A family-piece

A great moment from Jane Austen’s Persuasion:

Immediately surrounding Mrs Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

In noticing what a lovely scene the family makes, the narrator steps back to a frame of observation that parallels ours as readers—admiring the artistry with which the scene was assembled—such that the statement can’t quite be distinguished from Austen reflecting approvingly on herself. It’d be insufferable, of course, if the scene weren’t perfect, but it is, and the flourish sits gently on top: “a fine family-piece.”

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