Tea and Sympathy, Part 2
At our Spring “Great House” Tea on Sunday May 6 at the McConnell Mansion in Moscow, ID the most exciting part of the tea for me was the passionate and engaged discussion that members had about sympathy in Persuasion. There were two sections of Persuasion discussed per table, for the total of eight sections. Then we got together as the big group and each table shared their discussion of the scene they had. Since I can’t remember who was in each individual group, I will summarize what each table group shared, mentioning who was at the table by first name. The page numbers listed refer to: Austen, Jane. Persuasion. Ed. R.W. Chapman. 3rd ed. Oxford: OUP, 1933. Please see the prior blog for the other references.
I started the discussion by doing a quick summary of the material that was summarized in our first blog on this topic Tea and Sympathy, Part 1 https://jasnaewanid.org/2018/04/22/tea-and-sympathy-part-1/. I gave my opinion that Captain Wentworth did not understand Anne’s reasons and feelings when she broke the engagement and did not appreciate her character and judgment. Over the course of the novel, Captain Wentworth has to progress from anger and resentment about the past to acceptance and full sympathy with Anne before they can re-unite and have a successful marriage. I also offered a discussion of the philosopher Adam Smith’s A Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) as a resource to help us explore what “sympathy” meant to Jane Austen. “Sympathy is defined by Smith as our ability imaginatively to feel others’ emotions (9-10) as they would experience the situation, changing ‘persons and characters’ with others (317)” (Larrow 3; also Fricke 10). Austen’s novels show the challenges in fully understanding another person’s emotions and point of view and in Persuasion, Austen has to show Captain Wentworth as both a warm person capable of caring, but initially unsympathetic to Anne.
Table 1, with Sheryl N., Linnea, Vivian, Kay, Valerie, and Jennifer discussed the scenes when Anne and Captain Wentworth first meet at Uppercross and his comments afterwards that Mary shares with Anne (58-62) and when Captain Wentworth takes Anne’s nephew off her back (78-81). They discussed how his early interactions with Anne were fairly cold. Anne interprets his behaviors as “He wished to avoid seeing her” and she feels “mortification” that he has seen her as “altered beyond recognition”. The narrator also tells us information that Anne does not have access to:
Frederick Wentworth had used such words, or something like them, but without an idea that they would be carried round to her. He had thought her wretchedly altered, and in the first moment of appeal, had spoken as he felt. He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill, deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.
When Captain Wentworth removes Walter from her back, he is showing some concern for her feelings, but then he negates that by avoiding her thanks or talking to her:
the little particulars of the circumstance, with the conviction soon forced on her by the noise he was studiously making with the child, that he meant to avoid hearing her thanks, and rather sought to testify that her conversation was the last of his wants, produced such a confusion of varying, but very painful agitation, as she could not recover from, till enabled by the entrance of Mary and the Miss Musgroves to make over her little patient to their cares, and leave the room.
So, the early interactions between Anne and Captain Wentworth allow us to see Anne’s pain at how he treats her, but he appears oblivious to her feelings.
Table 2, with Stephanie, Amy, Katherine, Laura, Jane, and Mary Ellen discussed the scenes when Anne overhears Captain Wentworth talking to Louisa while walking and then when he helps her into the carriage (87-91) and Captain Wentworth’s talk about Anne after Louisa falls and then the carriage ride to Uppercross (114-117). After Captain Wentworth puts Anne in the carriage, Anne offers (in free indirect discourse) a summary of what he thinks of her at this point:
She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it, that she owed it to his perception of her fatigue, and his resolution to give her rest. She was very much affected by the view of his disposition towards her, which all these things made apparent. This little circumstance seemed the completion of all that had gone before. She understood him. He could not forgive her, but he could not be unfeeling. Though condemning her for the past, and considering it with high and unjust resentment, though perfectly careless of her, and though becoming attached to another, still he could not see her suffer, without the desire of giving her relief. It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed.
After Louisa falls, Anne overhears him talking about her in a way that seems to appreciate her as “proper” and “capable”, but she soon realizes that he appreciates her mainly so she can nurse Louisa. When he asks her opinion about how to break the news of the fall to the Musgroves, she feels happy that he has asked for her concurrence: “But the remembrance of the appeal remained a pleasure to her, as a proof of friendship, and of deference for her judgement, a great pleasure; and when it became a sort of parting proof, its value did not lessen.” Thus, when Anne leaves Uppercross, Captain Wentworth appears to have some value for her and some sympathy about her feelings, but in the context of her usefulness to him or Louisa.
Table 3, with Anne, Marie, Vickey, Ariel, Leslee, Melody, and Rose discussed the scenes when Anne sees Captain Wentworth the first time in Bath in Molland’s (175-178) and at the concert, the discussion between Anne and Captain Wentworth (181-186). Anne has trouble determining his feelings for her when they first meet in Bath: “The character of his manner was embarrassment. She could not have called it either cold or friendly, or anything so certainly as embarrassed.” Anne is not sure if he is disappointed that Louisa is to marry someone else and tries to determine it. In the scene at the concert, Captain Wentworth has more appreciation of Anne’s feelings, for example thinking that she might have had a shock about the fall: “I have hardly seen you since our day at Lyme. I am afraid you must have suffered from the shock, and the more from its not overpowering you at the time.” He also has some sense of what she feels about not being supported in the past by her family when he discusses how the Musgroves are such supportive parents: “A sudden recollection seemed to occur, and to give him some taste of that emotion which was reddening Anne’s cheeks and fixing her eyes on the ground.” Finally at the end of the scene, Anne thinks she understands him and that he must love her:
His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light. His opinion of Louisa Musgrove’s inferiority, an opinion which he had seemed solicitous to give, his wonder at Captain Benwick, his feelings as to a first, strong attachment; sentences begun which he could not finish, his half averted eyes and more than half expressive glance, all, all declared that he had a heart returning to her at least; that anger, resentment, avoidance, were no more; and that they were succeeded, not merely by friendship and regard, but by the tenderness of the past. Yes, some share of the tenderness of the past. She could not contemplate the change as implying less. He must love her.
Although Anne senses his love for her, she also sees that Captain Wentworth is jealous of Mr. Elliot and unsure of what her feelings are. Social conventions of the time prevent her from directly saying what she feels and so she must find a way to acknowledge her love to him.
Table 4, with Sheryl D., Lorena, Donna, Angel, Sonya, and Moriah discussed the scenes at the White Hart, when Captain Wentworth overhears Anne talking to Captain Harville and writes his letter (236-238) and the discussion between Captain Wentworth and Anne after they become engaged again and the night of the party at Anne’s house ( 240-247). When he writes his letter to Anne, Captain Wentworth recognizes her full worth. He is “half agony, half hope” because he finally sees her moral and emotional superiority to all other women and fears he has lost her. We read the letter that he wrote, savoring the emotions expressed:
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.
When they are engaged again, the narrator reflects on Captain Wentworth and Anne’s mutual love and that they are both “fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment”:
There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.
Captain Wentworth sees Anne’s full worth and his errors. “Her character was now fixed on his mind as perfection itself, maintaining the loveliest medium of fortitude and gentleness; but he was obliged to acknowledge that only at Uppercross had he learnt to do her justice, and only at Lyme had he begun to understand himself.” He even learns to forgive Lady Russell, when he considers that he was to blame for not reuniting when he had prize money a few years after the broken engagement:
“Good God!” he cried, “you would! It is not that I did not think of it, or desire it, as what could alone crown all my other success; but I was proud, too proud to ask again. I did not understand you. I shut my eyes, and would not understand you, or do you justice. This is a recollection which ought to make me forgive every one sooner than myself. Six years of separation and suffering might have been spared. It is a sort of pain, too, which is new to me. I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses,” he added, with a smile. “I must endeavour to subdue my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.”
At the end, we agreed that Anne and Captain Wentworth were indeed now a better match for each other than they were before because Captain Wentworth could fully sympathize with Anne’s feelings. The discussion was a great ending to a wonderful tea. Thanks to everyone who helped and participated. We look forward to more fun events.