Monday, April 21, 2008


"He was evidently a young man of considerable taste in reading, though principally in poetry; and besides the persuasion of giving him at least an evening's indulgence in the discussion of subjects, which his usual companions had probably no concern in, she had the hope of being of real use to him in some suggestions as to the duty and benefit of struggling against affliction, which had naturally grown out of their conversation. For, though shy, he did not seem reserved; it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints; and having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he shewed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry; and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it too completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly."

- Jane Austen, Persuasion.

There's something so comforting about reading Austen, isn't there? The lilt and balance, the sharpness and felicity. How can anyone write prose that is at once so scrupulously exact and so perfectly fluid? I know of few delights superior.


small talk said...

Oh yes! The exquisite precision...nothing matches her perfection. It's comfort food for the modern world.

Szerelem said...

:) Persuasion is probably my favourite Austen after Emma.

Space Bar said...

the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony

...was probably the result of bad digestion; or a pose.

"NEITHER Moore nor myself had ever seen Byron when it was settled that he should dine at my house to meet Moore; nor was he known by sight to Campbell, who, happening to call upon me that morning, consented to join the party. I thought it best that I alone should be in the drawing-room when Byron entered it; and Moore and Campbell accordingly withdrew. Soon after his arrival, they returned; and I introduced them to him severally, naming them as Adam named the beasts.

When we sat down to dinner, I asked Byron if he would take soup? `No; he never took soup.'—'Would he take some fish?—'No; he never took fish.—Presently I asked if he would eat some mutton? `No; he never ate mutton.—I then asked if he would take a glass of wine? 'No; he never tasted wine.—It was now necessary to inquire what he did eat and drink; and the answer was, `Nothing but hard biscuits and soda-water.' Unfortunately, neither hard biscuits nor soda-water were at hand; and he dined upon potatoes bruised down on his plate and drenched with vinegar.—My guests stayed till very late, discussing the merits of Walter Scott and Joanna Baillie.—Some days after, meeting Hobhouse, I said to him, `How long will Lord Byron persevere in his present diet?' He replied, `Just as long as you continue to notice it.' I did not then know, what I now know to be a fact—that Byron, after leaving my house, had gone to a Club in St. James's Street, and eaten a hearty meat supper.

—Rogers, Table Talk, pp. 176-7. "


Don't mind me. I'm just being contrary.

Falstaff said...

small talk: Oh, it's more than comfort food. More like a delicious white wine.

szerelem: Okay, I'm NOT going to be dragged into a comparison of Austen novels. It's like trying to pick a favorite Shakespeare play.

space bar: Oh, but you aren't really being contrary - I very much doubt Austen is advocating taking Byron seriously, witness the "how the Giaour was to be pronounced" line neatly planted in the middle of a seemingly sincere passage like a bathetic land mine.

Falstaff said...

szerelem: Without wanting to deny Persuasion its merit, I can't shake the feeling that with Anne Elliot, delightful a creature as she is, Austen is cheating a little. To set up a character who is clearly the intellectual superior of those around her and who scorns their pursuit of society and show for the more contemplative life is to start from a premise that a devoted reader is bound to find sympathetic, and the contrast between Anne and the rest of her family is too stark, too Cinderella like. Part of the genius of Emma is that it takes a character who you'd think you'd have little empathy for - she's idle, vain and fairly silly - and makes you fall in love with her. Persuasion, by contrast, is a little too easy and a little too thinly plotted for my taste. If I had to pick a favorite other than Emma I would probably pick Mansfield Park, minus the last chapter.

None of which is to say that Persuasion isn't a joy to read.