, and wrote two others ... The result is that we possess the visit of the Musgrove party to Bath; the crowded and animated scenes at the White Hart Hotel; and the charming conversation between Capt. Harville and Anne Elliot, overheard by Captain Wentworth, by which the two faithful lovers were at last led to understand each other's feelings ... Perhaps it may be thought that she has seldom written anything more brilliant .... Who would dispute the final comment? 

Jane's re-writing of the penultimate chapter is proof that she knew what she was about and – for as long as her health allowed – boldly went for the best. Jane had finished The Elliots.) Despite her poor health, she found the strength and inspiration to revise the ending on 6 August. 

In Fanny Burney's Cecilia, Delvile professes his love to the heroine: 'Upon you, madam, all that is good or evil of my future life, as far as relates to its happiness or misery, will, from this very hour, almost solely depend'. In Chapter 23 of 'Persuasion', when Anne Elliot takes up the famous letter, we read: 'On the contents of that letter depended all which this world could do for her!' It seems to have been a formula within contemporary novels at a great emotional climax for all future happiness to 'depend' on the contents of a communication. 

Probably Jane Austen intuitively borrowed more from Fanny Burney than many critics have acknowledged.