PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.27, NO.1 (Winter 2006)
On reading and love



Susan Allen Ford (email is Editor of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line.



For me, the months since April, when I assumed the editorship of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line, have been characterized by a certain amount of energizing and creative turmoil.  At the very time I was learning just what challenges this new editorial responsibility would involve, I was forced—amidst the dirt and confusion of improvements at my university—to leave the office and the building that had been my home for the past two decades and move into temporary quarters in a dormitory.  And although I gradually established my own nest of comforts, the decision by our local Mrs. Norris to shut off the heat at 5:00 p.m., even in December, can add a certain forlorn character to the season.


But as Fanny finds even in the chill of the East room, our surroundings can carry us out of ourselves:  her geraniums, her books, her writing desk, gifts from friends and family, even the transparencies left behind by Maria and Julia—of a cave in Italy, a lake in Cumberland, Tintern Abbey—all strangely warm her.  “Every thing was a friend, or bore her thoughts to a friend.”  Most significant for Fanny, perhaps, are her books and that writing desk (which we never actually see her use).  When Edmund visits the East room to extract her approval of his decision to act in Lovers’ Vows, he notices a book about Lord Macartney’s 1792 embassy to China, George Crabbe’s Tales in Verse, and Samuel Johnson’s Idler essays.  Although in the wake of Edmund’s announcement “there was no reading, no China, no composure for Fanny,” in general her reading informs her, comforts her, connects her to others.  She talks to Edmund about the books she’s read.  She asks Sir Thomas about the slave trade.  She frequently reads to the sometimes conscious Lady Bertram.  She shares her ideas on the sublimity of nature with the inattentive Mary Crawford.  On behalf of her sister Susan she becomes “a renter, a chuser of books.”  And of course at Mansfield we hear of her correspondence with William and in Portsmouth read letters she receives from Miss Crawford, Lady Bertram, and Edmund.  Reading and writing, then, are central not only to Fanny’s definition of self but also central to her connection to others.


In my own East room, in the absence of a fire, I too have been strangely warmed by the riches of the articles we’ve collected this year, warmed really by the voices and the relationships that these essays and the processes of publishing them represent.  The power of conversation, as another of Austen’s heroines knows, is a blessing indeed.   This issue of Persuasions On-Line is a collection of treasures that make that power real.  The 2006 AGM in Tucson, so ably coordinated by Iris Lutz and Bobbie Gay, afforded a happy opportunity for discussion and argument.  The essays represented here provide “Fresh Perspectives on Mansfield Park,” exploring issues of character and the potential of education, the relationship between Cowper’s poem and Austen’s heroine, the vexed role of Lovers’ Vows, Lady Bertram’s sexuality, and the structure of this complicated novel. 


The essays of the Miscellany take us further afield:  to considerations of place and space in Persuasion, of Austen’s earliest letters (those in the Juvenilia), of justice in Lady Susan, of Henry Crawford’s potential to reform, of the young Jane Austen’s relationship with Tom Lefroy.  Barry Roth’s annual bibliography of Jane Austen studies suggests further avenues for study and further subjects of conversation.  And, finally, Colleen Sheehan’s two essays inviting us to reconsider Emma’s solution to Mr. Elton’s charade offer a stimulating opportunity for reconsideration and interaction.  The first of the essays suggests an additional pattern of what in my fourth grade class we learned to call “context clues.”  In the light of those clues, you’re invited to reconsider Emma’s certain answer.  Professor Sheehan’s proposed solution, published 21 January 2007, the anniversary of Jane Austen’s sitting down to write Emma, appears in her second essay.


To conclude, I want to add a personal note, a recognition of my own complex debts of gratitude.  There are some quiet auditors whose invaluable contributions may be overlooked by readers of this edition of Persuasions On-Line.  The members of the Editorial Board (listed on the title page) have generously given their time and attention to the many essays submitted.  Laurie Kaplan, long-time editor of Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line has liberally bestowed hours—even weeks—of her time, giving wise counsel and practical advice.  The patience, creativity, and passionate attention to detail of both Carol Moss, JASNA’s Web Manager, and Lee Ridgeway, Publications Secretary, were absolutely essential in moving these essays to their new home in the virtual realm.      


Let the reading, and writing, and conversation in these chilly times resume!

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