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This is from Chapter four of "Persuasion" by Jane Austen:

She was persuaded that under every disadvantage of disapprobation at home, and every anxiety attending his profession, all their probable fears, delays, and disappointments, she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement, than she had been in the sacrifice of it; and this, she fully believed, had the usual share, had even more than the usual share of all such solicitudes and suspense been theirs, without reference to the actual results of their case, which, as it happened, would have bestowed earlier prosperity than could be reasonably calculated on.

I am confused by the syntax of the black part. The syntax seems to mean 'if even more than the usual share of such solicitudes and suspense had been theirs'. But with this explanation, the whole sentence makes no sense.

So is this a conditional clause? Or is the subject of 'had' 'this'? What does the 'usual share' mean?

Thank you.

  • 2
    The bold part is a refinement of the previous fragment. This is not an easy sentence to parse, even for mother-Brits. You did understand it properly. Kudos to you for reading Austen, one of the finest prose-smiths of all time. – RedSonja Feb 6 at 11:58
  • I don't see a conditional adjunct, but a coordination of verb phrases, the second more strongly reiterating the first. – BillJ Feb 6 at 13:33
  • Thank you for posting this question. It tells me I don't need to bother with Jane Austen. – puppetsock Feb 6 at 18:30
3

You're right, it's a conditional, and specifically a counterfactual conditional. Today we mostly introduce counterfactual conditionals with if or even if, but we can also accomplish this through inversion:

If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs...if we had some eggs.

can also be expressed with

Had we some ham, we could have ham and eggs...had we some eggs.

That version sounds somewhat old-fashioned or formal, but of course Jane Austen tends to sound somewhat old-fashioned and formal to a modern ear (if delightfully so).

It's tricky to see that this is what her "hads" are doing, because there are a lot of words and a whole sub-clause between the first "had" and the thing she is theorizing about having. It might be clearer if it were re-written a bit to conform to modern expectations:

had the usual share, had even more than the usual share of all such solicitudes and suspense been theirs,

can be rewritten

if the usual share—if even more than the usual share—of solicitudes and suspense had been theirs,

The other part that is a bit tricky about understanding this sentence is that the clauses after the semicolon have something of a garden-path quality to the modern ear:

and this, she fully believed, had the usual share

to a modern ear sounds like it should mean something like

and she fully believed that this [whatever "this" is] had the usual share (of something)

In other words, we are primed to expect that "fully believed" refers to "this" having the "usual share" of something. But here "this" refers to the entirety of what came before the semicolon (that she would have been happier if she hadn't called off the engagement), and the belief refers to this hypothesis, with "had" leading into a hypothetical condition that could apply to the hypothesis. Today we might write it more like

and she fully believed that this would be true, even if the usual share

So all together we have something like

and she fully believed that she would have been happier staying engaged, even if she and Captain Wentworth had had the usual share, or even more than the usual share, of worry and uncertainty that a long engagement can bring (without even considering the fact that, as things turned out, they wouldn't have had much worry or waiting at all).


The punctuation is a little different than what we might expect, partly because punctuation in Jane Austen's time wasn't exactly what it is today. The rules were still in flux, and sometimes Austen's punctuation was more rhetorical (indicating where a speaker would pause and for how long) rather than syntactical (dividing sentences and clauses in a hierarchical manner).

2

I think we are missing a comma. Put one after "share", so we have: "... had even more than the usual share, of all such ...". That sounds much better, to me. Now this phrase revises and amplifies the preceding occurrence of "the usual share". So all together, it says that she would have been happier if the usual (nay, if even more than the usual) share of all such solicitudes and suspense been theirs. Austin edits "usual" to "more than usual", as a sort of afterthought, to show that she is thinking things through as she puts the words down on paper. What a syntactician she is!

"Usual share" means "as much as what one would ordinarily expect in these circumstances".

  • 1
    Do you correct her, or Jane Austen? – sas08 Feb 6 at 17:48
  • @sas08, I correct whoever decided on the punctuation for this passage. Perhaps the printer. – Greg Lee Feb 7 at 5:10
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I disagree with TRomano in one respect. The highlighted phrase does represent a conditional or counterfactual.

I would paraphrase it like this:

and this, she fully believed, had the usual share, even if she had had [or even if there had been] more than the usual share of all such solicitudes,

In other words, Austen is claiming that this noteworthy exception would have made no difference. Note that the second "share" is of solicitudes, not happiness. This point is brought home by the following text:

without reference to the actual results [emphasis my own] of their case, which, as it happened, would have bestowed earlier prosperity than could be reasonably calculated on.

What to make of "the actual results of their case" without the foregoing counterfactual? Why the use of "would have bestowed" there?

In a sense, Austen in this passage is contrasting the woman's fears and anxieties (about imaginary suppositions or "what-if"s) against actual realities.

Note: I also disagree with Greg Lee about the comma. That takes the whole thing in an entirely different direction, and I am of the opinion that Austen was a superb writer who knew where to put commas where they would do the most good. In other words, she knew how to say what she wanted to say, even though she wrote in the highly periodic (and, to us, unusual) style of her time.

  • In "...and this ... had the usual share..." what is the share of? Happiness? Are we in agreement there? Are you understanding "had even more than the usual share .... been theirs" as "even if more than the usual share would have been theirs", that is, "would have been theirs if the engagement had not been broken off"? – TRomano Feb 6 at 15:52
  • @TRomano: Actually, I believe that clause is another counterfactual, or part of the same one. The semicolon sets up the firm statement that she firmly believed the foregoing statement, that she would have been happier in maintaining the engagement. The counterfactuals insist this would have been true even in these special cases. You know, I almost think this passage by itself could have been the subject of a dissertation. ^_^ – Robusto Feb 6 at 16:06
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On second thought I believe that BillJ's comment is correct. Let's reverse the order of the clauses:

Had the usual share, (indeed) had even more than the usual share of all such solicitudes and suspenses been theirs, she fully believed this: she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement, than she had been in the sacrifice of it.

Disregard the following:


Maintaining the engagement, she believed, did have the usual share of happiness even if more than the usual share of worries and fretting had been theirs.

I'm treating had even more than the usual share of all such solicitudes and suspense been theirs as a clause of concession. If we treat it as a conditional, I cannot explain the simple declarative and this, she fully believed, had the usual share.

Compare:

If it tastes bad, it's nutritious.

which can mean, "Even though it tastes bad, it is nutritious." or "Though it tastes bad, still, it is nutritious." The bad taste is conceded. It doesn't have to be understood conditionally, like If it rains, the streets get wet.

The phrase without reference ...case modifies she believed.

  • What is a "clause of concession"? Can these begin with had? – Peter Shor Feb 6 at 13:55
  • When an action takes place in spite of something else, that something else is presented in a clause of concession or a "concessive" clause. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. Whether a concessive clause can begin with had is a tricky question. I believe it can but won't have time to look for other attestations until this afternoon. The had-clause is a variant of the if-clause (Had I known... = If I had known...), and if-clauses can be concessive, as I show in my example in the answer. – TRomano Feb 6 at 14:15
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This passage, and this style of communication in general, is an excellent instance of a symptom of the author's failing cognitive abilities. Nowadays it would be labeled MCI, mild cognitive impairment, a symptomatic precursor to many kinds of dementia.

The passage is not agrammatical, but it follows such a tortured garden path that its recreation could be a plan for a large estate garden, and, in this guise, a distinctly English one, with none of the strict classicism exhibited in the continental.

For the highlighted passage can be simplified considerably to show its structure:

... This, she fully believed, had the usual share, had even more than the usual share of all such solicitudes and suspense been theirs, without reference...

is structurally similar to:

This ... had the usual share, even if more than the usual share had been theirs.

The convoluted subordination along with false parallelism and improbable contradistinction, starting a new sentence without bothering to start, are really a sign that she was internally, in her own personal writer's monologue, attempting to sidestep the loss of vocabulary for the terms she was trying to explain in this long winded, seemingly thought filled circumlocution.

This particular kind of anomia, and despite its erudition it can certainly be labeled as such, is characteristic of only a few dementias. Some, like Alzheimer's, lead to a loss of expressibility, periphrastic by shorter sentences, more Anglo-Saxon, uninflected verbs. If they are only passing my house now, the children walking to school are going to be late. Others seem to result in a loss of a few items but keep enough faculties to compensate, and may even lose inhibition, leading to longer and longer sentences attempting to capture the finer and finer, even up to exact, nuances of the lost lexemes. Austen has very successfully compensated for her imminent demise by a common tactic subconsciously used by many to cover up difficulties in production of vocabulary, both periphrasticism of the prolix indirect kind, and parataxis of the run-on, articulate but inarticulated kind.

Austen had shown herself to be a strangely popular prose esthetician in her earlier works like 'Sense and Sensibility' and 'Pride and Prejudice' (note the lack of innovation in titling, even 'The Fast and the Furious' people do something). She could keep a train of thought from one sentence barely to the next. But by the time she was writing 'Emma', the predecessor to 'Persuasion', the side effects of her other than most upright of daily habits were taking their cognitive toll; she could barely keep a consistent idea within a single paragraph long sentence. From diaries and correspondences, it is well-documented that repetitive microtraumas from pugilism, severally multiple Oxford commas (a common nearby travel destination for inhabitants of Bath, Austen's primry residence), the fowl malarial miasma of the stables during contests intergalline or canine/murine, and some other third thing contributed to her inability to rationally this is all, as the clinicians of our age are prone to utter defensively, the most not inconsistent with Vascular Dementia:

... They tend to have better free recall and fewer recall intrusions when compared with patients with Alzheimer's disease. In the more severely affected patients, or patients affected by infarcts in Wernicke's or Broca's areas, specific problems with speaking called dysarthrias and aphasias may be present.

Even in her materially privileged lower upper-middle class, without the benefit of contemporary medical practices, the ravages of daily behavior daily stole her words.

  • 1
    Did I fall asleep for a month and a half? Suddenly it feels like April... – 1006a Feb 6 at 15:19

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