The unseasonable sunshine of the past weekend has seen me in my sunglasses on the decking with a
I was prompted back to Jane after seeing a competition to rewrite the ending of one of her novels in 500 words. This is easier said than done. The word limit means that you can't significantly alter the story, but more than that, Jane Austen, unlike many modern authors, actually completes her novels. All ends are tied and all the characters are rewarded or chastened as befits their conduct.
So it was that I revisited Persuasion. This was my first experience of Austen, taught for A-Level circa 1987! I had brilliant A-Level teachers. They lifted my love of reading to an appreciation of literature. I literally swapped Shirley Conran and Mills and Boon for E.M.Forster and Jane Austen. For that, I have a lifelong debt of gratitude to Messrs Williams and Naylor of Cirencester Sixth Form. It saddens me that the restrictions on curriculum and the unmitigated pressure to achieve exam success has lessened the opportunity for teachers to pass on the love of a subject. My first term at A-Level consisted of Messrs Naylor and Williams teaching their favourite texts by way of an introduction to the course. Such diversions are likely to deemed unjustifiable today and the students themselves would see little point if it wasn't on the syllabus.
I still love an Austen novel. The array of characters, the liberal hope of independent thought amongst small-minded convention and the sheer pleasure of slowing down to the pace of nineteenth century gentility is a pastime all should indulge in every once in a while. It makes me want to address hubby as Mr Martin and spend my days walking and leaving the odd visiting card here and there! Despite Jane Austen's own independent spirit, earning her own living and remaining single, her heroines are singularly in pursuit of happiness and some material security. These desirabilities are inevitably to be found in the attentions of a good man.
Where the method may have changed in modern life, I think we still pursue contentment and security. But we are, thankfully, not so hemmed in by the very nature of our sex. We no longer "live at home, quiet,confined.." whilst the men "are forced on exertion [with] always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or another."
What would Anne Elliot have done with the freedom of 21st century life? I think she would have left her hapless father and superficial sister (who would have been an instagram sensation with lots of followers but no friends) and gone to university. She would have gone despite the lack of funds from said father, and she would have paid her own way by playing barista in her spare hours. I like to think though, that she would still have found her Captain Wentworth. But she wouldn't have been open to the cautionary prohibition exacted on her by Lady Russell. She would have met him at 19, finished her studies and worked for a year or two. She would have defied her family's disapproval and together they would have forged their way in the world, not even being too bothered that they were proving the others wrong. But, because she is tenderhearted and kind, she would be a nurse or a doctor, a social worker or a family lawyer. She would care for others, love her man and retain a sense of self-respect and self-esteem that wasn't dependent on his approbation.
No more do we sigh at home and hope for opportunity. No more do we faint away at the sight of an accident on the Cobb or lie-in for weeks on end because of a minor concussion. But at the heart of an Austen novel is always the potential for modernity. Mrs Croft is the example in Persuasion; liberated enough to defy convention, remain childless and travel the world with her husband. But she too, was defined by his role. The idea of total independence was perhaps a tad too radical for Jane.
As for an alternative ending, I'm not sure. Jane Austen herself wrote two versions of the denouement which are readily available, (and a great example of good editing and redrafting for the modern writer), but the romantic in me can't conceive of Anne Elliott forever without Fredrick Wentworth.
I may be a modern woman, but I am still a sucker for a conventional happy ending!