Persuasion 200: “We Cannot Possibly Do Without Mrs. Clay” by Diana Birchall — 31 Comments

    • Thanks, Susan – I think Mrs. Clay has only one speech in Persuasion, when she defends working men (“The lawyer plods, quite careworn”). Even so, Jane Austen manages to make her a piece of work!

  1. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or hold my head and groan! Elizabeth and Sir Walter are so horrible! Poor Anne!

    A great sketch, Diana! I love the way you have Anne be the scapegoat for all the family’s forced economizing!!!

  2. Although this scene was not in the original work, I can see how it very easily could have been. Elizabeth and her father were such egotists they never could see the ulterior designs Mrs. Clay or the younger Mr. Elliot had on them. And of course, only Lady Russell would stand up for Anne.
    I have enjoyed these scenes as Persuasion is even more of a favorite of mine than P&P (which has many, many published “what if” variations and Persuasion does not). That’s why I am enjoying these so much! Thank you.

    • Thank you, Linda. I am enjoying this project too, exactly for the reasons you mention – Persuasion is wonderful, and has been much less explored by us variationists than P&P.

  3. Sir Walter romping in the garden and discussing his “lower regions” with Mrs. Clay? I must say, I find it all quite shocking! Haha! Well, as long as his neck cloth is still snowy and his hair perfectly arranged – that’s what really matters. Thanks for this scene, Diana!

  4. Well done Diana! This is so funny! Mrs Clay inspecting his lower regions. So that is his neck under the cravat? Or did she have to inspect his lower, lower regions to make sure all is well? There are parts he would have trouble seeing himself – even with a looking glass. LOL

    There Lady Russell goes again mentioning retrenchment – and linking Anne to the evil word. That hurt rather than helped – is she so thick? She needs to come up with some euphemism for retrenchment that Sir Walter would have less reaction to. What odds would you give that the tradesmens’ bills will never be given to Mr Shepherd? Another great post!

    • Thanks, Dave, I’m tickled to death that you were amused! 🙂 And yes, Lady Russell IS thick – Jane Austen says she’s of “sound rather than quick abilities,” and that’s her all over: meaning well but making things worse. As with poor Anne’s engagement, come to think of it…

    • I thought the same thing about the tradesmen’s bills…will be burned before they go anywhere else and she will think she is saving the day? Out of sight – out of mind?

  5. this scene had me wryly shaking my head. I agree with Dave that mentioning Anne’s involvement in the retrenchment was more harmful than helpful. Dense woman. And poor Anne. What her family thinks of her…”She does nothing of any consequence” and ” we do not need Anne at all, she would only be a burden. “. I don’t know how she endured without feeling sorry for herself. And how dense and blinded with vanity are Elizabeth and Sir Walter when it comes to Mrs. Clay. That she is “always so helpful”. Hmmmm….I agree with Dave…which lower regions? They so conveniently, in this case, forget the class distinctions, which is amazing considering how “important” they consider their she seems to stroke their egos…maybe that’s why she is considered indispensable.

    Thank you so much for this scene, Diana. I was shaking my head while chuckling as I could fully envision the scene.

  6. Sorry, part of my last thought is missing….They so conveniently forget the class distinctions, which is amazing, considering how “important” they consider their position in society to be. She seems to stroke their egos…..

    • Shaking your head and chuckling is great, Deborah, and made my day! I am so glad Jane Austen created these characters for us to play with.

  7. I feel bad for Anne, the only sensible person in the family but badly treated and looked down upon by her father and elder sister. They prefer to keep company with someone who is not of the same blood. I wonder where Anne gets the strength to persevere in her difficult situation.

      • If I’m in her shoes, I could cry when I’m alone but show a brave face in front of my tormentors. Other times I would be furious with them and thought of living away from them and let them face the music by themselves. I could be evil sometimes when things are not fair.

        Anyway great chapter, Diana. Lol at eruptions. Haha 😀

        • Luthien, the odd thing about Anne is that she never seems to have any feelings, unlike the rest of us. Maybe that’s why Jane Austen said she was taking a heroine who is “almost too good for me.”

          • I wonder ifbot is possible that after the fiasco with the broken engagement with Wentworth, If she just turned off her emotions. In a way, just giving up and going through the motions of what was expected and it just became a habit. I have done that and sometimes for years at a time.

            • That explanation really resonates, Deborah – hadn’t thought of it but it’s terribly perceptive. Not goody-goody, so much as numb. Yes.

  8. A very funny scene …but very enlightening too….how can two such snobbish and vain people overlook all of Anne’s stellar qualities ,Indeed, we do not need Anne at all, she would only be a burden. Mrs. Clay will be such an addition in our society!” yet fall for Mrs. Clays machinations…oh poor Anne…Lady Russell is of no help eithet..but soon they will be gone…yet Anne will still care for the welfare…when she should just think “good riddance”

    • Thanks, Stephanie, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Jane Austen set up these characters so interestingly and amusingly, it is great fun to play with them!

  9. You wrote this exactly as I could see JA doing so if she had included such a scene. That family duo, with the support of Mrs. Clay, cannot be so dense. They are only in denial about how their habits are what got them where they are but as long as each plays their part in kowtowing to each other and placing the blame any where else, i.e., tradesmen should be thankful for our business, Anne is no help/only a burden, etc.

    Eruptions…LOL and Mrs. Clay giving Sir Walter on his lower regions – Oh, my, the pictures drawn in my mind!

    Lady Russell – really, put your foot in your mouth and HUSH – you only make Anne sink lower in value to any other family member when it is only Anne who talks of retrenchment and put forth ideas, which were yours to begin with.

    Good chapter in filling in the chinks. Thank you. Hope the trip to England was a success.

    • Thank you very much, Sheila. Jane Austen did it so well, these characters really lend themselves to being continued just as they are! And thanks for asking about my trip. Despite the long and tiring flight, the trip was intensely joyful, and I loved it. This one was all about friends, and I visited friends in Devon, Oxford and Cambridge…and also got in some country walks, a few museums and stately homes, and all the scones and clotted cream I could “sponge”!

      • Wow! I am envious as your trip sounds so “delicious” – clotted cream and scones! Warm? I have made my own scones in the past and they are so much better if warm from the oven. And those communities…I can only dream.

        • I’m going to write a blog and include all the great stuff I ate, Sheila! Scones were warm when home made, not usually in a restaurant, but always good. Especially loved some cheese scones I had for breakfast in the Michaelhouse cafe in Cambridge.

  10. Ooh, this is brilliant writing but it makes me so irritated at Elizabeth and her father! Lady Catherine would be appalled at them for associating with a tradesman’s daughter. Has Sir Walter forgotten that Mrs Clay is not good enough to be listed in the Peerage book?

    Thank you for the visit, although I must say I did not enjoy it! So very tempted to slap Elizabeth and Sir Walter….

    Diana, if you are able, would you consider writing more of Mrs Clay? I wonder what her children and father think of her eventual fate.

    • Thanks, June, contrary to the usual order of things I’m very glad you did not enjoy it! It would hardly be healthy to actually enjoy the machinations of Mrs. Clay, about which I would indeed like to imagine more…much more…what a good idea! Thank you for it.

    • June, sorry I didn’t see this and answer sooner. Thank you for your kind comments. I would LOVE to write more about Mrs. Clay – I do believe she is a whole novel in herself!

  11. Anne is a much better woman than I!!!. Elizabeth would find her new gowns being worn by the poor and Sir Walter’s neckcloth would probably be “very” tight around his perfect neck. Even Lady Russell, I have never liked her. While being so concerned about Anne’s well being she puts her in all of these awkward postitions. As for Mrs. Clay…well she is just too good. I think Elizabeth’s affection for her is based on ego stroking and as an old Public Health Nurse, how did Sir Walter get these eruptions. Naughty thoughts. Wonderful writing, I could “see” the entire interaction. I look forward to more from you!

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