I just revisited one of my all-time favorites: Jane Austen's Persuasion. I had new questions, thoughts that had never occurred to me before, and I've read this book SO MANY TIMES.
What if Louisa accepted Benwick because Wentworth was gone, and she didn't know what to think or do? She wasn't in good health, in a strange place. It happened over some weeks. Maybe she expected to see or hear from him every day. Maybe she thought he would write to her father. Maybe she accepted Benwick out of despair, or anger, or pity.
How many times have I read this book? This time, I thought about Jane Bennett waiting to hear from Bingley. Maria Bertram waiting for Henry Crawford to stop her from marrying Rushworth.
Frederick only goes to Bath when he learns that Louisa was engaged to Benwick. If that hadn’t happened, how long would Frederick have stayed away before he gave up and went back to face her? What if he’d gone back to find that she’d been waiting for him, expecting him? He would have had to propose to her and marry her even though he was aware at that point that he was in love with Anne, maybe. Maybe Anne would have ended up with the duplicitous Mr. Elliot after all, or maybe she would have ended up marrying Benwick. I would hate for her to end up an old maid, just because of being stuck with her awful family. She needs to get married to get away from them.
I never liked Louisa simply because she's going after Anne's man. You know she can't marry Wentworth- but, did she know it? I usually don't think of the interior life of side characters so much, even though one of the things that I like so much about this book is the interiority: Anne's feelings, thoughts, and intentions are all examined. (I love how considerate Anne is. She’s always thinking about other people’s feelings and needs.)
I’ve always thought that Jane Austen doesn’t seem to approve of Louisa very much, but now I wonder if she would have had more to say for her in another revision. It reminds me of Lady Russell not approving of Wentworth because she didn’t perfectly like his manners- he was too confident to suit her, so she thought he was reckless. I’ve always felt like the author was judging Louisa Musgrove for being too lively and a little thoughtless. I’ve read before that Persuasion wasn’t really ready for publication, and in the past I always thought, how could this book be any more perfect? But I’ve been reading Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels by Rachel Cohen, and she talks about the book and contemplates what might have been done in another revision.
In the movie The Jane Austen Book Club, a character says something like, I love to think of the characters having a life that the author never intended, and at the time, I didn’t like that. (I would re-watch the movie, but almost all my DVDs are packed up in storage right now, the library doesn’t have it, and it isn’t streaming on any service that I subscribe to.) I always trust the author- especially Jane Austen. If she says that someone is an excellent young man- OK, I believe her. I don’t try to make up my mind about her characters at all. I always think that whatever she wrote was good and right, so I’m not sure what brought this on, this wondering about a side character who I’ve never thought much about. Maybe because of writing this blog; I am paying attention to books in different ways, which I like.