Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Propriety," wrote William Hazlitt, Jane Austen’s con-
temporary, "is one great matter in the conduct of life;
which, though like a graceful carriage of the body it is
neither definable nor striking at first sight, is the result of
finely balanced feelings and lends a secret strength and
charm to the whole character."

I just finished reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In many ways, the novel is about propriety, as Hazlitt defines it above, and Austen’s heroine, Anne Elliot, is the paragon of propriety. One dictionary defines “propriety” as “the quality of being suited to the circumstances”, which we might paraphrase as the quality of being perfectly appropriate and well-balanced, no matter what the circumstances might me. “Equanimity” is a synonym for propriety, and Anne Elliot has equanimity to a high degree. Amid all the social gyrations and struggles and petty squabbles scattered through the story, Anne remains sensible, considerate, and open-hearted. Austen herself noted that Anne is almost too good for one of her books, but I’m glad she included such a strong and decent protagonist in this restrained and dignified novel.

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