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The Custom of the Country
Edith Wharton, Linda Wagner-Martin
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Leo Tolstoy, Louise Maude, Alymer Maude

Persuasion (Penguin Classics)

Persuasion - Jane Austen, Gillian Beer description

If a company like Dot Mobile had its way, the “sentence” above could be the distilled version of Persuasion. The company proposes condensing classical works of literature into text messages (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10084329/). As they explain, Paradise Lost could be reduced to "devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war." (The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war.).” John Sutherland, a London English professor who served as a consultant for Dot Mobile, gushingly comments, "Take, for example, the ending to Jane Eyre — 'MadwyfSetsFyr2Haus.' (Mad wife sets fire to house.) Was ever a climax better compressed?" Sutherland, in speaking of the “condensed nature of text messages” asserts that the format would allow students to "filet out the important elements in a plot."

Fuck you, Professor Sutherland, quite simply fuck you. Clearly your brain has been filleted.

Literature is more than its compressed paraphrase. We read for the details, the complexity, and the pleasure derived as the plot and characters slowly unfold.

* * *

Anne Elliott appears, at first, a hopeless heroine. Seen through the point of view of her vain and silly father, the narrator provides the following description:
A few years before, Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem. He had never indulged much hope, he had now none…”

But Ann has many charms. As others on GR have commented, Anne’s temperament is quiet, and admirably so. To use a couple of Charlotte Brontë’s characters as a grid, Anne is more of a Lucy Snowe (Villette) than a Jane Eyre. The distinction reminds me of a talk—about women and friendship—that I attended some time ago. The extended metaphor used was rather sappy. Women were compared to roses of three different colors: white roses were those who were quiet, wise, introspective, and often inspired confidences; yellow roses, not surprisingly, were sunny, the type who makes other feel better and more optimistic; and red roses--again, no surprises here--were passionate, the fiery types who lose their temper, see injustices everywhere, and often speak out, sometimes rashly.

After the talk, I asked a friend of mine what kind of rose she thought I might be. I was secretly hoping she’d view me as the wise, temperate “white rose,” but no. Without a moment’s hesitation, she stated, “You’re a red rose, bordering on purple.” …The distinctions, of course, were stupid. Not just because I wound being a red rose, but because—in fact—most of us possess all of these qualities at various moments.

Anne Elliott, though a classic white rose, is a lot more. Her resolute stance to reject Charles Musgrove, though accomplished without outbursts or displays of passion, show her spirit and temper nevertheless. Anne knows the marriage will not work, and all its material advantages do not persuade her. She was persuaded once, and she has learned.

Though often the brunt of comments that might crush lesser mortals, Anne works to boost the spirits of those around her. While no stand-up comic or font* of false cheeriness, Anne’s well placed comments often work to make others less miserable or to see their circumstances in a more favorable light.

In short, it is the nuances of Anne Elliott’s evolving character that engage the reader. No text message can capture the heart of this book. It doesn’t matter that we have a pretty good sense from the outset what will occur. It is Austen’s subtle unraveling that captures our imagination and holds our interest.

And so, to all the readers wanting an easy fix, a compressed text message version of literature, I say—in true red rose fashion, FCK U.


*Just looked this up, and am now thoroughly confused. There is a lot of disagreement as to whether the proper expression would be something like "font of knowledge" or "fount of knowledge." ?