Sunday 25 September 2011

Louisa Musgrove's fall

As something of an Austen purist I'm not keen on sequels, prequels and spoofs of the six great novels. Recently there seems to have been a spate of well-known writers offering modernisations/re-tellings/murder mysteries. It may be fun for them but I won't be buying. Austen's genius was very rare and best left alone in my opinion.

However, I do love Austen biographies, essay collections and novels which pay homage but do not lift the characters and storylines or somehow manage to introduce zombies! I've been re-reading Persuasion for Rachel's reading week and dipping into A Truth Universally Acknowledged, Susannah Carson's selected essay collection.

Somerset Maugham has written an extremely interesting, if acerbic, essay on Pride and Prejudice which includes some radical thoughts on Persuasion. While acknowledging that Persuasion has a 'rare charm' he is unconvinced by the scene on the Cobb at Lyme and asks how Louisa managed to fall on her head when she was being jumped down from the stile. He also raises the question of Captain Wentworth's reaction to the fall:

'Anyhow she was unconscious, and the fuss that is made is unbelievable. Everybody loses his head. Captain Wentworth, who has seen action and made a fortune out of prize money is paralysed with horror.' W Somerset Maugham

My own thoughts are that Austen wanted to demonstrate that Wentworth was not invincible and this was an opportunity for Anne to assert her quiet strength. I'd love to know what you think.


Audrey said...

Huh. I never thought of that! But I think it's a funny and snarky observation. And, spookily enough, I just stopped reading P. five minutes ago, just at the point where they are about to go up those steps. Maybe there's a clue...

{I don't mind the sequels and borrowings, but I think you're right that none of them are even close to being a match for the original, and a lot of them are dreadful. But I just read that P.D. James has written a murder mystery involving the Darcys, and I would make an exception for her, even if I did!)

Anonymous said...

Great point actually - it is rather melodramatic, and unrealistic. However, when you consider that her sister and brother were there, and Captain Wentworth must have felt culpable, added to the sense of chivalry common at the time, I'm not that surprised by his reaction. An injured man on the battlefield is not the same as a teenage girl lying senseless on a pavement because you were throwing her around on a high wall, contributing to her falling off of it.

I do agree though that it is all a device to neatly turn the plot - Anne's strength shines through, Louisa neatly falls in love with the man who nurses her, and Wentworth has his eyes opened to Louisa's immaturity and Anne's steadfastness. Personally though I would have gone for broken legs - at least those realistically take six weeks to heal. A bit of concussion doesn't necessitate so long in bed, surely?!

I don't really see the point in extending Austen's plots - I can understand why people enjoy them but personally I feel that if it's not her words and her ideas then it's not the characters I know and love being written about, and I don't want to think of them having a life outside of Austen's pen.

Joan Hunter Dunn said...

I really like the way you've taken one element of the story for this post. As I am in the early stages of infatuation with Persuasion it can do no wrong in my mind so I immediately dismiss Maugham's thoughts.

Aarti said...

I love Persuasion and I remember when reading that essay collection that Maugham took me TOTALLY by surprise with his interpretation of that scene. It makes perfect sense what he says, really, but it never occurred to me before.

I like your interpretation, too. I think the scene is meant to show that Wentworth likes a woman who knows how to be calm in a crisis (however contrived said crisis may be), and I thought that the scene really just highlighted for him things about Anne he already knew and loved.

AJ said...

I have always found Maugham to be an excellent critic. Because his appreciation of other writers is both thoughtful and sincere, his criticism tends to be on point and useful. What is even more rare I think is the astuteness of his assessment of his own abilities.

I think he is right on target re: this scene in Persuasion even though I love the book.

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

Yes, I did wonder about the whole plot device of Louisa falling. I thought it was a bit exaggerated and the fact that she had to stay for days or was it weeks at Lyme just to recover. Interesting that Maugham wrote an essay about it. However, I still loved the novel. I joined the read-a-long and reviewed it last week.

Karen K. said...

I have that book too! I still haven't read it yet, too many other Janeite books to capture my attention.

However, I'm also reading The Annotated Persuasion, which is fabulous. The editor suggests that Wentworth falls apart because he's not in a naval situation, where it's expected, and she's a woman, just walking down the street doing everyday things, not like a soldier who's in a battle situation.

Of course, I agree completely that it's another way to show how Anne is reliable and dependable, and to show Wentworth how wonderful and valuable she is. This is the part where he really begins to appreciate her again, so that he can tell the Musgroves, "No one is so capable as Anne." Then of course Mary turns it all around to be about her, and I want to smack her. Again.

And I'm generally not a fan of sequels, prequels and retellings of classic works, especially Jane Austen. We'll see about the P.D. James.

Sunday Taylor said...

I also am not a fan of the sequels and borrowings, but the P.D. James sounds intriguing. I did read "The Cookbook Collector" by Allegra Goodman which is loosely based on "Sense and Sensibility" and did enjoy it. Funny that you should mention Maughm. I am currently reading "Of Human Bondage" by Somerset Maughm. So far it is excellent. It was interesting for me to read about his commentary on Austen. I don't mind if that scene invites a little skepticism, for me Austen can do no wrong.

Jo said...

I had not thought about Louisa's accident, although I did wonder about the length of recovery for concussion as well, but I put it to one side and was swept along with the novel.

Persuasion is the first Austen I have read, so I have yet to discover all the sequels, etc but perhaps I should just stick to the true and original. I am intrigued by the PD James book because I do like a murder mystery!

Penny said...

I don't want to read any sequels, prequels or criticisms of Jane Austen! I'm totally ostrich-like in my admiration of her work! (Unlike the English teacher of one of my pupils(I'm a private tutor), who told his class that 'Pride and Prejudice is utter rubbish'!!!)

I've read Persuasion only once so far, but I didn't find anything unbelievable in this episode. And when you think how long women were expected to stay in bed after having a baby, maybe they were as cautious with concussion, too?

Cathy at PotterJotter said...

Heck, I know what you mean. My daughter has a book based on P & P which has vampires and zombies in it. I can't even cope with it being in the same house as me! Awful idea.

Mae said...

I did actually think that was weird, the way Louisa injured herself but I just thought that she must have hit her head on something on the way down. When one reads fiction, I tend to be lax on the logistics!

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the steps at the Cobb? And, didn't she jump on a whim before they were ready to catch her? I think Maugham is being a bit picky here. I think he also has to put himself back into those days. Such accidents were potentially quite serious in then, partly because medical care was rather hit and miss. A doctor in our JA group did quite a lot of research into this and here is his conclusion:

"The little we can glean suggests the consequences, treatment and course of Louisa's head injury are consistent with thinking about head injury in the early 19th century, odd as they may seem today. Taking a 21st century perspective, the two and a half months Louisa spent convalescing may have been spent recovering from the treatment as much as from the injury". (Bill Coote in Sensibilities, December 2007)

JA clearly wanted something to show Anne's clear head (HA!) to Wentworth, but she wasn't really a melodramatic writer I think ... she tended to get these things right I think.

PS Nice post Nicola. Hope you don't mind my lengthy reply

Desperate Reader said...

I think Maugham is indeed being picky here not least because he must have recognised the demand the plot makes for some sort of catalytic incident at this point. Wentworth may have seen action but as Book snob points out Wentworth is partly responsible here and the horror may well be a dawning intimation of how far he's committed himself to the Musgrove's when Anne is beginning to attract him again.

I quite like the idea of breaking Louisa's legs but think the injury needs to be of a nature that might not be properly recovered from. Had Louisa suffered some sort of permanent brain damage (and she is left altered by her accident) Wentworth would have surely been honour bound to marry her. Without getting himself into this mess I don't see how he could start to understand or really forgive Anne.

Unknown said...

Ahh i love Persuasion, such a good novel.

I nominated you for an award on my blog:

Anonymous said...

I truly enjoyed your post and the thoughts and conversations it inspired.

While I don't find the convalescence all the far-fetched, I did recognize the scene as a devise to move Anne's strengths forward. Taken in the context of the time, a concussion would be considered worthy of a time in bed, I suppose.

Vintage Reading said...

Audrey, yes I think it's an amusing, quote too! Very perceptive.

booksnob, I need to visit to Lyme Regis to take a look at this Cobb! Maybe we should have a book bloggers field trip ...

Joan, I envy you coming to Persuasion for the first time. It's a wonderful book.

Aarti, I adore the book, too, and Maugham is an Austen admirer. I think he just didn't appreciate this plot device. It doesn't trouble me as much as it troubled him!

AJ, interesting, I'm not familiar with Maugham's novels or with his literary criticism, but I think this essay on Persuasion was perceptive and amusing - even though I love the book!

Mrs B, Maugham's essay is well worth reading, for me the best part of the action in Lyme is when Anne recovers her 'bloom' and is admired by the gentleman who passes her right in front of Wentworth!

Karen K, The Annotated Persuasion sounds interesting and I'd like to read other interpretations of Wentworth's panic. Oh, I agree that Mary is unbearable!

Sunday, I must confess that I have never read Maugham's novels. I stick mainly to women writers so there are huge gaps in my reading!

Jo, I envy you coming to Persuasion for the first time. It's a wonderful novel! I do like P D James, but I'm not convinced she should re-write Austen!

Cathy, I know the book you mean. The cover makes me queasy!

Penny, I'm a bit of an Austen ostrich, too. How strange that an English teacher would dismiss a writer as rubbish before his/her students have a chance to read it for themselves and make up their own minds!

Mae, maybe she dived headfirst! Yes, I think we just have to let it go.

whisperinggums, I do think a trip to the Cobb is required! Yes, I suppose there was no penicillin, antibiotics, paracetamol. All the things we rely on for speedy recovery. I agree that Austen wasn't given to melodramatics and rarely makes a mistake in detail.

Deperate Reader, 'I quite like the idea of breaking Louisa's legs'!!Made me smile! Actually Austen has some fun with this scene herself, doesn't she say that the locals gather around to enjoy the sight of a dead young lady. A brilliant satirist.

Hannah, ooh, belated thanks!!

lifeonthecuff, I do like a bit of cut and thrust in the comments box! I used to post on a book forum and we had some very lively on-line conversations. Yes, I think the recovery period is probably realistic for the time. I think Maugham has a point about Louisa hitting her head when she was jumping down but he's picky!

Penny said...

I may have mentioned this before here, but my daughter chose a module on JA as part of her English degree and the tutor hated JA! She had been told she had to teach the module, and seems to have been dragged into it kicking and screaming! My poor daughter, who was brought up properly (i.e. as a JA fanatic!), was SO disappointed and spent most tutorials sticking up for JA! 'Persuasion' was the book that the tutor eventually agreed was OK!

Vintage Reading said...

Penny, I just wish I could get my daughters to read something other than Harry Potter and Twilight!

Anonymous said...

I have always wondered how she got a concussion being jumped down. I came online just now trying to get some insight and it's a relief to see I'm not the only one who doesn't get it! I still don't. I think I originally imagined (years ago) her landing too hard on her feet, jarring her spinal column and causing some kind of upset to her brain at the top end, or else that the timing when he wasn't ready to catch her was so bad that she slipped through his arms and eventually between his legs on the ground, so that she ended up lying on the ground under him and whacked her head when it hit last. Obviously neither of these imaginings is convincing, so like I said I came looking for someone to explain.