Persuasion: “I am so ill I can hardly speak.”

Illustration by Niroot Puttapipat, Persuasion, The Folio Society (2007)

“So, you are come at last! I began to think I should never see you. I am so ill I can hardly speak. I have not seen a creature the whole morning!”  

“I am sorry to find you unwell,” replied Anne. “You sent me such a good account of yourself on Thursday!”  

“Yes, I made the best of it; I always do: but I was very far from well at the time; and I do not think I ever was so ill in my life as I have been all this morning: very unfit to be left alone, I am sure. Suppose I were to be seized of a sudden in some dreadful way, and not able to ring the bell! So Lady Russell would not get out. I do not think she has been in this house three times this summer.”  

Anne said what was proper, and enquired after her husband. “Oh! Charles is out shooting. I have not seen him since seven o’clock. He would go, though I told him how ill I was. He said he should not stay out long; but he has never come back, and now it is almost one. I assure you, I have not seen a soul this whole long morning.”  

“You have had your little boys with you?”  

“Yes, as long as I could bear their noise; but they are so unmanageable that they do me more harm than good. Little Charles does not mind a word I say, and Walter is growing quite as bad.”  

“Well, you will soon be better now,” replied Anne cheerfully. “You know I always cure you when I come. Anne Elliot & Mary Musgrove, Persuasion, Chapter 5 

I would like Anne Elliot to come to my house today and cure me of this retched flu bug that has taken over my life for the last five days. I can’t seem to shake it, and am beginning to feel like Mary Musgrove spread out on her divan bemoaning her ailments to her kind and loving sister Anne. 

Jane Austen treats illness and death in her novels almost like another character. She seems to plant a sick one or death in each of her novels causing reaction in the community: Mr. John Dashwood Senior dies in Sense and Sensibility causing the whole plot to begin, Mrs. Bennet and her nerves in Pride and Prejudice, Lady Bertram and her mysterious languor in Mansfield Park, Mr. Woodhouse the valetudinarian who fusses over drafts and gruel in Emma, Mrs. Tilney whose mysterious illness and death in Northanger Abbey ignites heroine Catherine Morland’s Gothic imagination, and so many sickies and deaths in Persuasion, (Mary Musgrove, Mrs. Smith, Captain Harville, Captain James Benwick, Louisa Musgrove, Fanny Harville, and Mrs. Elizabeth Elliot) that you can not turn a page and not be reminded of it. 

There is a book devoted to interpreting Jane Austen’s view on health that I have not read, but could shed some light for interested readers entitled Jane Austen and the Body: ‘The Picture of Health’, by John Wiltshire which Austen scholar Juliet McMaster recommended as “…a fine book, informed and sensitive, and it throws a spotlight on an aspect of Austen’s work all too rarely noticed.” in the literary journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction. With that clout behind it, it is well worth a peek. 

Image of Anne Elliot and Mary Musgrove by illustrator Niroot Puttapipat, Persuasion, The Folio Society, London, (2007)