Edmund Bertram’s Diary AND Captain Wentworth’s Diary

Edmund Bertram’s Diary AND Captain Wentworth’s Diary—by Amanda Grange

It seemed fitting, since I reviewed Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Mr. Knightley’s Diary, together, to honor the next two, the diaries of the heroes of Mansfield Park and Persuasion, together as well. In sum: I eagerly await Grange’s version of the thoughts of Henry Tilney and Edward Ferrars.

These books, in essence, tell the stories we know and love, from the heroes’ perspectives. In Edmund’s case, that means he’s rather blind to Mary Crawford’s defects and his own lack of comprehension of Fanny’s true feelings for him, for most of the diary. We have to wait almost until the end, just as we do in Mansfield Park, for his comprehension. In the meantime, there is much to delight.

The first scene between Edmund and young Fanny is beautiful. What’s new here is what Edmund sees in Fanny, even when she first moves there, as he helps her write to William Price, her brother. We are also made almost immediately aware how alone Edmund is in a veritable sea of selfishness in his house, though he, like his father, doesn’t quite see it as we do. Edmund actually asks Maria and Julia to shield Fanny from Mrs. Norris while he’s at Eton, when each girl is far more concerned about her own comfort (to her credit, Julia does once speak up for Fanny). When Tom returns from Antigua, it is amazing Edmund can stomach him at all. And the play sets up a lovely foreshadowing as Maria enacts a fallen woman, and Mary, a shameless one.

In Edmund’s absence, Fanny learns a lot, largely by reading what he has told her to, and contemplating the ideas. We see more dramatic changes in her in this version of the story because he has been away. It is Fanny who helps Edmund realize he can do good in the church and has natural ease comforting the needy. It is Fanny to whom Edmund turns when Tom’s debts cause Sir Thomas to sell the Mansfield living. When Edmund goes to the Owens for his ordination, we see how much he misses Fanny and longs to share their passions for poetry and for nature with her. And though Edmund seems not to realize how often he consults or thinks about Fanny, we see where this could lead if only he would judge differently, and his later love is certainly well established.

Edmund is not most Janeites’ favorite hero. During a discussion of female manners among Edmund, Tom, and Mary, it is almost impossible for us to understand how Edmund misses how wrong Mary would be for him, but this diary reminds us that he is, in fact, seriously disturbed by many of her remarks throughout the text—about her uncle, about the clergy—but he always excuses her because he assumes it is faulty education, not faulty morals, that leads to such commentary. To his credit, he also has warm feelings for Mary every time she appears to befriend Fanny.

That, after all, is what Edmund is all about, most of the time. He helps Fanny grow more comfortable speaking in public. He helps her exercise regularly (even the time he neglects her, the diary reveals he did wants to bring the horse back, but Mary persuaded him not to). He thinks he’s protecting her (even when he’s hurting her, which, I admit, I found a bit annoying). Though he corrects her already correct observation about Henry and Maria, he does so because he knows he and Fanny share a sense of what is right and wrong, and because, for the first part of their relationship, he has been the appropriate teacher, and she, the pupil. As she matures, together, Fanny and Edmund restore order to the Bridge home (is this scene in Mansfield Park? I didn’t recall it, but I enjoyed it) and to their own home when tragedy strikes, or seems to.

Grange has a little fun giving other Austen lines to characters in Edmund’s diary. He himself uses Jane Bennet’s line to Elizabeth that she should do anything rather than marry without love. Mrs. Norris uses Mrs. Bennet’s line—“I knew how it would be”—about Maria and Rushworth; alas, she could not have known how it would be between them, and all three suffer from what is after the affair is revealed. Maria and Julia reminded me, for the first time I think, of Lydia and Kitty, but a bit smarter, more sedate, and more mature.

Reading the diary made me long to reread Mansfield Park, which is what great Austen-based fiction should do.

Frederick Wentworth’s diary, much to my surprise, is very funny! It begins with Wentworth and Harville being alarmed on land that the ground is still, as opposed to “rolling and dipping like an honest element.” The first 120 or so pages of the diary record Wentworth’s actions and thoughts before the beginning of Persuasion, so all the background information at which Austen hints in her novel is well detailed here. In that sense, this diary is very different from the other three, which deal primarily with what’s happening in the hero’s world while the events we already know about are occurring in the heroine’s. (There are also a lot of typos, which struck me as depressing; this book is being sold in stores! Who was the copy editor?!)

Frederick is trying, even before Anne appears on the scene, to make his fortune, and meets Anne as he stays with his brother, Edward, a clergyman (whom I don’t recall at all from Persuasion; did we meet him?) Young Frederick is drawn to Anne but, at first, only because he’s disgusted with how Miss Eliot speaks to her—having no idea Anne is the younger sister! Frederick’s friend Harville is smitten with Harriet, and Frederick finds such devotion amusing and almost incomprehensible at their young age—until, of course, Anne’s sweet, intelligent disposition makes its imprint on him. At that point, Wentworth is drawn to Anne not only for Anne herself but also for his own effect on her.

We learn a lot besides how Frederick and Anne fall in love. We see Charles Musgrove courting Anne. We get an interesting explanation for the rift between Mr. Elliot and Sir Walter; Miss Elliot and her father have been husband hunting too obviously, and Mr. Elliot apparently has no interest there.

When Lady Russell enters the picture, the reader begins to get a sense of foreboding. She watches Frederick attentively when Sir Walter invites Edward and Frederick to dine with them at Kellynch Hall. An ambiguous conversation between Lady Russell and Frederick does nothing to ease our suspicions, and little to ease his. And yet—it is such a happy moment when Wentworth proposes to Anne, and is gladly accepted by him, on a morning walk together. They are so right for each other, though we dread Sir Walter’s answer, and Lady Russell’s influence. Though it is rude in a Lady Catherine-esque way, Sir Walter’s reaction to the news yields a positive answer for Frederick: because it “is only Anne,” Sir Walter agrees to the marriage. But Frederick underestimates the power of Lady Russell’s influence on Anne, as we well know, and it’s only a matter of time before Anne rejects her lover’s offerings.

Grange gives us the dramatic encounter between Frederick, immediately upon learning of Anne’s change of mind, and Lady Russell, who knows she is responsible for it. In a reverse gendered way, this conversation between two intellectual equals reminded me of the conversation between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine, except that Lady Russell’s arguments have undeniable merit to them. Even Edward, Frederick’s brother, asks what would happen to Anne if she accepted Frederick, and then he was killed.

The diary picks up eight years later, in 1814, when Persuasion actually begins. Admiral (Benjamin) Croft and Sophie, Frederick’s sister, invite him to stay with them at the home they’re renting, but he agrees without reading the letters carefully because he is distracted by an onerous task ahead of him: Harville has asked Frederick to break the news of Fanny Harville’s death to Benwick, the man who had been waiting far too long to marry her and now is financially able to do so. Frederick nurses Benwick back from emptiness, and when he is ready to stay with his sister, realizes that he will be returning to the scene of some emotional moments of his youth. His diary reflects, however, that he thinks Anne has no power over him, but the reader can see obvious signs of his still thinking about her.

When he travels to Kellynch, Wentworth assumes, based on an ambiguous conversation, that Anne is the Miss Elliot who has married Charles Musgrove, and it isn’t until he learns the truth that Mary Elliot married Charles that Frederick begins to admit he has feelings for Anne. Thus begins the fun of seeing everything we’ve seen from Anne’s perspective in Persuasion from Frederick’s, here. He sees that they still have similar reactions and thoughts, and though he completely misreads Anne’s feelings towards him at some moments, the reader knows she feels very much as he does. Frederick wonders at one point if Anne “had ever missed” him when we know she has never NOT. He does not begin to hope, as we might have suspected from Persuasion, that she might still love him, until Louisa tells him that Anne rejected Charles Musgrove.

Frederick decides to propose again the night he tells the Musgroves what happened to Louisa and even leaves a note for Anne at Lady Russell’s (I don’t remember that happening in the original) keeping her posted on Louisa’s condition, not realizing that most everyone, Anne included, thinks he is in love with Louisa. He cannot, meanwhile, stop wondering what would have happened had he proposed again to Anne as soon as he had made his fortune (she later tells him she would have said yes). No one knows what Frederick suffers—until he visits his brother Edward, and tells him everything. The closeness of these brothers (even though I don’t think Frederick should have waited so long to visit his newly married brother and sister-in-law) and of each of them to their sister, Sophie, suggested to me either that their parents must have been really cool, or that the siblings bonded because their parents were so awful J.

The resolution unfolds beautifully here as it does in Persuasion (“You pierce my soul”—has anything ever been said to woman that approaches this?), and I leave it to you to decide who best deserves his or her fate: Anne and Frederick, or Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay.

Published in: on September 5, 2009 at 11:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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