Why Mrs. Clay? Persuadable: Chapter 1

I highly recommend this
particular annotation
After the fun of A Man of Few Words, I decided to try my hand at another Jane Austen. Mansfield Park is far too overwhelming and Northanger Abbey is difficult to infiltrate (Northanger Abbey is supremely funny; it is also more satire than story).

Sense & Sensibility, although an interesting exploration of personality--and a great movie, does not hold my interest as a novel. And Emma has been so successfully and lovingly satirized by Clueless, not much more needs to be said.

That left me with Persuasion.

As with Pride & Prejudice, there are tributes to Persuasion told from Captain Wentworth's point of view. My problem here was that no matter how often I've read and reread the novel, Captain Wentworth remains a blank to me. He is extroverted, charismatic, and popular: I find myself unable to empathize with him to the degree necessary for a tribute.

The handsomest--and most Darcy-like--
of the film Wentworths: Rupert Penry-Jones.
To a degree, I can enter into Anne's feelings, Austen does such a magnificent job showing us all the varying emotions, confused ponderings, and insecurities of a woman in love. And all the petty, obnoxious, ordinary people in the novel are well within my grasp. But Wentworth, even now, is something of a cipher (I'll discuss him more later when he enters the narrative).

Consequently, I decided to try my hand at one of the least popular characters: Mrs. Clay.

As with A Man of Few Words, I decided not to stray too far from the text. Luckily for me, Austen gives Mrs. Clay a kind of pass. Towards the end of the novel, Anne reflects that--
Mrs. Clay's selfishness was not so complicate[d] nor so revolting as [Mr. Elliot's].
(I'll come to Mr. Elliot's defense in a later post.)

As Jane Austen knew, nineteenth century life was not easy on women of brains and no money. Nowadays, Mrs. Clay could become an attorney or a saleswoman or a real estate agent (not a politician: her manipulations are too personal; she has no interest in saving the universe). In Austen's time, her opportunities were limited to (1) marrying; (2) marrying well.

The following passage from Persuadable refers to Mrs. Penelope Clay's return to the Kellynch area after her first husband's death:
Although Billie Piper's image here is from
Mansfield Park, I consider her the closest
image to mine and Austen's description
of Mrs. Clay: coy, supposedly "common"
yet dangerously beguiling.
Not that Mr. Clay made much money. He left little to his widow and sons when he died. Penelope, eight-year-old Robert, and five-year-old Charlie had to relocate to her parents’ home after the funeral; Penelope did not, however, plan to settle into widowed obscurity, smiling gently on her active boys from a chimney corner.
Luckily, she’d had sons, not daughters. Her mother preferred males in the household and was perfectly willing to endure a boy’s cleverness (that in a girl, she would label “insolence”) and animal spirits (rather than “fuss”) for the pleasure of bragging about her grandsons to the neighbors.
Penelope knew: No one will brag about me. I’ll have to claim my future without assistance.
This time she would marry for money, ensuring a university education for her sons. Penelope didn’t have much maternal feeling—except to be pleasantly surprised that her sons weren’t dunces. But she owed them a future.
For herself, she wanted independence from her parents and long-term security. She had seen too many women, widows of tutors and surveyors, forced to move into tiny rooms from which they wrote desperate, begging letters to friends and family. Penelope woke sometimes from nightmares filled with tatty furniture and dirty window panes, overcome by a sensation of drowning. She would never suffer such a life. She had been a passable wife. She could be one again. She already knew she could tolerate a boring man.
And Sir Walter was boring.

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