that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted,

Category: Writing & Reading | Type: Discussion | Title: Persuasion (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Ch: Chapter 17

With Anne but definitively with Mrs. Smith Austen has ventured into new territory. "Elasticity of mind" and "that disposition to be comforted" (meaning her mind is disposed to take strength from itself) are attributes Austen has not formerly dwelt upon. She has suggested at times the virtue of a Stoic outlook, but Mrs. Smith's energetic courage and hopefulness go beyond a teeth-clenched, armored Stoicism.

Distinguishing Mrs. Smith is a mind that does not need to rationalize or justify her condition. She submits gracefully to it and then almost ignores it, finding abundant good within her life and work. In almost every way—her disease, her marital history, her penury and isolation, and the necessity of fortitude—she is different from every other woman in Austen. Nor is there any man who suffers as she does and none who displays her valor. 

Austen is extending her reach. Mrs. Smith has captured her and pulled her into new territory. Austen does not claim here that education or some form of "improvement" produced Mrs. Smith's resilient state of mind. Nor has Mrs. Smith reasoned or rationalized herself into acceptance of her condition. Rather her temperament comes "from nature alone"; it is innate, like the color of Mrs. Smith's eyes, "a gift." Grace. For the first time Austen goes deeper into the psyche than the transformative effects of "improvement" through education and experience to the pre-existing matter. She identifies an essential, apparently innate difference among us. Some of us are born with elasticity of mind, a gift far greater than rank or wealth or looks. Elasticity of mind, appearing as resilience and hope, enables Mrs. Smith to remain unperturbed and to deploy her abilities in the service of life, irrespective of its conditions.

It is impossible not to wonder if Austen, intuiting her own imminent descent into what later came to be called Addison's disease, is not creating through Mrs. Smith an image and guide who can conduct her through her own dreadful and finally fatal deterioration.  

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