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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds So, Paula, we’ve asked our learners to read a short passage from Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion, where the very mature, wise heroine, Anne Elliot, has a bit of dialogue with this chap called Captain Benwick. And he’s been heartbroken and has been reading a lot of poetry as a way of dealing with it. And Anne seems, in this passage, to say that’s maybe not a very good thing for him to have done. It’s so interesting. Don’t forget, Anne herself is broken-hearted without any sense of hope for the future. So she’s broken-hearted. I think the point about that passage, when she recommends a daily dose of prose, I think if analyse it as a wise physician of the emotions.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds And in that passage, she seems to be suggesting that if one is of a slightly depressive bent, prose can be good thing. The point about Benwick is he’s melancholic, which seems to suggest he’s a depressive. In the same way that Marianne… there’s a moment when there’s a hint that Marianne has a depressive nature. ‘She is not really merry’, says Edward Ferrars about her, ‘not really merry’. So there’s a hint that, actually, if someone has a rather depressive nature, the reading of poetry can inflame. Whereas the reading of prose, there’s something strong about prose that can sort of leaven that slight depressive tendency. So it’s fascinating that Jane Austen seems to be, at this point… it’s a character.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds So we have to be very careful about what we say Jane Austen’s saying. However, Anne seems to be suggesting that Benwick reading romantic poetry is actually making himself worse. He’s giving himself licence to indulge in dangerous emotion. So how about a bit of prose? Mm, well, we’re certainly including a bit of prose in our course. But is it a problem for our course that we’re talking about poetry as a form of stress management in difficult times? Heartbreak this week. Next week, we’re going to look at bereavement. But what Jane Austen’s character is saying is that poetry, ironically, is most appreciated by those people for whom it might be most harmful.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 seconds Precisely, the taste for poetry risks stirring up rather than assuaging or calming down those strong feelings. Do you think we ought to be putting a little bit of a health warning on our own course? Well, perhaps we should. Perhaps we should. I think it’s a very important for me, I always apply the ‘for me’, reading poetry is good ‘for me’. It can help ‘for me’. And I think, if I was putting a health warning on our course, I would say, ‘it can help for me’. We can’t say it’s prescriptive and say, ‘This is going to help everyone. It’s going to make you feel better. It’s going to make you feel worse’. I think, for me, reading poetry is helpful.

Discussing 'Persuasion' by Jane Austen

In this video, we’ll be thinking together about Anne Elliot’s advice to Captain Benwick in Persuasion.

Much of our course will be concentrating on poetry. In Week 1, we explored poetry’s ability to relieve stress by slowing us down and transporting us to a different place, and this week we’ve heard from Jack Lankester, who was comforted by a poem that reflected his own experience of heartbreak. Jane Austen’s heroine Anne Elliot, however, suggests that poetry can sometimes stir up strong emotion rather than relieving it, and her kindly warning to Benwick serves as an important reminder that we all respond differently to pieces of literature, and that poems cannot be prescribed as a universal cure.

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Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing

The University of Warwick

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