An Exercise in Effrontery: Notes on Composing His Cunning or Hers
The owner of my favourite bookstore mutters fretfully about yet another attempt at a sequel to Pride and Prejudice: “The effrontery of such people!” I gulp the remainder of my free coffee and – like Mrs Clay, secretly mortified – hasten away. The trouble is that I agree, and am faced with the task of justifying my tamperings with Persuasion. Well, I have learned plenty; that’s my excuse. Here follow extracts from my working notebook:
A visit to Bath confirms Maggie Lane’s wry observation (in A Charming Place) that Camden Place is perfectly suited to Sir Walter: a handsome crescent, incomplete because of subsiding ground.
A walk in Sydney Gardens reassures me of the existence of the canal and the odd elm. Memo: omit the railway line. Note: locate William Walter Elliot (WWE) at number 8 Sydney Place, a house under the central pediment, imposing but empty.
Note: Change carriage stop (Letter the First) from Devizes to Wells; they must have approached Bath from the south, not east, if Kellynch is in the area of Crewkerne? Check distances. HORSES!
Memo: Use Miss Gregory’s millinery shop, site of Mrs Leigh-Perrot’s alleged theft of the lace, and her subsequent protestation: “Lace is not necessary to my happiness.”
Time-span of Persuasion: about September 1814 to some time in mid to late February 1815. Methodically and stupefyingly I list the dates of every day in 1814 and 1815 with the aid of the perpetual calendar at the back of the Oxford Companion and verifications from the Bath Chronicle, published every Thursday, price sixpence halfpenny.
Note: Letter distribution problems: not much happens until the arrival of William Elliot before Christmas and Anne and Lady R after. Odd time to move and settle? Jane Austen inconsiderate about leaving me time to develop the relationship between WWE and Penelope. Expedition and purpose needed from both. Even more frustrating is the flurry of events at the end of the novel. (Austen tiring?)
Wednesday: The concert. Chronicle advertises concerts in the Upper Rooms, Wednesdays. Madame Sessi is featured in one of them.
Thursday: Mrs Smith tells all to Anne.
Friday: the overseen surreptitious meeting of WWE and PC in Bath Street. Question: Why are they there? Memo: concoct excuse.
Saturday: the crucial letter scene at the White Hart, and in the evening, the party. Note: This entails FOUR letters on Feb 23. Question: is this excessive? Memo: Pamela and Clarissa are good precedents, so why not? Send two by hand.
Words and People
I am appalled and stunned to discover the three-volume Concordance to Jane Austen. Heart sinks at the thought of validating every word, though I appreciate the use of “nice” and “stupid” and avoidance of “afternoon.” Note: Stick to suiting the style to the character and situation and take my chances with anachronisms.
WWE: brisk, ironic, self-dramatizing – consistently duplicitous and rather attractive?
Penelope: keeps slipping out of my grasp. Given to empty emphasis, parentheses and dashes – and an odd ambivalence about her children. Question: Is my aim to make her coldly calculating being eroded by vaguely feminist sympathies with her dilemma?
The West Indian uncle – irresistible to make him “Mason.” Question: Does this make the deceased Mr. Clay a cousin of the luckless Bertha?
Note: Patient, silent Addie seems the most sympathetic character of the lot.
His Cunning or Hers? Note: We have a choice of endings. Question: Does Penelope Clay?
[Signed] June Menzies