Jane Hinckley taught an Education Week class a year ago on appreciating Jane Austen, where she discussed “Pride and Prejudice.” It was so successful that she decided to bring discussion of a second Austen book to BYU this year.
Originally, she planned to present on “Sense & Sensibility,” but that all changed when she learned the theme for 2015: “Hope: an Anchor of the Soul.”
“When I read this year’s theme, I knew I had to talk about ‘Persuasion,’” Hinckley said. “It’s the only Austen novel with anchors in it, and it’s about hope.”
During her lecture series Hinckley explained how Austen’s life influenced the book, which was originally called “The Elliots.”
One of the most comical insights was the knowledge that one of Austen’s aunts almost went to prison. Austen’s mother wrote to the aunt, asking if she wanted Jane and her sister, Cassandra, to visit her while incarcerated. Thankfully, the aunt declined.
“If Jane had lived in prison with her aunt, we would have had very different novels,” Hinckley said.
The class readily agreed that they were glad Austen novels are not more like Dickens’.
Another surprising fact is that Austen’s first books were published by a military library.
“Because when we think of the military, we always think of Jane Austen,” Hinckley joked.
Despite the odd nature of the publishing venue, Austen’s novels were greatly impacted by her pride and passion for the Navy. Two of her brothers were in the Navy and she was a great champion of it. Several of the dates mentioned in “Persuasion” coincide with Napoleon Bonaparte’s timeline of events.
In fact, Austen began writing the book the day she learned of Bonaparte’s exile.
Hinckley said “Persuasion” was written partly in an attempt to instill a sense of pride in the Navy again after their defeat in the War of 1812, and the success of the Army at Waterloo.
“Persuasion” is Austen’s last published novel and was actually published by her brother after her death. He was the one who changed the title from “The Elliots” to “Persuasion.”
The novel focuses on Anne Elliot, who at the decrepit age of 27 has few marriage prospects. After giving up the love of her life years earlier in reference to duty, her life seems dismal. However, the love interest shows up years later.
“Spoiler alert: they get together, in case you were wondering,” Hinckley said to a room full of laughter.
Hinckley plans to continue teaching at Education Week, offering audiences insight in additional novels. She would like to eventually transition to teaching classes about some of her other favorite authors including George Elliot (who is actually Mary Ann Evans) and Elizabeth Gaskell.
Hinckley decided to teach the class after her husband, Jaren, decided to teach on classical music.