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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thoughts on Jane Austen's Novel 'Persuasion'

Every year, about this time, Turbotax sends me their income tax CD so I can do my own taxes. By some happy coincidence my accountant's worksheet arrived the same day, so I took a few minutes(more like an hour) to run some hypothetical numbers.

Turbotax is really cool. As one starts to use the program, the amount owed or to be refunded is displayed in the upper left corner. The numbers are red if one owes money, and green if one should receive a refund. I enjoy using Turbotax to estimate how things will be this year, and as I put in all sorts of approximate data, I enjoy watching the numbers change. Wipe out my dependents, and my amount owed becomes huge. Donate a large sum to a fictitious charity, and watch the numbers turn green. Finally I got tired of playing, put in the correct numbers, and watched the numbers turn green and grow just a little. At this point I tossed the CD and finished filling out the CPA's papers.

Accountants and lawyers are two groups of people who have my respect and deepest appreciation. They know things which would never have occurred to me, and I have benefited greatly from their help. I was reminded of the service that lawyers and accountants have provided me today as I started reading Jane Austen's novel Persuasion. For those of you who live under a rock, Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, a woman who was persuaded to break off an engagement with her love because he had no prospects, no future, no wealth; in short, a nobody. But that is not what reminded me of lawyers. Like other Jane Austen novels, the side stories are sometimes more interesting than the main one. In this case, the novel opens up with Anne's father, Sir Walter Elliot, being informed that he has no money. He has to resort to drastic measures in order to pay off his creditors; he has to leave his home and take up residence in a smaller abode. There is a word in the book for it: 'retrench.' It sounds bad.

Since he can't afford to live on his estate, Sir Walter's LAWYER finds a tenant for it. The prospective tenant is the ideal candidate for Sir Walter's estate: married with no children. I would have to agree with this assessment. A wife will look after the house while the non-existent children will NOT destroy the furniture, draw and color on the walls, put holes in places where there were none before, flood every toilet, and dig up every plant in the garden. I am not speaking from personal experience here; I have heard that children can do these things even under close supervision.

(It reminds me of the time I tried to rent a house while I was a resident - I still recall the change in the landlady's voice when I mentioned the ages of my four children. Even more painful was renting a house with ten children. But I digress.)

There is only one drawback to the tenant, and that is where my thoughts and sentiments and sympathy diverge from those of Sir Walter Elliot. Until he said these words, I thought that Jane Austen was describing me completely. In the eyes of Sir Walter, the prospective tenant is unacceptable because he is an admiral of the Royal Navy, recently home from the sea during a lull in the action. Sir Walter summarizes his regard for the military as follows:

"...it is in two points offensive to me; I have two strong grounds of objection to it. First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and, secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man."

Never mind the second point; it is the first that struck me. You see, I was one of those who benefited greatly from serving in the Armed Forces. While I did not raise myself into undue distinction(someone said I did do the best imitation of Yoda they had ever heard), I did have the honor and privilege to care for our country's airmen, soldiers, sailors, their dependents, and retirees. I shall be forever grateful for the opportunity that I received from the United States Air Force. I am also grateful that other folks in Persuasion defend the soldiers and sailors of England. Bravo!


As an aside, I commented to Carolyn that Jane Austen had a lot of run-on sentences in Persuasion. I read her one of the sentences which made up the majority of a large paragraph. Carolyn pointed out that Persuasion was published after her death, and so the usual editing was probably not done. I was relieved to hear that, because for a while I thought I was reading the works of Henry James, or even Amanda McKittrick Ros - the inspiration for writing my Bad Poetry.

I wish I could write like Jane Austen, but for now, I have to struggle to attain the heights of heuristic holisticity happened upon by Amanda McKittrick Ros.

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Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

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Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
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