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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Much ado about something wonderful: the priceless gift of the cancelled chapters of Persuasion

Prof. Paul Wray’s article, “Persuasion: Why the Revised Ending Works So Well”, argues that “the cancelled chapters are an artistic failure, as Jane Austen must have seen”. Today, I’ll rebut the first of Wray’s two central arguments (that “the original ending alters the character of Admiral Croft”). In so doing, I’ll argue that the cancelled chapters of Persuasion are a priceless gift, because they provide the best evidence I’ve found, to support my longstanding claim that each of Jane Austen’s six novels is a double story, with both an “overt story” (the novel’s plot as generally understood) and a “shadow story”, in which characters other than the heroine have very different motivations, and perform very different actions “offstage” out of the heroine’s view, than in the “overt story”. Or, my theory in a (firm wal)nut shell: one novel, two independent, parallel fictional universes, each of infinite dimension.

First, here is Wray claiming in his new article that Austen recognized that the change in Admiral Croft’s character was an artistic failure, which she therefore corrected by replacing those final chapters with the new ending which all Janeites know and love:     

“In the cancelled chapters, Admiral Croft, who has heretofore been friendly and frank, cajoles Anne against her inclination into ‘calling on’ Mrs. Croft: ‘‘You are going to call upon my wife, said he, she will be very glad to see you’’. This is not an invitation but an affirmation.  Anne, her mind full of what she has just heard from Mrs. Smith, tries to cut the encounter short, but he insists.  Anne is “vexed” because the admiral will not allow her to leave and because she fears that Captain Wentworth may be there, as indeed, he is, but first the pretense of visiting his wife must be prolonged:  “‘I will not swear that she has not something particular to say to you—but that will all come out in the right place.  I give no hints’”. This dissembler is not the admiral that we know.  This is not the admirable admiral whose “manners were not quite of the tone to suit Lady Russell, but…delighted Anne” and whose “goodness of heart and simplicity of character were irresistible”. What has become of the admiral who jovially asks her to take his arm after scoffing at the print in the shop window:  “‘Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend’”? That admiral has gone missing in the cancelled chapters, along with the Admiral Croft who makes “himself very agreeable by his good-humoured notice of [Mary’s] little boys” when the Crofts visit Uppercross Cottage. 
What is the admiral’s motive in ushering Anne into Wentworth’s presence in such an underhanded way? Wentworth tries to persuade Anne (and the reader) that his brother-in-law “‘is a Man who can never be thought Impertinent by one who knows him as you do—.  His Intentions are always the kindest & the Best’”. That the author feels obliged to defend the admiral from this allegation (which Anne has not made) indicates that even while writing the original, Jane Austen saw the inconsistency she was creating in Admiral Croft’s character. The manuscript scene is an unsatisfying contrivance by the author. The admiral she created would not have misleadingly enticed Anne into his house. He and his wife have never been conniving (wittingly or unwittingly). Austen saw the inconsistency and looked for a way to resolve the narrative complication without compromising the genial character of Admiral Croft. Her solution does much more, however, than preserve the admiral’s character:  it completes Anne’s emergence into her role as one who “gloried in being a sailor’s wife”.  END QUOTE FROM WRAY ARTICLE

Alas, Wray overlooked a scholarly article by the late Prof. Jim Heldman, which presciently annihilates Wray’s claim, because Heldman had already shown, in literally dozens of ways, that the apparent late change in Admiral Croft’s character was no change at all, but was actually a foregrounding of his true character as subtly hinted all along during the entire novel. It was 25 years ago, in the 1993 Persuasions, that Heldman’s “The Crofts and the Art of Suggestion in Persuasion: A Speculation”… http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number15/heldman.htm  ...made a comprehensive case for seeing Admiral (and Mrs.) Croft as benign schemers throughout Persuasion. While I urge you to read Heldman’s succinct and reader-friendly, jargon-free article in full, here, for those in a hurry, is my abbreviated version of his introduction and conclusion:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s original ending of Persuasion was a bad idea and that the revised ending is a vast improvement…It is…tempting to consider the possibility that the cancelled chapters may have represented her original intentions for the conclusion and further that she may have been preparing for that conclusion in the earlier chapters of the novel…The cancelled chapters seem to be a setup to bring Anne and Wentworth together without their prior knowledge. Admiral Croft is insistent that Anne visit Mrs. Croft even though Anne makes a concerted effort to decline. He blatantly lies when he asserts that no one else is present, he forces Anne and Wentworth to remain together after he leaves them, and he insists that Wentworth broach with Anne the subject that leads to their reconciliation. …it is totally out of keeping with the characters of Anne and Wentworth as they have been presented earlier. It is also unflattering to them both and particularly unsatisfactory in that neither Anne nor Wentworth is responsible for their reconciliation. Instead of acting for themselves, as they do in the revision, they are ploys for the manipulation of Admiral and Mrs. Croft. But, for all its shortcomings, the scene suggests…a conspiracy of sorts on the part of the Crofts to bring Anne and Wentworth together. And assuming that this conspiracy may have been Jane Austen’s intention from the beginning, the scene suggests…that Jane Austen may have been preparing for the Crofts’ role in the reunion earlier in the novel[, and] that Admiral and Mrs. Croft would have known of Wentworth’s unhappy experience seven years earlier…it suggests that Admiral and Mrs. Croft, without Wentworth’s knowledge and certainly without his consent, have been busy, subtly and indirectly, from their first appearance in the novel, exploring the possibility of a reconciliation and attempting, by hints, indirect comments, prodding, and casually planted nudges, to bring about that reconciliation. A number of scenes in Persuasion may be read in a way that suggests this gentle conspiracy.” 

After that intro, Heldman then goes on meticulously document those scenes (for those who want a bit more, see the end of this post where I present my abbreviated version of the body of Heldman’s article). And now, here is Heldman’s conclusion:

“Every major scene in Persuasion in which the Crofts appear with Anne, and that means every scene but one in which they appear at all, includes some pointed or loaded comment by one or both of them – a question, the introduction of a subject, a general or indirect observation – which may be read as applying to the relationship between Anne and Wentworth.  These comments suggest a number of possibilities. They suggest that the Crofts know about Anne and Wentworth’s earlier relationship, that they are feeling out the present state of her affections, that they are encouraging Anne to think about Wentworth by reminding her of his possible attraction to Louisa, that they are aware of Wentworth’s present feelings for Anne, that they are attempting to force the issue gently and indirectly – though not always with subtlety – and, in view of the cancelled chapter, that they are engaged in a kind of conspiracy to bring Anne and Wentworth together again if possible.  There does seem to be a consistent pattern in the Crofts’ conduct, a pattern that is a persuasive one involving hints, suggestions, implications, prodding, and gentle nudges. In view of this pattern, the alternative – that they do not know about the past and that their comments on the subject are random, casual, accidental and simply responses to immediate situations- seems far less likely.”  END QUOTE FROM HELDMAN ARTICLE

Impressive stuff, right? So, which scholarly portrait of Jane Austen do you find more true-to-life?
Wray’s Austen, so out of artistic control as she was first finalizing the ending of Persuasion, that she presented Admiral Croft, a major character, in a totally inconsistent light vis a vis all his earlier appearances; and then, almost immediately after dating her first version, realized that she had made a huge error, and had to desperately scramble, within a 10-day period, to edit out that anomaly? Or
Heldman’s Austen, in total artistic control as she wrote all of Persuasion, but who chose at the last minute to alter her ending, not only to create a more powerful romantic climax, but also to continue her novel-long pattern of implication and hint at Admiral Croft’s (and his wife’s) joint romantic scheming? As a rule of thumb, I am glad to be of the party of those who give the benefit of the doubt to Jane Austen, and don’t presume to assume she has made a neophyte writer’s error!

But that’s only the first half of my own argument today, as I’ll now explain. I first read Heldman’s article in 2005, and it rocked my Austenian world in a very personal way, because it so powerfully supported my then newly minted Austen “shadow story” theory. I.e., I quickly realized that the cancelled chapters, in comprising the only known existing verbiage (in Austen’s own handwriting no less) of any earlier draft of text in one of her six completed novels, provided a unique window into her shadow stories. How so? Because that earlier draft, when viewed through the lens of Heldman’s airtight analysis, proved beyond a doubt that Austen was that rare author who would leave a crucial plot element (the Crofts as schemers) not explicitly revealed to either her readers -- or to her heroine, Anne Elliot -- at the end of the novel.

First, though, I wish to reemphasize that all Janeites, including Heldman, Wray, and myself, are united in believing that the published ending of Persuasion is without question one of the great romantic endings in all of literature. That quantum artistic leap would in and of itself have more than justified Austen’s artistic decision to replace the clearly inferior cancelled chapters.

However, it was after reading Heldman’s article in 2005, that I realized something even Heldman, in his pioneering insight, hadn’t grasped --- i.e., that in replacing the cancelled chapters but retaining all those earlier passages which Heldman flagged in his 1993 article, Austen had preserved the Crofts as schemers. And, even more probatively, the final tranche of textual evidence for Mrs. Croft as a schemer is present even in the replacement chapters! Here is the section of Heldman’s article which brings that point home:

“In the final scene in which Mrs. Croft speaks – the second scene at The White Hart in which Wentworth writes the letter to Anne – a scene WRITTEN AFTER Jane Austen had rejected her original ending – Mrs. Croft once again makes a pointed remark...Until this scene in the novel, the pointed comments of Admiral and Mrs. Croft seem to have been directed to Anne only. But for the first time Mrs. Croft has the opportunity to make an indirect suggestion when both Anne and Wentworth are present, and she might be read as encouraging both of them to get on with it….Does Mrs. Croft know about [Wentworth’s] feelings at this point? The novel doesn’t tell us, but we can speculate that it is possible, and perhaps even probable, that she does…In the cancelled chapters, Admiral Croft tells Anne that he and Mrs. Croft had discussed the rumors of Anne’s possible engagement to Mr. Elliot and suggests that they had not believed it. The Crofts seem to have been very much interested in Anne and Wentworth from the very beginning…it would seem very unlikely that the Crofts were not privy to at least some of Wentworth’s feelings about Anne. In this context, Mrs. Croft’s comments to Mrs. Musgrove assume even greater significance and implication.” END QUOTE FROM HELDMAN ARTICLE BODY

Those hints reconfirm that Austen didn’t replace the cancelled chapters so as to obliterate all those earlier hints at the Crofts as matchmaking schemers. But then, was Austen’s goal really only to create a more powerful romantic ending? No, it was definitely that, but I say it was also something even more audacious and extraordinary. I claim that Austen realized that she could not only upgrade her ending, she could also give covert agency to other characters involved in the benign matchmaking conspiracy that Heldman perceived – it wasn’t just the Crofts, i.e., it was also several of the other characters at the White Hart Inn who were in on it –and, what’s more, some of them were at cross purposes with the rest!

I’m not prepared today to give you a full or even a substantial account of all the secret scheming going on at the end of Persuasion as I see it. I plan to lay that argument out in a complete and careful way in the not too distant future. However, for now, what I hope will satisfy the curiosity of those who’ve come with me this far, is the following-linked 2013 blog post of mine, in which I made the case for Austen, in her revised ending of Persuasion, having plainly (to my eyes) paid homage to one of the most famous romantic comedies known to her and her audience: I am hinting at a play in which a band of benign secret matchmakers overcome the efforts of a smaller band of malign would-be matchbreakers in order to help two true lovers come together after having previously failed to do so. Of course, I am hinting broadly at  Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing , in which the reluctant warring lovers Beatrice and Benedick are deviously assisted into matrimony by Don Pedro, Ursula, and the other merry pranksters of the play:

And so I hope you’ll agree that my above argument was much ado about something wonderful: the priceless gift of the cancelled chapters of Persuasion illuminating its shadow story.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

My abbreviated version of Heldman’s scene-by-scene analysis of the Crofts as matchmakers

“…[Anne] may…be wrong, in her first meeting with the Crofts, in her satisfaction that they know nothing about her earlier relationship with Captain Wentworth…the Crofts may be read in their first meeting with Anne as feeling her out, as reconnoitering, in their ambiguous and perhaps exploratory comments…if there is a conspiracy of sorts between the Crofts regarding Anne and Wentworth, these brief and ambiguous remarks may be read as the Crofts’ early efforts to test the waters, to introduce a delicate subject and then watch for a response from Anne. Subsequently, at a dinner with the Musgroves, Wentworth and the Admiral discuss Wentworth’s first command…the Admiral’s response seems…loaded with implication…Admiral Croft seems to be making a pointed remark about the past- to be hinting about what might have been – to be saying something to contribute to the flow of conversation but something which, at the same time, would have special significance for Anne.
In a later scene, after Wentworth has asked the Crofts to take Anne home in their gig, [when] the Admiral and his wife begin talking about Wentworth,…forcing the issue, raising the subject of Wentworth’s apparent interest in one direction when Anne knows that his interest was once in her. By itself, the Admiral’s remark is potent with suggestion. It might be read as hinting to Anne that Wentworth may move in the direction of one of the Musgrove girls if he is not presented with a more desirable alternative and that if Anne herself is that alternative Wentworth might need some indication that she would be receptive to him. The Admiral pursues the matter further…And Mrs. Croft responds by telling Anne how quickly she and the Admiral “ ‘came to an understanding’ ” – perhaps to remind Anne how soon she and Wentworth came to a similar understanding in 1806 when she and Wentworth ‘were gradually acquainted
 and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love’. The parallel here seems too close to be accidental – at least on Mrs. Croft’s part – and too clear for Anne to miss the application to her. And when the Admiral describes Louisa and Henrietta as “ ‘very nice young ladies’ ” and Mrs. Croft responds with “ ‘Very good humoured, unaffected girls, indeed’ ”, Anne detects “a tone of calmer praise” which leads her to suspect that Mrs. Croft’s “keener powers might not consider either of them quite worthy of her brother”. … this exchange with Anne involving the possibility of Wentworth’s interest in one of the Musgrove girls, the need for sailors to have short courtships, the parallel between the Crofts and Anne and Wentworth, and Mrs. Croft’s less than enthusiastic praise of the Musgrove girls suggests that the Crofts are once again probing, prodding, hinting, and perhaps even implying that at least Mrs. Croft would prefer Anne as a sister-in-law.  The evidence is beginning to accumulate, and the converging probabilities reflected in these three scenes may suggest that, tentatively and indirectly, the Crofts are up to something.
Anne does not see the Crofts again until after Louisa’s accident at Lyme and until Lady Russell returns to Uppercross when she and Lady Russell call on Mrs. Croft at Kellynch.  At this meeting …Mrs. Croft... makes a special point to tell Anne that Wentworth had enquired about her “particularly”, as if to stress to Anne Wentworth’s increasing interest in her. And the Admiral cannot resist the temptation to refer once again to Wentworth’s apparent relationship with Louisa…It would appear that Admiral Croft can never miss an opportunity to bring up the possible connection between Wentworth and Louisa, as if he doesn’t want Anne to forget that as at least an alternative for a man who is apparently interested in marrying.
After the Crofts arrive in Bath and after an exchange of courtesy calls, Anne encounters the Admiral in Milsom Street…[o]nce again the Admiral cannot resist introducing the subject of Louisa Musgrove with Anne, as he has done previously…his comment is once again packed with suggestion, though as is often the case with the Admiral, he is not very subtle…This time, instead of testing Anne or perhaps warning her as he may have been doing in earlier remarks about Louisa, he seems to be assuring Anne that the Louisa-Wentworth relationship was never a serious one…In other words, he is assuring Anne that Louisa is not Wentworth’s interest, with the possible implication of who is. When their conversation leads them to Anne’s acquaintance with Benwick and a discussion of his character, the Admiral takes the opportunity to put in a plug for his brother-in-law...The Admiral then ends his conversation with Anne with the most loaded and pointed comment in the entire exchange…Once again he seems to be forcing the issue by addressing Anne directly, and not very subtly, on the possibility of bringing Anne and Wentworth into proximity and in the context of Wentworth’s potential alliance with one of the many pretty girls in Bath….[T]he more likely probability is that Admiral Croft, as he seems to have been in earlier scenes, is quite purposeful in conveying a message to Anne, praising Wentworth, and again raising the possibility of the reconciliation between Anne and Wentworth that he and Mrs. Croft have been hoping for all along.
In the final scene in which Mrs. Croft speaks – the second scene at The White Hart in which Wentworth writes the letter to Anne – a scene written after Jane Austen had rejected her original ending – Mrs. Croft once again makes a pointed remark...Until this scene in the novel, the pointed comments of Admiral and Mrs. Croft seem to have been directed to Anne only. But for the first time Mrs. Croft has the opportunity to make an indirect suggestion when both Anne and Wentworth are present, and she might be read as encouraging both of them to get on with it….Does Mrs. Croft know about [Wentworth’s] feelings at this point? The novel doesn’t tell us, but we can speculate that it is possible, and perhaps even probable, that she does…In the cancelled chapters, Admiral Croft tells Anne that he and Mrs. Croft had discussed the rumors of Anne’s possible engagement to Mr. Elliot and suggests that they had not believed it. The Crofts seem to have been very much interested in Anne and Wentworth from the very beginning…it would seem very unlikely that the Crofts were not privy to at least some of Wentworth’s feelings about Anne. In this context, Mrs. Croft’s comments to Mrs. Musgrove assume even greater significance and implication.”  END QUOTE FROM HELDMAN ARTICLE


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