Persuasion 200: Can We Retrench? by Diana Birchall — 35 Comments

  1. What a wonderful job of capturing the two Elliots! It was the perfect scene. If someone didn’t know much about them, this chapter would have explained them very well. Their attitudes were pitch perfect, and I laughed out loud when Sir Walter suggested they would feel better if they looked at the Baronetage together. It was priceless. Sir Walter has so many debts that he can’t pay, and all he can think of is how to spend more money he doesn’t have. Sadly, there is nothing that will make him change. I often wonder if he ever had an unselfish moment in his life. He talks about honor a lot, but he himself has none. Austen created another family with one sensible person, and the rest of them less than sensible. What an uncomfortable position for a woman as sensitive and honorable as Anne to be in. Usually reading Persuasion makes me cringe, when I read about Sir Walter and Elizabeth. They are still cringe inducing, but leavened with a healthy dose of humor. Thank you for this fascinating look at Anne’s family.

  2. Thanks, Mari, glad you enjoyed it! You put your finger on something I hadn’t realized about Persuasion – it does keep making you cringe. The social horrors perpetrated by these utterly selfish characters are truly cringe-making, especially in context with Anne’s sensitivity and uprightness: it is so appalling that she of all people should have such a family! In this story I was trying to show what Sir Walter and Elizabeth must have literally gone through, due to their own stupid and selfish indebtedness. Austen tells how worried they are about their creditors, but doesn’t show the specific dreadfulness of such scenes. So I tried. It was fun! The fun came in making Sir Walter and Elizabeth cringe a little, themselves! That felt good. 🙂

  3. What an interesting scene Diana. Mari, you have said much of I wanted How conceited the 2 of them are to think that they are owed something by everyone because of their being part of the peerage. That, “she should consider it an honour to be allowed to dress you at all! She can make a good deal of money merely by being known as dressmaker to Miss Elizabeth Elliot of Kellynch-Hall, you know.” to me is the epitome of conceit. And having no idea of the seriousness of the debts until it is brought forcibly to his attention by threat of gaol and debtor’s prison. You wrote, “her father… pulled out a terrible mass of bills, dunning-notices, and cancelled accounts. He stirred the heap of papers uncomprehendingly.” I believe he has no idea how to manage money and no idea what the pieces of papers truly mean and, also, not willing to change No wonder so many ancestral estates are no longer in the families (my husband’s family, on his mother’s side, sold theirs in the 1770’s). And who are they going to turn to to have figure out how they will entrench? Sensible, dependable Anne of course.

    • Thank you, Deborah – yes, I agree, Jane Austen created few characters as conceited characters as those two. Jaw-dropping, aren’t they? Between them and Lady Catherine, I think we can get an idea that Austen was not too impressed with the aristocracy. Sir Walter certainly does not have a clue about how to manage money; Jane Austen says his late wife did it for him, but ever since she died, he’s been accumulating debt. Of course they should turn to Anne (the daughter who is most like her mother) for help and advice – but they don’t!

  4. You have captured Sir Walter and Elizabeth perfectly. When Sir Walter sifts through his bills you can hear another Austen character, Mr. Bennett, stating his remorse won’t last long. Obviously Sir Walter will go out and spend some more money to get over this short spell of regret. Great job!

  5. Thank you, Maggie! Sir Walter’s problem seems to be that he can’t possibly deny himself anything. As I was thinking about selfish characters in Jane Austen, I suddenly started to realize just how many there are. Selfishness is epidemic in her novels, which is a good thing, as she is hilariously merciless in depicting them!

  6. You did well in capturing the tone and severity of their financial trouble, Diana. It will not save their honour now that tradesmen have started turning down their patronage and go after the Elliots to settle the mounting debts. I hope we won’t get to see father and daughter again in London.

    • Luthien, I can’t speak for the other writers in the group, but I know that I certainly will not be sending Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth to London again! Much too dangerous.

  7. Priceless, Diana!! What a brilliant sketch. It captures perfectly the blend of arrogance and impracticality of an aristocratic upbringing and their total blindness to the fact that people need to make money to live. Wonderful!

  8. I loved this episode-you’ve captured this horrid pair delightfully and made me laugh out loud! Excellent, as ever.

  9. Others have stated my own thoughts so well. Ironic how totally opposite Elizabeth and Anne are, after growing up in the same household. And makes you wonder how many tradesmen were denied accounts or threatened with gaol due to treatment such as this by persons of the ton. Excellent portrayal of two totally self-centered individuals. Makes one want to shake them and then throw them out into the streets.

    • Sheila, it is interesting how different Elizabeth and Anne are. Jane Austen often makes siblings so different you can hardly believe they’re in the same family, experiencing the same influences (as with the Bennet sisters for instance). In this case, I think Elizabeth is “daddy’s girl” and Anne was her mother’s daughter.

  10. Brilliantly done, Diana! I too want to shake them and throw them into the streets… or gaol. Persuasion really is cringe-worthy, with these two taking a prize. Don’t they seem a little incestuous at times?

    • June, they do seem incestuous, and Jane Austen knew it herself: that’s surely why she wrote that Elizabeth had succeeded “to all that was possible” of her mother’s position!

  11. Well done Diana! Harold Cadgwith is as tenacious as a bulldog – he will not be fobbed off! I can see him peering in the windows with his eyes flitting around calculating the value of all in view.
    No! Surely not! Not the ‘R’ word! 🙂

    How humiliating. Sir Walter will start sedately scurrying out to his carriage looking neither right nor left. What a stunning revelation that tradespeople actually expect to be paid coin!! This reminds me of Walter Matthau in the movie “A New Leaf” – one of my favorites.

    • Thanks, Dave. The “in joke” of all this is that I was asked to insert, as a cameo character, the name of Harold Cadgwith, a winning reader who participated in this group’s last giveaway project. I don’t know if the real Mr. Cadgwith will be flattered by how I portrayed his name, but somehow it really did lend itself to the bulldog creditor type, didn’t it? It’s almost Dickensianly perfect! (So thank you, real Mr. Cadgwith, for letting me borrow your name!)

      • You were right with your instincts! Actually Harold is a character I made up about Chapter Two of The Darcy Brothers since I thought Theo needed a nemesis of his very own. My version of Harold is more like Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes – one as comfortable in the stews of London as well as the drawing rooms of the Ton. Actually, I think there is a Cadgwith castle ruin down on the Cornwall coast near the town of Cadgwith. So Sir Walter had best fork over the gelt or he will be receiving a late night visit. Bwahahaha. 🙂

        Here is a link to his bio-
        (please feel free to rummage around in the other notes if interested!)

        • Aha! The penny drops, Dave. Thanks for the explanation. I wasn’t involved in The Darcy Brothers so I’m afraid it went by me. The mystery is why we were asked to insert the name of him as a supposed contest winner into a story – so there’s still something I’m not understanding! Certainly no harm done, though. Harold Cadgwith came up to the mark as a Creditor for my purposes. I THOUGHT his name was too good to be true! 🙂

          • Harold probably thought his reputation would get a boost for a modest contribution to a worthy cause – of course Sir Walter will end up contributing a pouch of coins in Harold’s hand so he will slither out of sight. For now…

            • Respectfully disagree, Dave, can’t see Sir Walter giving anyone money! No, he’s sent Harold to see his agent Shepherd, who is (unlike Sir Walter) incredibly shrewd. I think Shepherd is aware of a lot of skulduggery Harold’s involved in, and threatens to expose him to the Law if he doesn’t slither off. So slither he will in the end – but thanks to Shepherd, not Sir W.

            • But Diana…. how will his agent Shepherd get paid? Or is Shepherd paying himself out of Sir Walter’s funds? muahaha!!!

            • June, I am quite sure Shepherd is the last person anybody has to worry about not getting his money! I’m sure he’s helping himself generously in many ways. Austen’s portrait of this clever crafty guy is genius. Also, don’t forget he’s got his daughter (Mrs. Clay) all set up as mistress – and possibly future wife – to the future Sir William Elliot! He’s missing no chances.

  12. A wonderfully revealing self entitled those two out of touch with reality.could wish after Anne marries Frederick that they would end up hauled off to goal..but Anne would never let that happen of course.

    • Thanks, Stephanie – you’ve made me think about what will happen to Sir Walter and Elizabeth after the end of Persuasion. Anne obviously goes off with her husband and doesn’t have much to do with her father and sister again. I suppose they end up living in Reduced Circumstances in Bath!

  13. Eeewww, Sir Walter and Elizabeth! They are SO unlikeable. These extra glimpses into their ickiness really highlights how they took pride in being aristocracy and decided that meant nothing but preen and parade themselves. Didn’t they ever consider doing anything useful?? They’re not only a drain on themselves but on everyone around them who have to suffer their rudeness and not to be paid for all the work done for them!

    • Jane Austen certainly did paint a devastating portrait of the aristocracy, Kathy! In fiddling around with Sir Walter and Elizabeth, I came to realize that, more than ever before. In her real life, she must have met some lulus!

  14. That was great, Diana! You really captured their ‘head in the sand’ attitude. Shall we look at the Baronetage to cheer ourselves up?!?!?! Good heavens! lol

    Loved Harold Cadgwith – my sympathies lie entirely with the poor unpaid tradespeople!!!

    • Thank you, Cassandra! Yes, I’m still not quite sure if Harold Cadgwith is a real person or the complete invention of Dave McKee (I have a vague idea Dave goes around under his name :-), but he turned out to be just the right person to give Sir Walter and Elizabeth a hard time!

      • I am pretty certain Dave and Harold are joined at the hip! 😉 He seems to have another incarnation, as Sir Harold Cadgwith – perhaps a distant relation of the one in your chapter!

        • (Faints) Oh, Cassandra! Sir Harold Cadgwith, indeed. The name is so good you wonder why Jane Austen herself didn’t invent and use it!

  15. Out of sight, out of mind…great chapter Diana. The idea that someone would come in demanding money!!! Novel idea…LOL!

  16. Pingback: Persuasion 200: Lady Russell and Anne Consult on Retrenchment - Random Bits of Fascination

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