In Favor of Jane Austen’s Revised Ending of Persuasion
While concerns about the high costs associated with halting the printing of Persuasion’s original ending are understandable, Austen’s revised version better showcases the stylistic talents to which her readers have become accustomed. The original ending reads as rather a hasty conclusion to a novel that is anything but rushed. After almost 200 pages of drawn out longing, suspense, and in depth behavioral analysis on Anne’s part, the pace quickens and in a mere four pages, she discovers Captain Wentworth’s true feelings and the pair become engaged. This abrupt ending leaves the reader reeling from all the coincidences which led to such an easy solution to Anne’s worries, and disappointed by its anticlimactic nature. How convenient that Anne would run into Admiral Croft, that Captain Wentworth would be relaxing in the sitting room, that Mrs. Croft would be preoccupied and leave the two alone, and that Captain Croft would insist upon Wentworth mentioning the presumed pairing of Anne and Mr. Elliot. Not to mention, Wentworth’s broaching of the subject of marriage only by the importunity of Croft lacks even a drop of the romanticism which Austen is obviously more than capable of including, based on her revision. Austen realized the artificial feel of her rapid conclusion, and the revised version contains three times as many pages, maintaining the steady pace at which the novel proceeds, allowing time for Anne and the reader to digest the information about Mr. Elliot as well as the opportunity for a more natural culmination of Anne and Wentworth’s interactions.
The revised ending presents much needed closure in regard to Mr. Elliot and the man Anne discovers him to be. In both versions, Mrs. Smith confirms Anne’s suspicions about her cousin, but in the original, it doesn’t really matter. Anne finds out the truth and then visits the Croft residence and the book is essentially over, meaning her knowledge of Mr. Elliot’s character doesn’t affect anything and in fact only creates a sense of longing in the reader for some sort of confrontation, if only to see how Anne would react to his presence. Austen’s second attempt gives Anne an opportunity to show her superior character through her familial interactions. Despite strong feelings against her cousin, who she knows to be a “disingenuous, artificial, worldly man, who has never had any better principle to guide him than selfishness,” Anne treats Mr. Elliot with respect; she’s cold enough to discourage further acquaintance, but not so distant as to arouse suspicion in her companions. The reader gains the satisfaction of seeing Mr. Elliot’s confusion along with Anne’s elegant selection of the high road in the face of a man who harmed her friend and deceived her family.
The revised ending of Persuasion must be printed if only for Anne’s speech about the effects of heartbreak on the sexes. Her dialogue with Captain Harville acts as the best explanation of Anne’s feelings in the entire novel, and to pass up on those pages is to pass up on a detailed glimpse into the mind of the protagonist. In Anne’s own words, she explains the suffering caused by not only her inability to recover from heartbreak, but also the added pain of believing Captain Wentworth recovered. This helps the reader understand Anne’s affections, as well as providing Captain Wentworth with the confidence boost needed to confess his true feelings, the impetus which otherwise might never have appeared with a character as soft-spoken as Anne. Her insistence upon the relative insensitivity of the male sex affects Wentworth so strongly that he begins his letter “I can no longer listen in silence,” displaying his passionate feelings and need for Anne to understand his actions (Austen 167). The speech also displays the intimate connection between Anne and Wentworth, as Harville believes Anne to be speaking of Captain Benewick, while Wentworth appreciates that she is in fact speaking of her own personal experience.
Anne’s argument about ease of recovery for men and women also provides commentary on the significant difference between the daily lives of the two, in addition to social constructs of gender. Anne points out that men logically should recover from heartbreak faster, since they “always have a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or another, to take [them] back to the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions” (Austen 164). Young women, on the other hand, are generally confined to a small circle of activities and spend much of their time in the privacy of their home, leaving copious amounts of time to meditate on their thoughts and feelings. When Captain Harville points out the lack of exertion forced upon Benewick, Anne backpedals and asserts that, while men have more to distract them from matters of the heart, they also recover faster purely by nature. Anne’s comments communicate the societal expectations for men to possess less feelings than women, not to be so easily overcome by emotion and therefore overcoming grief with less difficulty. When Harville corrects Anne, the description he uses reveals more depth of feeling than women might believe and a surprising willingness to admit to what some may call weakness, as he claims, “as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings” (Austen 165). However, Austen ensures that Harville maintains a masculine tone by personifying male feelings as being “capable of bearing most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather,” hinting that he opposes Anne’s statement out of a possible subconscious need for men to be superior in every aspect rather than a belief in the validity of male emotional response (Austen 165). This element of the conversation acts as valuable cultural context, since the narrator gives insight to other characters, but only as much as is possible while following Anne, which is to say, not much.
Only slightly less important than Anne’s conversation with Harville is Wentworth’s letter to Anne, confessing his love and requesting confirmation of reciprocation. This situation serves as a more passionate confession than that brought on by Croft in the original ending, with a more logical sequence of events. Anne suggests in her conversation that she has not recovered from her heartbreak, which reasonably leads Wentworth to hope that Anne still loves him and would desire a rekindling of their relationship. In the original, Anne does nothing more than deny a betrothal to Mr. Elliot, giving no hint of her feelings instead being directed towards Wentworth, yet Wentworth plows ahead with “’Anne, my own dear Anne!’ – bursting forth in the fullness of exquisite feeling,” suddenly bold after months of quietly observing (Austen 182). The reader questions why Wentworth waited so long and required so much prodding from Croft in order to ascertain Anne’s connection to Mr. Elliot if he was apparently confident that Anne felt strongly towards one of the two men. Wentworth’s resistance to inquire about Anne’s rumored relationship status portrays him as cowardly and too apathetic to be truly worthy of winning Anne. In the revised ending, however, Wentworth shows initiative by writing and delivering a message for Anne without being prompted by anything more than an overheard conversation. His choice of a letter as the mode of communication reveals justifiable uncertainty about Anne’s feelings which the words within confirm, impressing the reader with his choice to take action while simultaneously inviting sympathy for his vulnerability. He bares all, risking humiliation at the hands of his love, because he yearns for closure which only she can provide. With lines such as “You pierce my soul,” and “I am half agony, half hope,” the reader easily comprehends why Anne would feel as if she needed “Half an hour’s solitude and reflection” to “tranquilize her” (Austen 167, 168). Austen intensifies the climax by closing Wentworth’s letter with “I must go, uncertain of my fate…A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening, or never” (Austen 168). With this ultimatum, Austen establishes the agony caused by Wentworth’s state of uncertainty, his feelings so strong that he would rather never see Anne again than continue living in ignorance or with a rejection.
Austen’s original ending does the job satisfactorily and, indeed, better than many a lesser author could. Nonetheless, in dealing with the fates and emotions of her central characters, she outdoes herself in the revision. The revised version concludes the story with more clarity and a style which better matches the rest of the novel.
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