Book Review ~ ‘The Annotated Persuasion’

Last week I ran into Barnes & Noble to pick up the latest annotated Pride and Prejudice, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks, and since then I have been “gadding about” as Austen would say – so no time to really give it a complete read and review; but in another trek yesterday into yet another Barnes & Noble [no worries, I also have haunted the local USED booksellers!], my husband stumbled upon the just published [as in October 5, 2010]  The Annotated Persuasion, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard [New York: Anchor Books, 2010; paperbound; ISBN:  978-0-307-39078-3] – and I have discovered a veritable feast! 

Shapard is known for his annotated edition of Pride and Prejudice [which I have but it is not in hand, as I am in “gadding about” mode as mentioned above…] – so I cannot compare this book to that edition [his annotated Sense & Sensibility is to be, I believe, published in April 2011] – though I have found that work quite useful as a reliable reference source – it was first published in hardcover followed by a paperback edition; this Persuasion is only in paperback… it is also a smaller format, likely because the novel is so much shorter, but this renders the many illustrations quite small – but I quibble about these few drawbacks …. publishers decisions do not always make the most sense… 

I first look for the extras:  

An Introduction which gives a brief history of the publishing of Persuasion, and the differences in this final novel from Austen’s other works

A Chronology of the novel [will compare this to Ellen Moody’s calendar 

Maps of sites that relate to the characters and storyline: the world, England, Somerset, Lyme, and two of Bath 

A good number of b/w Illustrations – there is unfortunately no listing of these; the source is indicated under each picture, but a listing would have served as an index to the subjects, which cover all manner of Regency life:  architecture such as that in Bath with interior and exterior scenes of the Assembly Rooms; various carriages; fashion; furniture; Naval life; the Cobb in Lyme Regis; etc.  – many of these illustrations will be familiar to most readers with a modicum of knowledge about the period – and color would have been nice – but the point here of these illustrations is to serve as a starting reference for further research, and it is an added plus to have any of these included. 

Bibliography:  this also serves as a starting point – it is in no way a complete listing of sources, but likely those sources that Shapard relied on for his research.  How complete can a bibliography of Austen be without mention of Claire Tomalin’s biography under that category, or Claudia L. Johnson’s Jane Austen: Women, Politics and the Novel or Kaplan’s Jane Austen Among Women nowhere to be found – but as Shapard is an historian, it is that strength that resides in this bibliography, again a great starting point for further study – it is organized by broad subjects:  language; cultural and literary background; marriage and the family; position of women; children; housekeeping and servants; entails and estates and the landed gentry; rural and urban life; the military; medicine; the law; education; books, media, libraries; writing; postal service; transportation; theater [but no mention of the two works Jane Austen and the Theatre – two works with the same title and both quite comprehensive]; music and dance; sports; weather; the seaside resorts; houses and gardens; fashion; food; etiquette and female conduct books; and others – again, a good select listing of resources on various topics.   

The Literary commentary and annotations:  Shapard begins with the caveat that “the comments on the techniques and themes of the novel represent the personal views and interpretations of the editor…such views have been carefully considered, but inevitably they will still provoke disagreement among some readers “ [xi] – which Shapard encourages…; these annotations include such literary commentary, historical context, and definitions of words in context if they had a different meaning in Austen’s time, some repeated when necessary or cross-references provided.  

The book is arranged with the original text on the verso, the annotations and illustrations on the recto – the annotations are extensive as the following few very random examples show: 

  1. Persuasion starts with the full description of Sir Walter Elliot’s obsession with both his own personal charms and his listing in the baronetage – Shapard here provides information on that book and others of the time and the definition of “baronet” and how Sir Walter acquired his own status…
  2. Gout is fully described on pages 311 and 315, when Anne learns that the Crofts are removing to Bath dues to the Admiral’s “gouty” condition.
  3. “replaced” – [p. 103] – “they suspected great injury, but knew not where; but now the collar-bone was soon replaced”   – the annotation explains that the word “replaced” had the meaning in Austen’s time of “to be put back in its original position” rather than “to take the place of” – there is also a description of anatomical knowledge as understood at the time.
  4. Carriages get much attention whenever they are mentioned in the text – so we have descriptions and illustrations of barouches and chaise and fours, and chairs and of course Anne’s pretty little “landaulette” [p. 483]                                                                         

    a barouche


  5. Money and wealth – Wentworth’s income explained [p. 145]
  6. Servants:  various duties outlined [p.  87]
  7. Street names, shops, locations explained throughout; e.g. The Cobb; Tattersall’s [a mention on p. 14 with an illustration]; Milsom Street; Westgate Buildings;…etc…
  8. The Clergy in Austen’s time
  9. Austen’s language as delineating character:  as in the following: “Lady Russell had only to listen composedly, and wish them happy; but internally her heart reveled in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt” [p. 232] – and the annotation reads:  “Her reveling in such emotions indicates her moral inferiority to Anne, who never derives pleasure from anger or contempt.” [p. 233]
  10. Social rules and strictures:  some examples – Sunday traveling [p. 305]; shaking of hands between men and women [p. 427]; not using first names, even those of friends such as Anne and Mrs. Smith

 A look at a few key scenes will also illustrate Shapard’s invaluable commentary: 

  1. Wentworth removing young Walter Musgrove from around Anne’s neck [pp. 152-5]:  Shapard emphasizes the importance of this scene in displaying both Anne’s and Wentworth’s feelings – he quotes William Dean Howell’s how “this simple, this homely scene, is very pretty, and is very like things that happen in life, where there is reason to think that love is oftener shown in quality than quantity, and does its effect as perfectly in the little as in the great events. [from Heroines of Fiction].  Shapard also suggests that Wentworth’s reluctance to converse with Anne about what has just happened is as much due to his efforts to remain aloof as it is to a “simple dislike of thanks,” [p. 155], as is true of Mr. Knightley in Emma. 

    Brock illus - from Molland's


  2. Louisa’s fall in Lyme Regis [p. 210-15]:  Shapard describes the Cobb, the steps that were the scene of The Fall, comments on the feelings of Anne and Wentworth, the strength of the former and the uncharacteristic weakness of the latter; Anne’s carrying the “salts” [have you ever wondered why Anne IS carrying smelling salts and conveniently has them in her possession? – “here are salts – take them, take them.” [p. 210]]; the calling for the surgeon and the differences between he and an apothecary; the comic relief of “the sight of a dead young lady, nay, two dead young ladies, for it proved twice as fine as the first report.” [p. 213-4] 

    "The horror of the moment" - from Molland's


  3. and of course, The Letter! [p. 452] – Shapard so rightly states that “Wentworth’s passionate language contrasts him with other Jane Austen heroes, who are often much cooler and more rational.  It also fits with the more intense emotional tone of this novel … the letter itself is arguably the moment of highest emotion in her works…” [p. 453]  – and we are given a picture of a writing table of the time [p. 457] – there is also extensive commentary on the conversation between Capt. Harville and Anne. 

As referred to above, there are disappointments in this work – I would most wish for an index to the annotations – these could be just general subject areas, such as similar divisions as in the bibliography – so for instance – all annotations which discuss medicine could be cited, or any references to carriages, or fashion, or Bath locations, the Navy, or examples of Free Indirect Discourse, the literary allusions such as Byron’s The Corsair and Matthew Prior’s poem “Henry and Emma”, etc.  As it is, one needs to read through the entire work to find the references, and as Shapard wishes for this to be a work for reference purposes, this addition of an index would seem to be a necessity.  A index of Characters would have also been a helpful addition – one must reach for their Chapman for this information; and finally there is also no “note on the text”, important information in any such reference source – the bibliography lists Chapman’s 1933 edition, Spacks’s Norton critical edition [1995]; and the latest Cambridge edition edited by Janet Todd and Antje Blank [2006] – but I would have liked to see from whence he took the exact text…

That all said – this is a delightful and fact-filled addition to your Austen Library – and if you are already fairly well-versed in the Regency period and Austen criticism, this will serve as a copy of Persuasion where much of this information is at your fingertips; if you are just starting your adventure in reading Austen, this will be a great introduction to the very rich world of her writings, her world, and her literary themes – what more can we ask for!  [other than a hardcover with an index!]

 4 full inkwells out of 5

[please note that the illustrations are meant to illustrate this post and are not illustrations in the work being reviewed] 

7 thoughts on “Book Review ~ ‘The Annotated Persuasion’

  1. I LOVED Shapard’s Annotated Pride and Prejudice (which has a permanent place on my desk for easy reference) and am thrilled by the news of this new release. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing the news – it has totally made my day!


  2. Thank you Alexa for all your enthusiastic thank yous! I felt the same way when I found it – gave a rather loud “whoop” in the B&N! – and it totally made my day. I just re-read Persuasion a few months ago, but will now need to read it yet again [such a punishment!] and follow along with Shapard’s fact-filled annotations…

    Thanks for visiting Alexa – let me know what you think of this when you get your copy…


  3. I haven’t seen the annotated Persuasion. Thanks for mentioning it. I found the annotated Pride and Prejudice unsatisfactory. I do not want comments on the meaning of the text, I only want definitions of parts of the text. Also, a few of the annotations in P & P were wrong. I hope those in Persuasion are better. Again, though, I do not want to know what the editor thinks is Wentworth’s feelings at this point or that point, those are things the reader can decide. information on the baronetage and Wentworth’s income or carriages is welcome.
    I’ll have to look for it at B & N this weekend when we have our local JASNA meeting.
    I do pass along the availability of such publications whether I like them or not.


    • Yes, Nancy, I understand your frustration with the P&P – and Shapard does offer his interpretation on the text in this edition as well – he makes note of that – it becomes for me like any reading of someone’s analysis of a work of literature – it all just opens up opportunity for thinking and discussion – you don’t have to agree with him – of the examples I looked at, a few seemed too obvious for comment, a few offered some insight, and a few I thought off base – but with all the other information being provided I can overlook any of that – let me now what you think of it once you get a chance to look it over – I think it is worth having on your shelf, despite the very strong editorial voice.

      Thanks for visiting Nancy – any of your insights are always welcome!


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