Ever since James Edward Austen-Leigh included the “cancelled chapter” in A Memoir of Jane Austen, critics and readers alike have observed that the revision is superior in emotional depth and artistry to the manuscript version.1 Jane Austen’s nephew says of the original: “She thought it tame and flat, and was desirous of producing something better” (125).2 Later critics generally echo Jane Austen’s view (if thoughts written some fifty years after her death can be attributed to the author) that the original is “tame and flat.” It is “awkwardly managed” (Bush 181), “clumsy” (Todd and Blank lxxxi), or contrived (Tanner 236, Gaylin 48). In addition, these authors as well as Southam (322–23) and Terry (xxvi) praise the revision and have something to say about the differences between the manuscript and the revised chapters. All these critics agree, if not on the defects of the cancelled chapters, then on the sterling qualities of the revision. Whether we would be satisfied as readers with the original ending is worth only a fleeting conjecture (or the topic of a different essay), for we have both the manuscript and the printed versions and can judge the original in light of the revision.
In two major ways, the cancelled chapters are an artistic failure, as Jane Austen must have seen. First, the original ending alters the character of Admiral Croft. Second, the manuscript reverses the confidence that Anne Elliot’s character has been gaining since the accident at Lyme; she regresses to the Anne who listens, especially when Captain Wentworth is near, rather than behaving as the speaker she has become “in spite of the formidable father and sister in the back ground” (197).
The change in Admiral Croft’s character
In the cancelled chapters, Admiral Croft, who has heretofore been friendly and frank, cajoles Anne against her inclination into “calling on” Mrs. Croft: “‘You are going to call upon my wife, said he, she will be very glad to see you’” (314). This is not an invitation but an affirmation. Anne, her mind full of what she has just heard from Mrs. Smith, tries to cut the encounter short, but he insists. Anne is “vexed” because the admiral will not allow her to leave and because she fears that Captain Wentworth may be there, as indeed, he is, but first the pretense of visiting his wife must be prolonged: “‘I will not swear that she has not something particular to say to you—but that will all come out in the right place. I give no hints’” (314).3
This dissembler is not the admiral that we know. This is not the admirable admiral whose “manners were not quite of the tone to suit Lady Russell, but . . . delighted Anne” and whose “goodness of heart and simplicity of character were irresistible” (137). What has become of the admiral who jovially asks her to take his arm after scoffing at the print in the shop window: “‘Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend’” (183)? That admiral has gone missing in the cancelled chapters, along with the Admiral Croft who makes “himself very agreeable by his good-humoured notice of [Mary’s] little boys” (52) when the Crofts visit Uppercross Cottage.
What is the admiral’s motive in ushering Anne into Wentworth’s presence in such an underhanded way? Wentworth tries to persuade Anne (and the reader) that his brother-in-law “‘is a Man who can never be thought Impertinent by one who knows him as you do—. His Intentions are always the kindest & the Best’” (317). That the author feels obliged to defend the admiral from this allegation (which Anne has not made) indicates that even while writing the original, Jane Austen saw the inconsistency she was creating in Admiral Croft’s character.
The manuscript scene is an unsatisfying contrivance by the author. The admiral she created would not have misleadingly enticed Anne into his house. He and his wife have never been conniving (wittingly or unwittingly). Austen saw the inconsistency and looked for a way to resolve the narrative complication without compromising the genial character of Admiral Croft. Her solution does much more, however, than preserve the admiral’s character: it completes Anne’s emergence into her role as one who “gloried in being a sailor’s wife” (275).
The retrogression of Anne
The second, more significant failure of the cancelled chapters is that they place Anne’s character into retrograde. Until the incident at Lyme, Anne is the listener, the quiet observer. Ann Gaylin proposes that “[i]llicit listening in the novel stages the manner in which stories are generated and resolved” (2). But as Gaylin points out, not all listening that generates or resolves stories is clandestine. In Persuasion, in particular, much of the overhearing is openly acknowledged; the listener is not being surreptitious. In few instances is the listener unseen by the speaker—the most significant and widely-discussed of which is when Anne overhears Wentworth and Louisa as they return “along the rough, wild sort of channel, down the centre” of the “hedge-row behind her” (93).
Before the accident, when Captain Wentworth is talked about and when he speaks, Anne’s reaction is deep emotion, sometimes covered by confusion, or diffidence in speaking herself. When she knows that the Crofts will take possession of Kellynch, “Anne, who had been a most attentive listener” (27, emphasis added), seeks “the cool air” of “a favourite grove” and says with “flushed cheeks” and a “gentle sigh, ‘a few months more, and he, perhaps, may be walking here’” (27). When Mary, oblivious to Anne’s interest in Wentworth, reports that the captain “‘should not have known’” her again, she submits “in silent, deep mortification” (65). When Anne meets him for the first time after more than seven years,
Her eye half met Captain Wentworth’s; a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice; . . . the room seemed full—full of persons and voices—but a few minutes ended it. . . . [T]he room was cleared, and Anne might finish her breakfast as she could.
“It is over! it is over!” she repeated to herself again, and again, in nervous gratitude. “The worst is over!” (64)
It takes time for her to recover from this emotion by “reason[ing] with herself, and try[ing] to be feeling less” (64), although the eight years that have passed, she realizes, “may be little more than nothing” (65).
What she hears when Captain Wentworth speaks or overhears when others speak of him causes strong emotion that she must bring under control. For instance, the circumstances of the first directly quoted words that Anne speaks to Captain Wentworth are fraught with “all the confusion that was natural” (85). During a visit to Uppercross Cottage, he comes upon her as she is alone attending to her injured nephew, little Charles. Although Captain Wentworth’s manners are “deprived . . . of their usual composure” by the “surprise of finding himself almost alone with” her, she is even worse off. He can go “to the window to recollect himself, and feel how he ought to behave.” She is not wholly unable to speak. In her confusion, she manages, “‘They are up stairs with my sister—they will be down in a few moments, I dare say,’” and she “would have been out of the room the next moment” had she not been detained by the sick child (85).
When the other nephew, Walter, comes in and attacks his aunt, Captain Wentworth releases her from the importunate toddler; but along with the pleasure of his relieving her is a pang as “the noise he was studiously making with the child” convinces her that “her conversation was the last of his wants” (87). She can only “hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings,” and has not even enough power of speech to thank him. She leaves the room after a “confusion of varying, but very painful agitation” (87).
She must learn to endure, but she cannot be indifferent to his presence. When she hears him speak of the year of their engagement, she knows him well enough to be sure that he must share “the same immediate association of thought, though she was very far from conceiving it to be of equal pain. . . . Once so much to each other! Now nothing! . . . Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement” (68–69). He is the active, gallant, talking, story-telling, naval captain, she the listening, often pained, seldom heard observer.4
Anne begins to emerge from her confusion, pain, and reticence at Lyme when she keeps her head while others are incapacitated. In the final moments at Lyme, Anne becomes the active, directing force while the others are screaming (Mary), immobile (Charles), fainting (Henrietta), or “staggering against the wall” (Wentworth) (118–19).
Anne, attending with all the strength and zeal, and thought, which instinct supplied, to Henrietta, still tried, at intervals, to suggest comfort to the others, tried to quiet Mary, to animate Charles, to assuage the feelings of Captain Wentworth. Both seemed to look to her for directions.
“Anne, Anne,” cried Charles, “what is to be done next? What, in heaven’s name, is to be done next?”
Captain Wentworth’s eyes were also turned towards her. (119–20)
Anne’s presence of mind prevents Louisa’s insensibility from spreading to the rest of them; she acts while they are paralyzed.
Mary Poovey points out that Captain Wentworth must have two “illuminations” before Anne and he can be fully reconciled: “he must be reminded of Anne’s powerful physical attractions, and he must learn to distinguish between simple selfishness [or firmness] in the name of principle and the genuine self-command that Anne can place in the service of others” (230). Both these “illuminations” happen at Lyme. First, Captain Wentworth sees Mr. Elliot’s admiration of Anne and his jealousy stirs. Second, Louisa, acting on “his own ideal of ‘firmness’ to its destructive extreme, jumps precipitously” (Poovey 230). The incautious leap and fall lead to Anne’s taking over command of the wreck on the pier. She is the captain whose calm keeps the crew from despair and finally rouses them. She consigns one of the survivors (Henrietta) to “some of the best-looking” of the boatmen who had gathered “to be useful if wanted, at any rate, to enjoy the sight of . . . two dead young ladies” (120). Anne is the commander; the others immediately recognize her authority and obey.
Anne’s emergence is interrupted by her return to Kellynch Lodge, her journey to Bath, and Wentworth’s decision to “gladly weaken, by any fair means, whatever feelings [in Louisa] or speculations concerning him might exist” (264). But he has learned the lessons. Once Captain Wentworth arrives in Bath after being serendipitously freed from any obligation but friendship to Louisa Musgrove, the roles of Anne as speaker and Wentworth as listener continue the trajectory begun when Louisa is “too precipitate by half a second” (118) in jumping from the Cobb’s steps. As D. W. Harding says, “From this point [Anne’s cool-headed response at Lyme] onward the tables are turned. Wentworth . . . has to face the anxieties of his apparent commitment to Louisa and his jealousy at Mr. Walter Elliot’s wooing of Anne” (189). Captain Wentworth is turning into listener, Anne Elliot into speaker.
Anne’s longest direct speeches appear after Wentworth arrives in Bath. He is first to speak when they meet in Molland’s; the initial conversation is reported in indirect speech, but then they have their longest quoted exchange so far: he says some forty-seven words, she fifty-three. She declares the rain is no bother and ends by introducing Mr. Elliot’s name just before her cousin enters to claim her for the walk home. Wentworth recognizes him as the man from the Cobb and sees “the air and look and manner of the privileged relation and friend” (192) as Anne says, “‘good morning to you’” (193). Wentworth (presumably) then listens as the members of his own party call Anne “‘very pretty’” and gossip about her cousin’s interest. Mary Poovey’s first “illumination”—Wentworth’s recognition of Anne’s attractiveness—is in full brilliance.
Anne next makes a listener of Wentworth when she initiates the conversation at the concert. Before Lady Dalrymple and the others arrive, their conversation enlightens her as to the state of his mind. As Ann Gaylin points out, this conversation prepares for the revised “ending’s emphasis on mediated communication,” which “continues that initiated at the concert, when Wentworth speaks to Anne but indicates the constancy of his love indirectly by referring to [Captain Benwick’s] devotion to the memory of his dead beloved” (48–49).
Anne and Wentworth manage to speak again, but Wentworth’s jealousy rises and nearly disables him when he sees her in conversation with Mr. Elliot and surrounded by those whose influence he most fears. He may not hear what is said, but he fears their power. Still, the captain comes near enough to speak, owning that he “had expected better singing.” Anne defends the “performance so well, and yet in allowance for his feelings, so pleasantly, that his countenance improve[s],” and he looks as if he might occupy the seat that she has contrived to leave vacant (206–07). Their further conversation is cut short by Mr. Elliot’s “touch on her shoulder” for another translation (207). When she turns round after complying so unwillingly with the request, Wentworth declares that he is leaving. Anxiously she asks, “‘Is not this song worth staying for?’” The captain leaves her with a curt “‘No! . . . there is nothing worth my staying for’” (207). Her speaking and his listening have not yet reconciled them. They are on almost equal terms, but their interaction is vexed by the presence of those whom Wentworth views as antagonists if not enemies.
While Anne is encouraged by their exchange at the concert, concern lingers. She thinks:
Jealousy of Mr. Elliot! It was the only intelligible motive. Captain Wentworth jealous of her affection! Could she have believed it a week ago—three hours ago! For a moment the gratification was exquisite. But alas! there were very different thoughts to succeed. How was such jealousy to be quieted? How was the truth to reach him? How, in all the peculiar disadvantages of their respective situations, would he ever learn her real sentiments? It was misery to think of Mr Elliot’s attentions.―Their evil was incalculable. (207)
She needs to speak intelligibly to him to quiet his fears. Nonetheless, her sanguine hopes revive with the morning, for on the way to keep her promised appointment with Mrs. Smith,5 Anne is glowing with love:
Their union, she believed, could not divide her more from other men, than their final separation.
Prettier musings of high-wrought love and eternal constancy, could never have passed along the streets of Bath, than Anne was sporting with from Camden-place to Westgate-buildings. It was almost enough to spread purification and perfume all the way. (208)
Up to this point, the narrator has not treated Anne with such comic wryness. The alliterative phrase pokes mild fun at the solemnity of high church practice, provokes a smile, and proffers hope that Anne and Wentworth will soon get together.
After the conversation with Mrs. Smith, the manuscript and the final version diverge. In the cancelled chapters, Anne retrogresses to the role of listener, the role from which she has been emerging. Unseen, she overhears snippets of the talk between Admiral Croft and his brother-in-law. The result of that brothers’ conversation is a speech by Captain Wentworth, in which he tells Anne that the Admiral and Mrs. Croft will give up Kellynch if she and Mr. Elliot plan to marry and want to take up residence on the family estate. Anne replies, “‘You are misin—the Adml. is misinformed.—I do justice to the kindness of his Intentions, but he is quite mistaken. There is no Truth in any such report’” (318). She speaks—finally—but the entire passage is unsatisfying. “[E]verything is quickly cleared up” in Tony Tanner’s words (236). It is an inartistic reversal of their roles. Anne, momentarily though it be, is cast back into the role of listener.6 At Molland’s Wentworth begins the exchange that leaves “neither of them, probably, much the wiser for what they heard” (191). Just before the concert, in the Octagon Room, Anne speaks first. But in the manuscript scene, we have the speaking Wentworth (though at the behest of someone else) and the listening Anne. In Bath they have been on fairly equal conversational terms, speaking warily with each other but each speaking and listening to the other as never before since their engagement was broken off. The “perpetual estrangement” (69) has been losing its grip.
Now consider the revision. Most critics focus on the reconciliation scene because it is the focus of the manuscript. Without the revision, however, we would be missing the additional revelations about Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot’s collusion that prepare us for their eventual coupling and desertion of Elizabeth and Sir Walter. The chapter begins with more misdirection from Mrs. Clay about Mr. Elliot. She re-emphasizes the notion that Mr. Elliot is interested in Elizabeth with her duplicitous (as we discover later) “‘Exactly like father and son!’” And there is more silly coyness from Elizabeth, who cannot see Mrs. Clay’s insincerity: “‘upon my word, I am scarcely sensible of his attentions being beyond those of other men’” (231). This exchange helps prepare us for the revelations to come about Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot.
Without the revision, we would be missing the barb Sir Walter launches at Lady Russell (“‘Morning visits are never fair by women at her time of life’” ). And we would not have Elizabeth’s again proving herself unworthy of Lady Russell’s regard (“‘Oh! you may as well take back that tiresome book she would lend me’” ), for Lady Russell “seemed to love [Elizabeth], rather because she would love her, than because Elizabeth deserved it” (17). More critically, Austen uses the revision to bring the Musgroves to Bath, paving the way for the conversation at the White Hart Inn. We should not let the intensity of Anne’s conversation with Captain Harville make us forget that Jane Austen has prepared us for that moment.
Mrs. Musgrove and her party come to Bath and commandeer Anne’s time, preventing her from telling Lady Russell what she has learned about Mr. Elliot. The presence of the Uppercross contingent gives Anne more opportunities to turn Captain Wentworth into the listener. When she returns with Mary and Charles to the inn, not only can she acquit herself (coolly she hopes) at the window with Mary, where she verifies that it is Mr. Elliot in conversation with Mrs. Clay,7 but she can also declare her indifference to evening parties and card games. Charles, while continuing to declare his resolution of going to a play cries: “‘Don’t talk to me about heirs and representatives. . . . I am not one of those who neglect the reigning power to bow to the rising sun. . . . What is Mr Elliot to me?’” Charles’s “careless expression was life to Anne,” who sees that Wentworth is “all attention, looking and listening with his whole soul; and that the last words brought his enquiring eyes from Charles to herself” (243, emphasis added)—an echo of the end of chapter 3, when Anne is a “most attentive listener” (27). When Mrs. Musgrove intervenes and says they had better put off the play, Anne is grateful for “the opportunity . . . of decidedly saying—‘If it depended only on my inclination . . . the party . . . would not be the smallest impediment’” (244).
Anne’s speech, in turn, prompts Wentworth to leave his seat, walk to the fireplace, and then leave it to take a station “with less barefaced design, by Anne”:
“You have not been long enough in Bath,” said he, “to enjoy the evening parties of the place.”8
“Oh! no. The usual character of them has nothing for me. I am no card-player.”
“You were not formerly, I know. You did not use to like cards; but time makes many changes.”
“I am not yet so much changed,” cried Anne, and stopped, fearing she hardly knew what misconstruction. After waiting a few moments he said—and as if it were the result of immediate feeling—“It is a period, indeed! Eight years and a half is a period!” (244)
What “misconstruction” may Anne be fearing here? It is a straightforward enough declaration. She does not like card parties; she would rather spend the evening with people whose company she enjoys and who value her, not those who have ignored and denigrated her—“‘nobody will want her in Bath’” (36) after all. She wants Wentworth to understand that she has not changed towards him. Convention may not allow her to declare her unchanged affections openly, but what negative inference could Wentworth draw? Certainly, such a cry cannot be construed as a liking for Mr. Elliot. It little matters since the conversation is interrupted by bustle, which bustle is cut short by the refrigerating entrance of Sir Walter and Elizabeth with their icy, ceremonious civility.
In the clarification at the White Hart, the narrator is initially coy about whether Wentworth can hear Anne and Captain Harville. At Harville’s invitation, Anne goes to the window “and though nearer to Captain Wentworth’s table, not very near” (252). When Wentworth drops his pen, she is “startled at finding him nearer than she had supposed; and half inclined to suspect that the pen had only fallen, because he had been occupied by them, striving to catch sounds, which yet she did not think he could have caught” (254). Anne, the narrator, or Austen seems disingenuous here, for at the end of the exchange with Harville, Anne “could not immediately have uttered another sentence; her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed” (256). Anne realizes (as does the reader) that Wentworth has overheard her declaration. Her breathless emotion is evoked not by the exchange with Harville but by her awareness that Wentworth is listening.
The scene at the inn is superior. Marvin Mudrick declares, “The perfection and emotional resonance of the scene are unique in Jane Austen’s work” (184). Brian Southam speaks for all who agree that the printed version is a triumph of the author’s artistry.
Henry James found the novels of Jane Austen, “instinctive and charming.” He advised readers to look elsewhere “for signal examples of what composition, distribution, arrangement can do, of how they intensify the life of a work of art.” Yet, as the Persuasion manuscript reveals in the greatest detail, the inevitable rightness of the novel’s conclusion was not, in the act of creation, a swift and effortless performance but a triumph of rethinking won through trial and error. Here, if anywhere, is the evidence of that conscious art that James was seeking. (323)
While Persuasion’s printed version better prepares us for the treachery of Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay and further sinks the characters of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, the triumph of Jane Austen’s revision comes first from her recognition that Admiral Croft is not an inveigler of young women into his house for any reason—whether to call on his wife or to be thrust into a room with Captain Wentworth. Second, and most compellingly, Austen allows Anne Elliot to fully come into her own. The role reversal that begins at Lyme (which I am far from alone in noticing) is completed. Wentworth must listen as Anne must speak of woman’s constancy and the privilege that need not be coveted of “‘loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone’” (256).
2Austen-Leigh later says, “The next morning she awoke to more cheerful views and brighter inspirations: the sense of power revived; and imagination resumed its course” (125). This phrasing echoes the narrator’s characterization of Emma’s morning after the humiliation of Mr. Elton’s proposal: “To youth and natural cheerfulness like Emma's, though under temporary gloom at night, the return of day will hardly fail to bring return of spirits. The youth and cheerfulness of morning are in happy analogy, and of powerful operation; and if the distress be not poignant enough to keep the eyes unclosed, they will be sure to open to sensations of softened pain and brighter hope” (149). Jane Austen, while no longer as young as Emma, apparently had the “elasticity of mind” that blessed Anne Elliot’s friend Mrs. Smith (167).
3Here we are, as Todd and Blank point out, in the world of Emma. These hints sound like Mr. Weston trying to ward off Emma’s anxious curiosity on the walk to Randalls because he fears impending doom (427–29). Todd and Blank’s concern is with the hesitating manner in which “the éclarissement as it finally occurred in the manuscript too closely echoed that in Emma, which depended on the assumption of the beloved’s interest in another” (P lxxxi). This echo extends to the admiral’s behavior as well.
5Judith Terry calls this conversation with Mrs. Smith “a long indigestible chapter,” and other critics agree. K. K. Collins says, “Had Jane Austen lived, consensus holds, she would have reshaped this strange character and her tedious story; but as things stand, Mrs. Smith dispenses, in one choking dose, vital information about the villain of the piece. Her function as deus ex machina is sadly obvious” (383). Is Mrs. Smith’s information “vital”? It fills out Mr. Elliot’s story and details his unfeeling behavior, but Anne has already weighed him in the balance and found him wanting: “Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished,―but he was not open” (174); “Mr. Elliot was too generally agreeable. Various as were the tempers in her father’s house, he pleased them all” (175). Mrs. Smith’s revelations emphasize Mr. Elliot’s villainy, but Anne already recognizes that he is not what he seems.
7This little scene serves two purposes: it gives Anne the chance to be nonchalant (she hopes) about Mr. Elliot, and it further readies us for Mrs. Clay’s desertion of Sir Walter and Elizabeth for the “protection” of Mr. Elliot.