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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, September 7, 2020

Austen's Persuasion & Richardson's Clarissa

It seems like the author, Christopher Fanning, of one of the articles in the latest Persuasions #41 (2019) failed to use Google in checking for prior scholarly commentary – specifically, mine -- on his topic. However, I am glad for his article, as I’ll explain below.

First, here is a link to the post I wrote in my blog (and in Janeites, while it was still at Yahoo) on January 8, 2018:
“The Faces of Griselda: Chaucer, Prior, Richardson….and Shakespeare & Austen, too!”

I began as follows:

“In this followup post to my earlier ones (responding to Ellen Moody’s initial post) about the allusion in Austen’s Persuasion to Matthew Prior’s Henry and Emma, I’m now ready, after further scholarly delving and reflection, to confidently explain the full significance of Austen’s allusion, to wit: Austen’s revised ending of Persuasion, with its memorable debate between Anne and Harville about male-dominated literature’s denial of female constancy, is part of Austen’s complex response to Prior’s famous poem; with the crucial additional insight that Austen filtered her response to Prior through Sarah Fielding’s protofeminist Remarks on (Richardson’s) Clarissa, which illuminates an intertextual matrix that includes Chaucer’s Clerk’s Tale (and the Wife of Bath’s Tale), and one of Shakespeare’s great comedies as well!
Within that overview, I see Austen as having particularly engaged in a variety of subtle ways with Richardson’s complex, tragic dyad of Clarissa and Lovelace, in constructing the relationship between her own couple, Anne and Wentworth; and having left several key textual hints in Persuasion pointing in that direction. That’s a lot to unpack, so I’ll get right to it….”

In my 2018 blogpost, I then went, in detail, through SIX different parallels I saw between Persuasion and Clarissa, including one that is of particular relevance to my post today, in which I credited Jocelyn Harris’s for her 2006 spotting of a striking parallel”

“V: THE TWO “REPULSIVELY’S”: And there’s still more that unites Persuasion and Clarissa. Please now read the following excerpt from Jocelyn Harris’s A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression (2006):
“In the 1818 text [of Persuasion], Anne’s eloquence contrasts vividly with her silence in the manuscript. When Wentworth meets Anne in Union Street, it is he who ‘said nothing- only looked,’ while Anne  could command herself enough to receive that look, and not repulsively’, meaning in a repelling manner. Perhaps Austen recalled Clarissa here, for that compulsive neologist Samuel Richardson seems to have invented the word for a scene where the heroine, discomposed by abduction from her father’s house to a St. Alban’s inn, shows ‘uneasiness’ before the curious servants: ‘She cast a conscious glance, as she alighted,’ and ‘repulsively, as I may say, quitted my assisting hand, and hurried into the house.’ In a typical challenge to her mentor, Austen makes Charles Musgrove incurious and Anne glad rather than disgusted by her suitor’s advances. Those readers who were familiar with Richardson, like Cassandra Austen, would understand that Anne acts in pointed denial of Clarissa’s revulsion from Lovelace when she signals to Wentworth her willingness to walk with him and accepts the offer of his arm. Also, instead of occurring at an early stage of the relationship, as with Clarissa and Lovelace, Austen’s scene occurs in the 1818 text only after Anne speaks out to refute all the old, misogynistic arguments about woman’s inconstancy, after she offers herself implicitly as an example of a faithful woman.” END QUOTE FROM JOCELYN HARRIS
Here’s the full passage in Persuasion
“They were on Union Street, when a quicker step behind, a something of familiar sound, gave her two moments' preparation for the sight of Captain Wentworth. He joined them; but, as if irresolute whether to join or to pass on, said nothing, only looked. Anne could command herself enough to receive that look, and not REPULSIVELY. The cheeks which had been pale now glowed, and the movements which had hesitated were decided. He walked by her side.”
And here is the parallel passage in Lovelace’s letter:
“At their alighting at the inn at St. Alban's on Monday night, thus [Lovelace] writes:  ‘The people who came about us, as we alighted, seemed by their jaw-fallen faces, and goggling eyes, to wonder at beholding a charming young lady, majesty in her air and aspect, so composedly dressed, yet with features so discomposed, come off a journey which had made the cattle smoke, and the servants sweat. I read their curiosity in their faces, and my beloved's uneasiness in hers. She cast a conscious glance, as she alighted, upon her habit, which was no habit; and repulsively, as I may say, quitting my hand, hurried into the house…’
Harris’s sharp ear has alerted her to a parallel which takes on tenfold greater meaning, when it is viewed in the context of all the parallels between Clarissa and the Persuasion scene at the White Hart Inn….”

Prior to my post, the only suggestions of parallels between Clarissa and Persuasion were in passing:

(1 the “repulsively” parallel spotted, and noted in passing, by Jocelyn Harris, as quoted above, and
(2) Anthony M. Kearney, Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (1975):
“When Fanny is strongly advised to marry Henry Crawford (another Lovelace figure) by her uncle, in fact, we are almost back into Clarissa. Similarly in Persuasion Anne Elliot's situation as a young girl whose own inclination to marry the man she loves is thwarted by someone who has what amounts to parental authority over her, echoes the familiar theme, and the ending where parental authority over children is endorsed, despite everything, has a Richardsonian ambivalence about it.
In both novels Jane Austen develops Richardson's way of experiencing things through the consciousness of a central character with even greater subtlety, and avoids the occasional clumsiness and prolixity of Clarissa by dropping the epistolary form…”

That means that the first scholarly claim of a comprehensive allusion by Austen in Persuasion to Richardson’s Clarissa was my January, 2018 blog post, and my followups shortly thereafter, written by me almost exactly two centuries after publication of Persuasion.

Now… with that background, take a look at the following quotation from “Austen and Richardson’s Clarissa: The Case of Persuasion” by Christopher Fanning, in that newest Persuasions #41 (2019) that we are looking at:

“…Jocelyn Harris postulates a renewal of Austen’s youthful engagement with Richardson, dating from the publication of Barbauld’s edition of the Richardson correspondence in 1804, suggesting that Barbauld’s discussion of particular scenes in Clarissa as well as questions of technique offered Austen both materials and methods for her own writing (Jane Austen’s Art of Memory). In this study Harris moves on to discuss Richardson, including sustained attention to Clarissa, with particular regard to Sense and Sensibility. Elsewhere, however, she also notes a verbal echo of Clarissa in Persuasion in the important scene in which Anne Elliot accepts Captain Wentworth (discussed below).
I wish to add to this verbal echo an additional and hitherto unnoticed use of a coinage unique to Clarissa in Persuasion, and, moving beyond Harris’s argument that the usage in the scene between Anne and Wentworth is a clue to readers of Clarissa for understanding the local passage in which it is found, I develop an understanding of Persuasion as a whole as a response to and critique of Richardson’s Clarissa.
Harris provides a convincing reading of a Richardsonian neologism in a quiet but climactic scene at the end of Persuasion, when “Anne could command herself enough to receive that look [from Captain Wentworth], and not repulsively”. Important here is the negation of “repulsively,” a word more or less unique to the scene in which the rake Lovelace completes his abduction of Clarissa and takes her to the inn at St. Albans: “She cast a conscious glance as she alighted . . . and repulsively, as I may say, quitting my assisting hand, hurried into the house as fast as she could”. Harris writes: “Those readers who were familiar with Richardson . . . would understand that Anne acts in pointed denial of Clarissa’s revulsion from Lovelace when she signals to Wentworth her willingness to walk with him and accepts the offer of his arm” (Revolution).
The Richardsonian coinage is limited to the adverb, and so Austen’s use of “repulsive” earlier in the novel seems not to interest Harris. It is noteworthy, however, that “repulsive” appears in a sentence containing another quite uniquely Richardsonian word, “unsisterly.”
In Clarissa, the term is used mainly by the heroine, describing her relationship with her cruel sister, Arabella. For example: “do not, dear Bella, give me cause to suspect, that I have found a reason for your unsisterly behaviour to me; and which till now was wholly unaccountable from sister to sister”.
Implicit in its use is a moral framework about the meaning of family, something also of concern to Anne Elliot in Persuasion, as when she makes an interior judgment while preparing to visit her sister Mary and the Musgrove family at Uppercross: “Mary was not so repulsive and unsisterly as Elizabeth”. “Unsisterly” is found nowhere in the corpus of 18th-century literature (at least in the 180,000 titles on ECCO) other than in its 11 uses in Clarissa, and the OED’s 2nd example after Richardson is Austen’s.
Austen’s interest in Clarissa in general is thus well attested, and Harris’s “repulsively” combined with my own “unsisterly” (and other parallels noted below) would seem to place Clarissa in Austen’s hands—or on her desk—as she writes Persuasion.” END QUOTE FROM FANNING

Fanning then goes on to detail his take on the allusion to Clarissa in Persuasion.

So, what is the upshot of the above for me? I do wish that Fanning had just Googled “Persuasion Clarissa Austen” while he was researching for his article, as one of my January 2018 blog posts would have been the second “hit” – that would have earned me a paragraph in his article, right after Jocelyn Harris.

However, notwithstanding that, I tip my hat to Fanning for sleuthing out a couple of really good parallels that I did not catch (confession: I have only read parts of Clarissa, totalling less than 2% of its massive length, mostly focused on the complex relationship between Clarissa and Anna Howe) – and I was glad to see no overlap between his catches and mine – so that, when my and his arguments are read together, they synergize, and remove even the remotest trace of a doubt that JA was indeed deeply engaged with Clarissa as she wrote Persuasion (as well as all of her earlier novels, except maybe NA).

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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