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Persuasion by Jane Austen

Hosted by Rachel Cohen
Began on March 25, 2021

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In Persuasion, mourning and renewal are not separate. Jane Austen (1775–1817) finished this novel during her own last illness and it has a quality of reflection all its own. Anne Elliot, living quietly in the country, has lost people she loves, and a chance at love, but as she moves once again into a broader world—a world of friendship, imagination, and of the wide seas toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars—life begins for her for a second time. As we imagine entering the world again, come read the Austen novel in which, Virginia Woolf said, “we also feel that [Austen] is trying to do something that she has never yet attempted.” In her creation, Anne Elliot, a careful reader and rereader, Austen offers a friend and companion to her own readers, the ones she imagined, us.

André Wenzel, research librarian at the University of Chicago Libraries, has put together a resource for the APS Together book club on Jane Austen that includes links to databases, articles, and other information related to Persuasion. You can find it here.

Rachel Cohen

is the author of three books about writers and artists, most recently Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels (FSG). She is professor of practice in the arts in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Chicago.

Jane Austen

(1775–1817) was a great English novelist of the nineteenth century. She is known primarily for her six major novels, including Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry.

Daily Reading

Day 1

Ch. 1-3

April 19, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“…if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed…”
From the first sentence, Persuasion is about reading, about histories, and their power, about whose history is on the page, and beyond the page.

Day 2

Ch. 4-5

April 20, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Anne; but Lady Russell saw it very differently.”
Perspectives on Captain Wentworth; Austen is so interested in perspective.

Day 3

Ch. 6-7

April 21, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“…till for a moment electrified by Mrs. Croft’s suddenly saying—'it was you and not your sister, I find, that my brother had the pleasure of being acquainted with’...”
This early use of “electrified” startles, joining us to Anne’s own shock. —Natalie Jenner, novelist

Day 4

Ch. 8-9

April 22, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies, and back again... I never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.”
Mrs. Croft: news of the world for a parched drawing room.

Day 5

Ch. 10-11

April 23, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“Do you mean that she refused him?” In the hedgerow, Captain Wentworth asks Louisa, not knowing that Anne listens.
“…and still more its sweet retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation…”

Day 6

Ch. 12

April 24, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“Captain Wentworth gave her a momentary glance,—a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, ‘That man is struck with you,—and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.’”
Choreography of glance.

Day 7

Volume II, Ch.1-3

April 25, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“His head is full of some books he is reading upon your recommendation, and he wants to talk to you about them.”
Ours is not the first Persuasion book club. Anne’s recommendations change Captain Benwick’s life, and this has an effect on her own fate.

Day 8

Volume II, Ch.4-5

April 26, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“Anne could never see the crape round his hat, without fearing that she was the inexcusable one.”
Ways to mourn numerous as mourners: Mr. Elliot, Sir Walter, Lady Russell, Mrs. Smith, Lady Dalrymple, the Musgroves, Captain Benwick, and Anne herself.

Day 9

Volume II, Ch. 6-7

April 27, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“This was Sir Walter and Elizabeth’s share of interest in the letter; when Mrs. Clay had paid her tribute of more decent attention, in an enquiry after Mrs. Charles Musgrove and her fine little boys, Anne was at liberty.”
This sentence produces delay for us too: so many others must claim a “share” in the letter and have their say before we arrive at “liberty” for Anne. —Deidre Shauna Lynch, scholar

Day 10

Volume II, Ch. 8 and part of Ch. 9 up to “in whatever pleasure the concert of last night might afford:--not Mr. Elliot; it is not Mr. Elliot that—”

April 28, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“in spite of all the various noises of the room, the almost ceaseless slam of the door, and ceaseless buzz of persons walking through, [Anne] had distinguished every word..” Like a writer, fighting her way through sound to distinguish every word.

Day 11

Volume II, Ch. 9 beginning with “Do tell me how it first came into your head.”

April 29, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“‘I wish I had any name but Elliot. I am sick of it.’”
I venture to think Anne is, too. Reading letters with Anne, now we are not reading the Baronetage, but toward the future…

Day 12

Volume II, Ch. 10

April 30, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“He gave a very plain, intelligible account of the whole; a narration in which she saw a great deal of most characteristic proceeding.”
Most characteristic. Anne like her author gifted in the lineaments of character.

Day 13

Volume II, Ch. 11

May 1, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“Yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

Day 14

Volume II, final chapter Ch. 12 and Appendix of Draft Version of Final Chapters of Persuasion (which can be provided for those reading an edition where it is not included.)

May 2, 2021 by Rachel Cohen

“She had but two friends in the world to add to his list, Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith.” Persuasion is also a book about friendship, learning to read character, and have character, together. Hooray!

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