The fresh autumn breeze is here, and with it, the beautiful russet colours of the season. Autumn always reminds me of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and poor Anne Elliot.
An Autumnal Novel
Anne Elliot, at 27, is Austen’s oldest heroine. Not unlike Charlotte Lucas in Price and Prejudice, Anne is considered well past her best, practically a spinster.
(These days, nobody thinks of 27 as a mature age, but it is worth remembering that, at the time the book was written, the average life expectancy in England was 40.) Anne’s age is partly the reason why Persuasion is considered an autumnal novel, but there is more.
The whole novel can be seen as a metaphor for the season, starting with the decay of Sir Walter Elliot’s fortune at the beginning of the novel. It’s early September, and Sir Walter’s unfortunate financial circumstances force him, his daughter Elizabeth and her companion Mrs Clay to rent out the family home and remove themselves to Bath. Anne, the second daughter, goes to stay with her sister and her husband, Mr and Mrs Musgrove, who live at Uppercross.
The Sharp Winds of Regret
It is there that Anne crosses paths once more with Captain Wentworth’s, the man she once loved and lost. Her emotions are intense, but she hides them well. Autumn becomes a time of romance, but not for Anne, who watches the Captain flirt with Mr Musgrove’s younger sisters. A month later, in November, everything changes dramatically when Louisa Musgrove takes a fall in Lyme Regis.
We all know and love what happens next. Persuasion is arguably Austen’s most romantic story, and Captain Wentworth’s letter, one of literature’s most beautifully written, heart-wrenching notes.
However, the autumnal Persuasion is far from being the only Austen novel with the fall as an important supporting character; many of Austen’s most famously romantic scenes in her other novels are set between September and November.
Let us begin with Pride and Prejudice. When Jane Bennet falls ill, Elizabeth braves the aftermath of a November downpour to visit her sister at Netherfield. Her determination, “the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion” and her famously dirty petticoat, “six inches deep in mud”, make a vivid impression on Mr Darcy, in what is a pivotal point of the story.
Elizabeth gets to know Mr Darcy in autumn, and it is also in autumn, a year later, that she becomes engaged to him. Spring is full of misunderstandings (and Darcy’s catastrophic first proposal), and during the summer, their budding romance is truncated. Darcy and Elizabeth also spend a lot of time apart. However, in the Fall, love finally conquers all.
Encounters Full of Promise
Elizabeth and Darcy aren’t the only Austen lovebirds to notice a spark after the end of summer. In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby and Marianne meet “one memorable morning” in September, “in the midst of a heavy rain.” For Marianne, the first autumn that the Dashwood ladies spend at Barnton Cottage is all about romance:
“This was the season of happiness to Marianne. Her heart was devoted to Willoughby, and the fond attachment to Norland, which she brought with her from Sussex, was more likely to be softened than she had thought it possible before, by the charms which his society bestowed on her present home.”
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 11
(A season of happiness, that is, until Willoughby breaks her heart shortly afterwards!)
Autumn is also when the Mansfield Park theatricals take place, with all kind of emotions coming to the fore. Maria Bertram and Mr Crawford engage in a perilous affair that breaks Julia’s heart, and Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram fall in love. However, as with Marianne and Willoughby, these romances may be intense, but not quite right.
Perhaps the most tragic evidence of this is Maria Bertram’s fate. She and Mr Rushworth have a gorgeous autumnal wedding shortly after the return of her father. Still, hers is no happy ending (although I give her a second chance in Miss Price’s Decision, set a few years after Mrs Rushworth’s scandalous divorce).
My Favourite Time of Year
Before I leave you today, I must admit that I, too, find the autumnal winds very romantic. While many moan about the chilly wind and the shorter days, I smile. Like Austen, for me Autumn is the season of love, perhaps because I found it just as the weather was turning and the leaves were beginning to fall.
Do you think that Autumn is particularly romantic? Can you think of any examples of the Fall as a season of love in Austen?