One seems, too, to be able to follow her characters through the trivial round of the day’s idleness as closely as if one were pursuing them under the guidance of a modern realist. They are the most unoccupied people, I think, who ever lived in literature. They are people in whose lives a slight fall of snow is an event. Louisa Musgrave’s jump on the Cobb at Lyme Regis produces more commotion in the Jane Austen world than murder and arson do in an ordinary novel. Her people do not even seem, for the most part, to be interested in anything but their opinions of each other. They have few passions beyond match-making. They are unconcerned about any of the great events of their time. Almost the only reference in the novels to the Napoleonic Wars is a mention of the prize-money of naval officers. “Many a noble fortune,” says Mr. Shepherd in Persuasion, “has been made during the war.” Miss Austen’s principal use of the Navy outside Mansfield Park is as a means of portraying the exquisite vanity of Sir Walter Elliott—his inimitable manner of emphasizing the importance of both rank and good looks in the make-up of a gentleman. “The profession has its utility,” he says of the Navy, “but I should be sorry to see any friend of mine belonging to it.” He goes on to explain his reasons:
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 terribly; a sailor grows older sooner than any other man.
Sir Walter complains that he had once had to give place at dinner to Lord St. Ives, the son of a curate, and “a certain Admiral Baldwin, the most deplorable-looking personage you can imagine: his face the colour of mahogany, rough and rugged to the last degree, all lines and wrinkles, nine grey hairs of a side, and nothing but a dab of powder at top”:
“In the name of heaven, who is that old fellow?” said I to a friend of mine who was standing near (Sir Basil Morley). “Old fellow!” cried Sir Basil, “it is Admiral Baldwin. What do you take his age to be?” “Sixty,” said I, “or perhaps sixty-two.” “Forty,” replied Sir Basil, “forty, and no more.” Picture to yourselves my amazement; I shall not