This month’s talk was given by Mr. Andrew Varney, a retired English Literature lecturer.
Mr. Varney gave a resume of Jane Austen’s background and that of two of her brothers who served in the Navy, both attaining the rank of Rear Admiral.
He traced naval references in her novels, in particular in ‘Persuasion’ which features the naval career of Captain Wentworth. Conditions in the Navy had improved considerably by the second half of the Eighteenth Century.
In contrast to the Army, it was a meritocracy where men could rise through the ranks without money or influence. Consequently, officers were drawn from a wide social background.
Prevailing attitudes to the Navy are reflected by some of Jane Austen’s characters. In her opinion, the Navy was not just a fighting force but a touchstone of worth. She admired its bracing effect on the character and repositions of the Navy, from a fringe activity to center stage.