Deborah Yaffe

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Giving thanks for Jane Austen

By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 28 2013 02:00PM

As a concept, gratitude is important to Jane Austen: Elizabeth feels it for Darcy when she learns what he's done for Lydia; Sir Thomas Bertram reduces Fanny to tears when he accuses her of lacking it. The word “gratitude” appears often in the novels; its close cousin, “thankfulness,” only a handful of times.


Today, as we gather to give thanks for food and family – and, of course, for great literature – here are two of my favorite gratitude-related passages from Austen:


All the surprise and suspense, and every other painful part of the morning dissipated by this conversation, she re-entered the house so happy as to be obliged to find an alloy in some momentary apprehensions of its being impossible to last. An interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective of everything dangerous in such high-wrought felicity; and she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.

(Persuasion, ch. 23)


She was assured of his affection; and that heart in return was solicited, which, perhaps, they pretty equally knew was already entirely his own; for, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.

(Northanger Abbey, ch. 30)


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