Jane Austen, Persuasion: Ch. 17

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In the course of a second visit she talked with great openness,d and Anne's astonishment increased. She could scarcely imagine a more cheerless situation in itself than Mrs Smith's. She had been very fond of her husband: she had buried him. She had been used to affluence: it was gone. She had no child to connect her with life and happiness again, no relations to assist in the arrangement of perplexed affairs, no health to make all the rest supportable. Her accommodations were limited to a noisy parlour, and a dark bedroom behind, with no possibility of moving from one to the other without assistance, which there was only one servant in the house to afford, and she never quitted the house but to be conveyed into the warm bath. Yet, in spite of all this, Anne had reason to believe that she had moments only of languor and depression, to hours of occupation and enjoyment. How could it be? She watched, observed, reflected, and finally determined that this was not a case of fortitude or of resignation only. A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted,d that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from nature alone. It was the choicest gift of Heaven; and Anne viewed her friend as one of those instances in which, by a merciful appointment, it seems designed to counterbalance almost every other want.

There had been a time, Mrs Smith told her, when her spirits had nearly failed. She could not call herself an invalid now, compared with her state on first reaching Bath. Then she had, indeed, been a pitiable object; for she had caught cold on the journey, and had hardly taken possession of her lodgings before she was again confined to her bed and suffering under severe and constant pain; and all this among strangers, with the absolute necessity of having a regular nurse, and finances at that moment particularly unfit to meet any extraordinary expense. She had weathered it, however, and could truly say that it had done her good. It had increased her comforts by making her feel herself to be in good hands. She had seen too much of the world, to expect sudden or disinterestedw attachment anywhere, but her illness had proved to her that her landlady had a character to preserve,d and would not use her ill; and she had been particularly fortunate in her nurse, as a sister of her landlady, a nurse by profession,h and who had always a home in that house when unemployed, chanced to be at liberty just in time to attend her. "And she," said Mrs Smith, "besides nursing me most admirably, has really proved an invaluable acquaintance. As soon as I could use my hands she taught me to knit, which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little thread-cases, pin-cushions and card-racks, which you always find me so busy about, and which supply me with the means of doing a little good to one or two very poor families in this neighbourhood. She had a large acquaintance, of course professionally, among those who can afford to buy, and she disposes of my merchandise. She always takes the right time for applying. Everybody's heart is open, you know, when they have recently escaped from severe pain,d or are recovering the blessing of health, and Nurse Rooke thoroughly understands when to speak. She is a shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman. Hers is a line for seeing human nature; and she has a fund of good sense and observation, which, as a companion, make her infinitely superior to thousands of those who having only received 'the best education in the world,' know nothing worth attending to. Call it gossip, if you will, but when Nurse Rooke has half an hour's leisure to bestow on me, she is sure to have something to relate that is entertaining and profitable: something that makes one know one's species better. One likes to hear what is going on, to be au faitw as to the newest modes of being trifling and silly. To me, who live so much alone, her conversation, I assure you, is a treat."

X [d] she talked with great openness,

Writing & Reading

Based on the earlier novels, Mrs. Smith is an unlikely figure in Austen, unique in her deplorable situation and unusual for her warmth and openness. She has none of the pretensions and demureness associated with women of her past and class.  Austen is advancing into new territory. Why, we might ask, is she? What interests Austen about Mrs. Smith?  …

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X [d] that elasticity of mind, that disposition to …

Writing & Reading

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.…

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X [w] disinterested


(Search.) A word of the utmost importance in Austen and in Shaftesbury, who seeks to prove that we are not, as Hobbes argued, entirely selfish and that virtue consists in a just balance between selfish and public interest. Virtue in Shaftesbury and Austen consists in, optimally, desiring that just balance and acting upon it. But even if we do not always desire it yet nevertheless voluntarily act to effect that balance, we are "esteemed virtuous."  

X [d] a character to preserve,

The landlady had a reputation to maintain, as landladies do. Whether she was self-interested or not in preserving her "respectability," Austen's premise is that we are first public selves and define ourselves publicly, and so it is reasonable to suppose that we'd at least as vigilantly protect our public self as we would our private being.

X [h] a nurse by profession,


Nurse Rooke is another first in Austen. Curiously, "rook" is "A derogatory term for: a disreputable, greedy, garrulous, or slovenly person." It's as if Austen's settling on that name she seemed to confirm the society's image of nurses as disreputable, only then to show an instance of how wrong the image is. …

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X [d] Everybody's heart is open, you know, when the…

Writing & Reading

Nurse Rooke belongs to a stratum of society to which Austen has not descended before. That Nurse Rooke can be compared favorably with those who have received "'the best education in the world'" is further testimony to Austen's growing interest in working women. Indeed, she, herself, is one now. …

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X [w] au fait

Up to the mark, informed.