Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!
I’m a little late in the day with my remembrances, but they are nonetheless heartfelt.
For these birthday posts, I usually post a quotation that has directly to do with Jane herself. This year, I had a hard time thinking of something that felt satisfactory. I’ve long felt (and perhaps this is projection) that Jane, as an author, would consider her work her best remembrance. Thus, I’m sharing the passage that turned me from a casual Jane Austen reader to a lifelong fan. It’s not hyperbole to say that it changed my life. From Persuasion, Vol. II, Ch. XI:
Mrs. Croft left them, and Captain Wentworth, having sealed his letter with great rapidity, was indeed ready, and had even a hurried, agitated air, which shewed impatience to be gone. Anne know not how to understand it. She had the kindest “Good morning, God bless you!” from Captain Harville, but from him not a word, nor a look! He had passed out of the room without a look!
She had only time, however, to move closer to the table where he had been writing, when footsteps were heard returning; the door opened, it was himself. He begged their pardon, but he had forgotten his gloves, and instantly crossing the room to the writing table, he drew out a letter from under the scattered paper, placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time, and hastily collecting his gloves, was again out of the room, almost before Mrs. Musgrove was aware of his being in it: the work of an instant!
The revolution which one instant had made in Anne, was almost beyond expression. The letter, with a direction hardly legible, to “Miss A. E.–,” was evidently the one which he had been folding so hastily. While supposed to be writing only to Captain Benwick, he had been also addressing her! On the contents of that letter depended all which this world could do for her. Anything was possible, anything might be defied rather than suspense. Mrs. Musgrove had little arrangements of her own at her own table; to their protection she must trust, and sinking into the chair which he had occupied, succeeding to the very spot where he had leaned and written, her eyes devoured the following words:
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
“I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”
Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from.
It’s been some twenty years since I read it, and I haven’t recovered from it yet. Thanks, Jane. I hope all the love from Janeites all over the world today reached you beyond the ether.