Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Frances Burney's the Wanderer, Jane Austen's Persuasion, and the Cancelled Chapters

Academic journal article Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal

Frances Burney's the Wanderer, Jane Austen's Persuasion, and the Cancelled Chapters

Article excerpt

WHY DID JANE AUSTEN discard her original ending to Persuasion (1818)? I suggest that having worked up elements from Frances Burney's The Wanderer within the body of the novel, she realized that other ideas from Burney were distorting her conclusion. In her rewriting of the cancelled chapters, the only manuscript of her published works to survive, Austen can be seen swerving decisively away from The Wanderer.

Such patterns of inspiration, resistance, and creativity are typical of Austen. She especially admired Burney, singling out her novels and Maria Edgeworth's in Northanger Abbey as having "only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them" (37). If, as I argue elsewhere, reviews of The Wanderer, with their misogynistic rudeness about its sixty-two-year-old author, spurred her into creating a woman who has lost her bloom, Austen's appropriations from the novel itself suggest further support and approval. Anne Elliot's "bloom" and "exquisite" feelings, the concert and umbrella scenes, the misunderstanding between Anne and Captain Wentworth, Louisa Musgrove's fall, matters of rank, and the debate about the relationship between the sexes all appear to have been inspired by Burney. But Austen would purge other borrowings from her manuscript, such as mockery of an admiral, a heroine's disabling confusion, and a commission in which the protagonist has a painful interest.

In The Wanderer (1814), a mysterious and penniless stranger calling herself only "Ellis" arrives in England from France. Although loved by Albert Harleigh, her secret marriage prevents her from declaring a return. Albert rejects Elinor Joddrel, a fiercely Wollstonecraftian feminist who dresses as a man, and Elinor threatens suicide. After many vicissitudes, Ellis proves to be Juliet Greville, with a naval uncle and a guardian to protect her. Her husband's death allows her to marry Harleigh.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Austen's specific plunder from Burney includes Miss Brinville, who seems to have prompted the creation of Sir Walter Elliot and his daughters. She is

   a celebrated beauty, who had wasted her bloom in a perpetual search
   of admiration; and lost her prime, without suspecting it was gone,
   in vain and ambitious difficulties of choice. Yet her charms,
   however faded and changed, still, by candle-light, or when adroitly
   shaded, through a becoming skill in the arrangement of her
   headdress, appeared nearly in their first lustre, and in this view
   it was that they were always present to herself; though, by the
   world, the altered complexion, sunk eyes, and enlarged features,
   exhibited by day-light, or by common attire, were all, except
   through impertinent retrospection, that were any more noticed.
   (234)

Austen need only enlarge on Burney's sketch for Elizabeth and Sir Walter:

   It sometimes happens, that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than
   she was ten years before; and, generally speaking.... it is a time
   of life at which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with
   Elizabeth; still the same handsome Miss Elliot that she had begun
   to be thirteen years ago; and Sir Walter might be excused,
   therefore, in forgetting her age, or, at least, be deemed only half
   a fool, for thinking himself and Elizabeth as blooming as ever,
   amidst the wreck of the good looks of every body else. (6)

Where Miss Brinville deludes herself, however, Elizabeth "did not quite equal her father in personal contentment" (6). Remembering with regrets and apprehensions that thirteen winters and springs have already passed, and that she approaches "the years of danger," Elizabeth "would have rejoiced to be certain of being properly solicited by baronet-blood within the next twelvemonth or two" (7). Her "disappointment" by Mr. Elliot (7) then sets the story in motion.

Although Miss Brinville's expectations have been similarly "disappointed" at least fifty times, the "fallaciousness of self-appreciation," even when "self-detected," fails to prevent the "elastic. …

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