Thursday, December 19, 2019

Cassandra's Persuasion Notation

It was a delight to go to an exhibit at the University of Texas Ransom Center that included early editions of Jane Austen's novels. I was especially thrilled to see Cassandra's copy of Persuasion, open to her marginalia commenting on a passage in the novel. It was hard to get a good photo, as the pencilled writing is faint, but here are two pictures:

Cassandra writes "dear dear Jane!" She then writes "this deserves to be written in letters of gold."

The passage marked is this:

How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been! how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.

This is a warm passage, as suggested by the two exclamation points that Austen uses. Cassandra's comment also reflects emotional warmth, and points to the novel's biographical or autobiographical elements. We get so few direct glimpses of Cassandra that this is instructive. 

The exhibit as a whole was interesting, including the copy of the letter in which James Edward Austen-Leigh writes to friend Edward Cheney of suppressing material in the memoir:

In treating of a subject so mixed up with private matters, I have beenchiefly anxious, by no means to offend, and, if possible, to satisfy my ownfamily, & those old personal friends whom, next to my own family, I caremost for.

I am of the school that believes there must undiscovered primary source material pertaining to Austen scattered around--probably hiding in plain sight--waiting to be found. If someone has just found Milton's copy of Shakespeare's plays on a library shelf, what more is there to be discovered in the much more recent Austin world that might shed light on hidden relationships and tensions? If Barchas didn't discover the Cheney letter until 2005, what else have we overlooked?

Just as an added bit of whimsy, I enjoyed this bit of book art in the exhibit:

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