View Full Version : Perspectives on Persuasion.

08-13-2009, 08:24 PM
Forum note August 11, mollie writes:
“Lady Russell's motivations are recognized as being kindly intentioned, by both Anne and Wentworth. I think it is not our place to second guess them.”....“I think what Austen is getting at is the great beauty of this novel. When I read it at sixteen, and twenty, and twenty three and twenty five, I did not appreciate it as I do now, at thirty five.”
I'm delighted at the implied recognition that Austen is for 'grown-ups'. That is mentally, but chronologically as well, since it implies life's experience in understanding Austen. A concept well expressed that rereading a great work changes as we mature.
In the in the introduction to Modern Critical Interpretations, Bloom writes of Persuasion : “The word goes back to a root meaning “sweet” or “pleasant,” so that the good of performance or non-performance has a tang of taste rather than of moral judgment about it.... The sadness enriches what I call the novel's canonical persuasiveness, its way of showing us its extraordinary aesthetic distinction.”
There's the word – aesthetics , that a certain English major disparaged. What irony to state - “We all know what Bloom has to say, or at least, understand well enough as he only has 3 or 4 ideas he keeps rehashing”. Well, only two brilliant ideas would be enough in a lifetime for a critic, in contrast to an Austen major who exhausted the subject and hasn't displayed yet one.

In Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations, Stuart Tave, A Litz, Gene Ruoff, Julia Brown, Susan Morgan, Tony Tanner, Claudia Johnson, John Wiltshire, Adele Pinch and Claude Rawson, have happily contributed essays, under Harold Bloom as editor. Ten in all who share a fascination of Persuasion and are happy to share with us the “Anne Elliot as a threshold figure, poised in between two houses, her father's and her prospective husbands”, as Bloom succinctly summarized.
I have extracted the more unusual themes from the essays. One's that particularly I found striking, but I would strongly urge all to read the full essays since each has a particular view and style on Austen that is impossible to catch in a summary. Thus in no particular order I'll sketch some of the essays.

Gene W. Ruoff – Anne Elliot's Dowry: Reflections on the Ending of Persuasion.

“The simple fact that Jane Austen's heroines, heroes, and other characters of value invariably find their proper rewards suggests a belief that nothing is so radically wrong with self or society that good sense, moderation, patience, and humor cannot finally make things work out. Few would claim that such a belief would be deeply Romantic”. In the word 'Romantic' lies possible confusion, in equating its meaning with the contemporary term 'romance'. A natural extrapolation, for after all is Pride and Prejudice, not a story of love and marriage? But such confusion does a disservice to the Austen's art.

Bloom points to the difference - “That kind of communication in Persuasion depends upon deep “affection”, a word that Austen values over “love”. “Affection between woman and man, in Austen is the more profound and lasting emotion.”
Paradoxically Ruoff in the guise of a contemporary reader, posses the question: “why should the people be unhappy? Are there not landed gentry, country parsons, and even wealthy naval commanders for them to marry?” Why shouldn't Persuasion be read as a 'love story'?
G. Ruoff adds the caution of reading Persuasion as a 'love story', by noting the meaning of 'estate' in which the theme of the novel evolves.”In seeking the grounds of community in Persuasion, one might recall that a primary function of the estate in earlier endings was to stimulate familial and cultural memory”..... “Jane Austen's earlier emphases on discovery of a secure center and maintenance of familial bonds, however inadequate the parents, are signs of her interest in cultural continuity.”
“Jane Austen's earlier emphases on discovery of a secure center and maintenance of familial bonds, however inadequate the parents, are signs of her interest in cultural continuity.” .... “Jane Austen's novels do affirm the values of a social order is undeniable; but how a proper society comes into being within them, how its values are grounded, and how its structure relates to the commonplace hierarchies of wealth and rank are problematic.”....”Without fixed geographical center, proximity can play no role in these newly formed relationships, nor to a large degree do a number of other familiar Austenian bonding agents – blood ties, cultural backgrounds, ages, and even dispositions.”

The ending of Pride and Prejudice is govern by motifs of physical and psychological distance. In the reformed social order which closes the book, Pemberly has become the center of societal values, just as its inhabitants are the center of human values. The worth of other characters is mapped in terms of their proximity and access to Pemberly. ...”Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.”... Mr. Bennett “delighted in going to Pemberly, especially when he was least expected.” ... Lydia is “occasionally a visitor” but Wickham could “newer receive him at Pemberly.”
Alistair Duckworth in The Improvement of the Estate notes that in Persuasion the estate has been abandoned, the geographical center is absent. “The conclusion of Persuasion differs from from those of the preceding novels:” the final marriage of the novel is not a 'social' marriage in the way that previous marriages are in Jane Austen; Anne's union with Wentworth. fails to guarantee a broader union of themes and attitudes in Persuasion as say, Elizabeth's union with Darcy does in Pride and Prejudice. Nor, uniquely among Jane Austen heroines,, does Anne return to the stable and rooted existence of the land; she has 'no Uppercross-hall before her, no landed estate, no headship of a family'”.
In Persuasion Austen's style undergoes a deepening realism. But at a price. William A. Walling remarks of Persuasion that “Austen's art conveys to us a peculiarly modern terror: that our only recourse amid the accelerations of history is to commit our deepest energies to an intense personal relationship, but that an intense personal relationship is inevitably subject to its own kind of terrible precariousness.”

08-15-2009, 08:29 PM
Stuart M. Tave – Anne Elliot, Whose Word Had No Weight.

“The first sentence that introduces Anne Elliot's name tell us that with either her father or her sister “her word had no weight ... she was only Anne”.
"Nobody hears Anne, nobody sees her, but it is she who is ever at the center.”

After an Elizabeth who is usually described as young, bright and sparkling or an Emma, who is so self assured that arrogant is an appropriate characterization, isn't it unusual that Austen would bring to life an Anne who 'when she hears that Wentworth, having seen her again for the first time in eight years, thought her altered beyond his knowledge, “Anne fully submitted, in silent, deep mortification” '.

How can a submissive character be always at the center? How can an ironic view point be sustained even with secondary characters, when the center is 'submissive', lacking the enthusiasm that makes a character memorable?
Tave makes the argument - “The mortification is the painful recognition of one's own deficiencies which only the best can learn from. Anne's is deep, because it goes to her deepest desires, tells her that the loved woman she once was has been destroyed. That it is silent is in her best mode of isolated knowledge and contained suffering. She admits fully, without any reservations that might protect herself by timidity or reaction. She submits to the necessity and undergoes the truth. She does not deny it – doubtless it was so; she does not attempt to revenge herself by a return in kind upon him.”
Therefore can Persuasion be viewed as a 'love story', a romance? Or is Austen experimenting in a form that can be viewed as a psychological study, a century before the concept was understood?

In the first chapter the Elliot family is introduced and a particular friend, Lady Russell. “She had, however, one very intimate friend, a sensible, deserving woman, who had been brought, by strong attachment to herself, to settle close by her, in the village of Kellynch; and on her kindness and advice, Lady Elliot mainly relied for the best help and maintenance of the good principles and instruction which she had been anxiously giving her daughters.
For Anne “To Lady Russell, indeed, she was a most dear and highly valued god-daughter, favourite, and friend. Lady Russell loved them all;but it was only in Anne that she could fancy the mother to revive again.”
When Anne recalls Lady Russell's advice, not that the advice was right, “But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her.”, and Tave explains - “If she had done otherwise she should have suffered more in continuing the engagement that she did even in giving it up, because she should have suffered in her conscience.”
If we are to understand Anne's mind, her conscience, then how are we to reconcile the Anne in chapter 26 when Wentwoth asks: “Tell me if, when I returned to England in the year eight, with a few thousand pounds, and was posted into the Laconia, if I had then written to you, would you have answered my letter? Would you, in short, have renewed the engagement then?"
And Anne answers: "Would I!" was all her answer; but the accent was decisive enough.”

Yes the answer is decisive but it is given six years latter. The answer is resolute but does Anne know her own character? Anne was 18 when relying in Lady Russell's advice, rejected Wentworth's proposal. The decisive – 'Would I' implies that within two years, the submissive girl had become resolute to reject her only friend's, of the substitute mother, advise and accept Wentworh! What in Anne's character would explain such a change?

Chapter 26 - Wentworth's self reproach: “Six years of separation and suffering might have been spared. “, applies equally to Anne. Had she been resolute, had given some understanding of her feelings, the six years of doubt could have been spared. Therefore Anne's “Would I” adds but some poignancy to the moment, but it does not confirm a change in Anne's submissiveness.
Austen resolves Lady Russell's bad advice in a very non dramatic fashion - “here was nothing less for Lady Russell to do, than to admit that she had been pretty completely wrong, and to take up a new set of opinions and of hopes.”
“Anne, satisfied at a very early period of Lady Russell's meaning to love Captain Wentworth as she ought, had no other alloy to the happiness of her prospects than what arose from the consciousness of having no relations to bestow on him which a man of sense could value.”
“But she was a very good woman, and if her second object was to be sensible and well-judging, her first was to see Anne happy. She loved Anne better than she loved her own abilities; and when the awkwardness of the beginning was over, found little hardship in attaching herself as a mother to the man who was securing the happiness of her other child.

“For the last point must be that if Anne, as heroine, has what seems to be specifically feminine virtues of submission and patience, of feelings, and yet she has what may seem to be masculine virtues of activity and usefulness, of exertion, the better definition of her heroism can only be that she makes these distinctions irrelevant to her comprehensive human greatness.” “It is certainly one improvement of the revised ending that it is Anne's action, in her conversation with Captain Harville, that brings her and Wentworth together, as it was her action that years earlier separated them.”
However the distinction of direct action and of indirect has to be noted. Anne does not address Wentworth and it is Wentworth's act of writing the letter that brings forth the reattachment. Anne is passive upto reading the letter.

08-16-2009, 06:35 AM
Il y avait une fois quelqu'un sur LitNet qui a dit: <<Des monologues ne sont pas très intéressant>>...

Au reste, vous arrivez à la même conclusion que les autres dans votre dernière pièce...

A long time ago there was someone on this forum who said: 'Monologues are not very interesting'...

And anyway, you arrive at the same conclusion as the rest of us in your last piece.

08-16-2009, 08:39 AM
Kiki, why the French? I understand the gist of it, but have I missed something as to why it's in French? I admit I didn't read the previous 2 posts thoroughly, just skimmed, so did I miss something?

08-17-2009, 10:14 AM
A. Walton Litz – Persuasion: forms of estrangement.

Litz starts the essay with a quote from Virginia Woolf in the Common Reader - she found that Persuasion was characterized by ' a peculiar beauty and peculiar dullness.' 'The dullness is that which is so often marks the transition between two different periods. .... Her mind is not altogether on her object. But, while we feel that Jane Austen has done this before, and done it better, we also feel that she is trying to do something which she has never attempted.'
Litz continues: “Jane Austen has her eye on new effects in Persuasion, and situations or characters which yielded such rich comic pleasures in previous novels are given summary treatment. Most readers would also agree that there is a 'peculiar' beauty in Persuasion, That it has to do with new allegiance to feeling rather than prudence, to poetry rather than prose, and it springs from a deep sense of personal loss. As Virginia Wolf phrases it, Jane Austen 'is beginning to discover that the world is larger, more mysterious, and more romantic than she had supposed.'....'We feel it to be true of herself when she says of Anne:'She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older – the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.'
An astonishing and insightful observation of Austen herself.

“In the opening chapters of Persuasion Jane Austen is most poetic, most Wordsworthian, when she is willing to abandon the literary allusion and give herself to a direct passionate rendering of nature's changing face.”
Angus Wilson's(1) reply to those who say 'that there is no poetry in Jane Austen.' “The poetry is there in the 'essential atmosphere of her novels – an instinctive response to those basic realities of nature, the weather and the seasons.” The fact of being alive'. As Wilson says, 'is never absent from the texture of the thoughts of her heroines.'

“An hour's complete leisure for such reflection as these, on a dark November day, a small thick rain almost blotting out the very few objects ever to be discerned from the windows, was enough to make the sound of Lady Russel's carriage exceedingly welcome; and yet, though desirous to be gone, she could not quit the mansion-house, or look an adieu to the cottage, with its black, dripping, and comfortless veranda, or even notice through the misty glasses the last humble tenements of the village, without a saddened heart. - Scenes had passed in Uppercross, which made it precious. It stood the record of many sensations of pain, once severe,but now softened ... She left it all behind her; all but the recollection that such things had been.” - Persuasion chapter 13. It is beautiful and melancholy.

Compare the above passage to the rhythm of the sentence structure in chapter one:
“Thirteen years had seen [Elizabeth] the mistress of Kellynch Hall, presiding and directing with self-possession and decision which could newer have given the idea of her being younger than she was. For thirteen years had she been doing the honours, and and laying down the domestic law at home, and leading the way to the chaise and four, and walking immediately after Lady Russell out of all the drawing-rooms and dining-rooms in the country. Thirteen winters' revolving frosts had seen her opening every ball of credit which a scanty neighbourhood afforded, and thirteen springs shewn their blossoms, as she travelled up to London with her father, for a few weeks' annual enjoyment of the great world. “

The passage is beautiful but here memory has a feeling of contentment, even of pride. “This marvelous passage, which acts out the progress of time and exposes the static lives of Kellynch Hall, would have been cast in a very different form in the earlier fictions. Narrative summary and authorial commentary have given way to poetic sense of time's change that commands the first volume of Persuasion. The chapters set in Somerset are pervaded with references to the autumnal landscape, which dominates Anne's emotions as she waits with little hope for 'a second spring of youth and beauty”.
“The language of the second volume, although less satisfying to our modern taste, is deliberately fashioned to express this sense of personalities moving in a vacuum. The rich metaphors of Volume One are replaced by eighteen-century value terms of earlier novels, but – as Virginia Woolf noted – with a sense of perfunctory ritual. It is as if Jane Austen, is hurrying to the final reunion, were at long last impatient with those weighty terms of judgment and admonition that had served her so well in earlier years. In space of seven pages (pp140-7) the word word 'sensible' occurs six times along with 'pride', 'understanding', 'decorum', candid', amiable', sensibility', and imaginations'. This is an aggressive return to the abstract language of earlier fictions, but it is difficult to tell whether Jane Austen does so out of boredom – as Virginia Woolf seems to imply – or out of desire to convey the eighteen-century stasis of Bath. In ant case, the contrast between the first and second volumes of Persuasion is profound in the realm of language and metaphor, reflecting the radical dislocation of Anne Elliot.”
“Another aspect of the style in Persuasion, ... is a rapid and nervous syntax designed to imitate the bombardment of impressions upon the mind. A fine example occurs when Anne, a victim of the rambunctious child Walter, is rescued by Captain Wentworth:
In another moment, however, she found herself in the state of being released from him; some one was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much, that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.”
“Here the passive construction, the indefinite pronouns, and the staccato syntax all imitate the effect of the incident upon Anne's mind.” “Page(2) is certainly right when he says that such passages, do not make statements about an emotional situation but suggest the quality of the experience through the movement of the prose.”

“The ending of Persuasion, unlike that of the other novels, is open and problematic. One could gleam from Persuasion a list of terms which would make it sound like a textbook in modern sociology: 'estrangement, 'imprisonment', 'alienations', 'removals', and the heroine is 'only Anne'.”


(1) Angus Wilson, Critical Essays on Jane Austen, (London 1968)
(2)Norman Page, The Language of Jane Austen, (oxford 1972)

Note: “xxx” designates direct quotations from the essay of the author.
'yyy' designates material identified by the author quoting another source
material without any quotation marks is my commentary.

08-17-2009, 03:43 PM
Well, the ending of P&P is not exaactly closed and perfect... Lizzy and Darcy got married, loved the Gardiners, had her father and mother from time to time, had Lydia from time to time too, but what happened after that? Did they get children, how many? How long did they still live? etc etc.

So that is an open ending too.

The end of Persuasion is in that respect just the same. Wentworth and Anne marry, Lady Russell sees sense and what happened with her family? Indeed she probably alientated from them, but frankly that is the whole point! Who would want to associte himself with that mob? They do not respect you, are no interested in you, boss you around, always do you short, let you do the nasty work and do totally not take notice of you at all.

Anne's father would probably say that she degraded herself in marrying 'a sailor', but frankly, are Admiral and Mrs Croft not nicer people?

It is a semi-open ending (in the way that the storylines clearly meet their end, but that there should still come some more after that in the way that a fairytale ends), but problematic? What is problematic here actually? Ann ends up with a loving husband who has a great career before him, she gains a lovely sister- and brother-in-law, she gains an intelligent and profound friend in Benwick, and down-to-earth people in Lyme and she will no longer be bossed around, taken advantage of and taken for granted. Who, in Anne's place, would not have wanted that?

It is true that Persuasion is more focussed on the people and not on the things that happen (unlike in P&P), but on the other hand, the times that change are not necessary. They are no must. Anne is not forced to marry anymore (unlie Lizzy whose first object it is to find a man), it is only Elizabeth and her father's doing that they have to move out of their belovd Kellynch Hall. They spent al the money, so they are to blame. In P&P this irony did not occur. In a way Persuasion could be deemed more realistic. Instead of addressing nature for salvation (iike Darcy), what do Sir Walter and Elizabeth do? They address Bath. Do they get better? Naturally not! Who would become better in a city of all places?

The pride and contentment when they leave Kellynch is only there in the mind of Elizabeth (free indirect speech) and not in Anne's. Maybe in Sir Walter's. Sir Walter nor Elizabeth realise what is wrong with their way of living and they are alientated from what really matters: nature. That is not at all the case with the Crofts (nor Wentworth) who have spent all their time at sea and who spend great great time in the grounds of Kellynch. They seem alienated from society almost...

The symbolic meaning of Wentworth who takes the boy off Anne's shoulders goes so far that he literally takes (Sir) Walter off her back. It is a huge weight that is heavy for her and he is the only one who can take it away, but only if he wants. Sir Walter is everything that is of her class: 'thou shalt not marry a sailor', 'thou shalt honour thy family (even if they are not nice to thee)', 'thou shalt spend money (even if thou dost not have it)', 'thou shalt display contempt to people of lesser class', 'thou shalt not spend time with people of lesser class'... He only can take that off her as he is the only one who still would like to marry her and who is not of her class (unlike Elliot).

Alientation, in this ironic way has a good connotation, that is the point and that is the great laugh.

08-18-2009, 02:20 PM
Julia Prewitt Brown - The Radical Pessimism of Persuasion.

In the following two essays I wished to examine a perspective of Persuasion from a female scholar's view point. None would contest that there is a thematic and stylistic difference between Dickens and Austen and that such may be attributed to experience of the world. It would be interesting if such was the case in the essays. Such were my expectations, but I got a surprise. Whether interesting or not I'll let you decide.

“Jane Austen wrote Persuasion during her illness under circumstances similar to those of Mrs. Smith. In a curious way, she seems to blame Anne for the isolation and sadness that Mrs. Smith would be justified in feeling. A poverty-stricken invalid possesses a cheerful fortitude, while Anne Elliot indulges in tender sonnets of declining happiness and, unlike the farmer, does not mean “to have spring again”. “
Brown reinforces the pessimistic view by: “Because Anne Elliot is fatigued and despondent, the mood of the narrative is one of resignation and exhausted care. A sense of things ended, things spent, powerfully characterizes the beginning of the novel. It appears in images of finished movement. ... the exhaustion implied in these metaphors is intensified by the opening conviction that we have hit the rock bottom of moral life in Sir Walter. ... Even the heroine participates in the oppression, because she has given up hope of influencing or changing her environment. Anne's revenge upon her father and sister is that she does not try to change them. She has been disappointed in love and is unable to get beyond the experience.”

A very harsh reading.
But Anne's revenge? The Anne who believes - But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her. Revenge is a word, a concept, that Jane Austen did not use, an element foreign to Anne's psyche. Brown has an unusual perception of Austen in Persuasion. “Jane Austen's narrator never calls on the reader with the majesty of compassion one finds in George Eliot, she never pretends to enlist the better part of ourselves. Her method is to provoke us into participation by stimulating our judgment in a variety of ways: challenging, withholding, encouraging, and satirizing it. The result is an exuberance of interchange between reader and narrator that serves to counteract the corrosives of many of the insights contained in the story. The absence of this exuberance is conspicuous in Persuasion; the narrator no longer cares what the reader thinks.”

In Brown's view Anne's fault is not submissiveness but “The heroine's failure to fulfill herself in the world, then, is as much a result of feebleness of her soul as it is of the inessentiality of the world.” (1) Here we are beginning to see the main trust of Brown's analysis: not literary but social criticism.

“The heroine moves from place to place, disoriented, isolated. Almost every community and form within which she functions is made meaningless by sheer disparity, or by the inevitable necessity of removal.
For this reason, Anne Elliot may be said to be “alienated” - certainly the first heroine in Jane Austen to be so, and perhaps, the first in English fiction.”

“Even the marriage between hero and heroine has far less communal significance than those of earlier novels, for the navy is an accidental home for Anne, as Kellynch Hall is for the Crofts. The impermanence felt in Persuasion anticipates the anxieties of many nineteenth-century novels.
The moral and aesthetic order sustained by Austen's earlier narrators, then, is no longer possible in the dislocated world of Persuasion.”

“Persuasion is the only one of the novels that ends with a vague ignorance of where the hero and heroine are going to live, and even of what the years will bring them.... The nature of society in Persuasion makes assurance about the future impossible, and therefore causes a loss of personal assurance.”

“Perhaps because of this weight of despair, Persuasion is Jane Austen's finest example of her view of time and personality as ambiguous movement, as continual reorganization that has both progressive and regressive tendencies. There are no apocalyptic endings in Jane Austen; there is never a revolution, only a regeneration of attitudes.”
In the essay The Radical Pessimism of Persuasion Julia Brown makes a radical shift of viewpoint, from the individual to the social. “In Persuasion, marriage between Anne and Wentworth is a matter of sheer need, the last hope for individuals themselves and for dissolving society around them.” Such a critique can be made only from a committed ideological position.


1. György Lukács April 13, 1885 – June 4, 1971) was a Hungarian Marxist philosopher and literary critic. Most scholars consider him to be the founder of the tradition of Western Marxism. He contributed the ideas of reification and class consciousness to Marxist philosophy and theory, and his literary criticism was influential in thinking about realism and about the novel as a literary genre.

Autobiographical Note

Julia Prewitt Brown teaches in the English department at Boston University. She has written numerous essays on Jane Austen and has published A readers Guide to the Nineteen Century English Novel and Cosmopolitan Criticism: Oscar Wilde's Philosophy of Art.

An addendum is necessary.

Julia Prewitt Brown, an assistant professor of English at Boston University sued in the Massachusetts Superior Court after she was denied tenure by defendants, the Trustees of Boston University ("University"). The University removed the case to the District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Alleging that she had been refused tenure because of her sex, Professor Brown contended that denying her tenure for that reason violated an anti-discrimination clause in the University's collective bargaining agreement with its faculty. A jury found in her favor on this contract claim; it awarded her $200,000 damages for the breach.
The chairman noted Brown's "sensitivity to the fact that Jane Austen was a female novelist." The recommendation continued, "Professor Brown has the requisite literary tact to write about Jane Austen as a female writer without the ideological distortion and special pleading that sometimes mar such criticism."

08-19-2009, 08:49 AM
I found the conclusions in the essay The Radical Pessimism of Persuasion philosophically offensive.

“Stuart Tave, in comparing Wordsworth and Austen, shrewdly noted that both were 'poets of marriage' and both also posted 'a sense of duty understood and deeply felt by those who see the integrity and peace of their own lives as essentially bound to the lives of others and see the lives of all in more than merely social order.” (1) That is in the humanistic tradition. Julia Prewitt Brown violates this Humanistic assumption.

As a contrast to the doctrinaire The Radical Pessimism of Persuasion, I'll reproduce the elegant argument of Newcomer's note 08-05-07.

The frontier of Jane Austen's world

I find it fascinating how a new perspective can be thrown on a subject about which you thought had all been said that was possible. Jane Austen continues to surprise and fascinate.
C.S. Levis in the essay – A Note on Jane Austen, compares four passages from four Austen novels, how the heroines experience and respond to 'disillusionment'. Let me illustrate with two.

Pride And Prejudice - “As to his real character, had information been in her power, she had newer felt a wish of inquiring. His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in possession of every virtue ... She perfectly remembered everything that had passed in conversation between Wicham and herself, in their first evening at Mr. Philip's ... She was now struck with the impropriety of such communications to a stranger, and wondered that it had escaped her before. She saw the indelicacy of putting himself forward as he had done, and the inconsistency of his professions with his conduct ... She grew absolutely ashamed of herself ... “how despicable have I acted!” she cried; “I who have prided myself on my discernment ... who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blamable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly ... I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away ... Till this moment I newer knew myself.”

Sense and Sensibility - “Oh! Elinor, you have made me hate myself forever. How barbarous Have I been to you! - you, who have been my only comfort, who have borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be suffering only for me!” ... Marianne's courage soon failed her, in trying to converse upon a topic which always left her more dissatisfied with herself than ever, by contrast it necessarily produced between Elinor's conduct and her own. She felt all the force of that comparison; but not as her sister had hoped, to urge her to exertion now; she felt it with all the pain of continual self-reproach, regretted most bitterly that she had never exerted herself before; but it brought only the torture of penitence, without hope of amendment. ... [Elinor later saw in Marianne] an apparent composure of mind which, in being the result, as she trusted, of serious reflection, must eventually lead her to contentment and cheerfulness ...”My illness has made me think, ... I considered the past: I saw in my behaviour nothing but series of imprudence toward myself, and want of kindness to others. I saw that my own feelings had prepared my sufferings, and that my want of fortitude under them had almost led me to my grave. My illness, I well knew had been entirely brought on myself, by such negligence of my own health as I felt even at the time to be wrong. Had I died, it would have been self-destruction. I wonder ... that the very eagerness of my desire to live, to have time for atonement to my God and you all, did not kill me at once ... I cannot express my own abhorrence of myself.”

Northanger Abbey's passage is almost a burlesque while the humiliation of Emma has a quality comic high tea. All four heroines experience a moral awakening from self deception. This undeception is not confined to the heroines but spans the minor characters. General Tilney realizes the mistake he made about Catherine and Mr. Bennet about Lidia. By such means Austen establishes the social bounds and moral clarity of her novelistic world.

In Persuasion Austen breaks the pattern of histrionics of self disillusionment. Anne Eliot thinks the breaking of her engagement to Wentworth a mistake but she feels that she was right, guided by Lady Russel, who's advice was that of a parent. Anne commits no errors and there is no 'undeception'. Anne does not hold to the truism indirectly attributed to Austen, “it is wrong to marry for money, but it was silly to marry without it.”. Anne and Fanny of Mansfield Park are depicted as plain. They are of 'no consequence' and do not 'matter' in the family circle. They are alone, and suffer in their solitude more so than Elizabet or Marianne who have understanding sisters to turn to.

C.S. Lewis judges, “for Persuasion, from first to last, is, in a sense in which the other novels are not, a love story.” Anne knows passion, though it is not of the sort for public display. Lewis finishes the essay with,”but we are then at the frontier of Jane Austen's world.”

1. Harold Bloom in introduction to Modern Critical Interpretations, Jane Austen's Persuasion.

08-23-2009, 10:59 AM
Claudia L. Johnson - Persuasion: The “Unfeudal Tone of the Present Day”.

“Persuasion has always signified more than it singly comprises: its two slender volumes have been made to bear the imprint of Austen's entire career. Whereas Pride ans Prejudice and Emma can be and most often are discussed without reference to Austen's other works, Persuasion is above all else the last novel, the apparent conclusion that determines the shape of everything that has come before.”

What a relief to return to literature, away from ideological sociology and 20th. century politics. When Johnson writes: “Most readers note, for example, that Persuasion ridicules the ruling class”, she references 19th. century England and Austen's text, not an oblique reference to class warfare.
“But if in Persuasion the landed classes have not lost their power, they have lost their prestige and their moral authority for the heroine.” The focus is on Anne, as it should be.
“Persuasion, then, distinctively minimizes problems which had before been so momentous to the heroines. By centering her novel on a maturer heroine, of course, Austen is free to explore female independence without being obliged to explore the concomitant impertinence which always seems to accompany the self-assurance of the younger heroines. The duty of filial piety, for example – Fanny Price's “great rule to apply to”(MP436) – is nowhere dignified with status of being of issue here. Even though her “word” has “no weight” within her family circle (P5), Anne , like Emma, is an autonomous heroine. For this reason, to conceptualize Persuasion, as readers so often do, as a debate between individualism and propriety is not only to employ an opposition already curiously loaded in favor of conservative arguments, but it is also to underestimate the degree of Anne's independence from traditional, paternal authority and to misplace the emphasis of the plot.”
“But the crisis in Persuasion – Anne's decision to break off her engagement – has little to do with Sir Walter's paternal displeasure. On the contrary, it has everything to do with advice, not authority, of a trusted friend, Lady Russell, to whom Anne does not owe the compatible duty of obedience. Such is Anne's filial disposition at nineteen. At twenty-eight she pays Sir Walter even less mind. ... For Anne, no hard conflict between duty and inclination is implied by defining or simply ignoring her father.”

But a few years hence Anne rejects Lady Russel's advise to marry William Elliot. “Her opinions about Anne's suitors bespeak her absorption in sympathies for conservative apologetics. She aims her approval of William Elliot at Anne in such a way as to show Wentworth's boldness in what she considers to be the worst possible light:
“ He [William Elliot] was steady observant, moderate, candid; newer run away by spirits or by selfishness, which fancied itself strong feelings; and yet with sensibility to what was amiable and lovely, and a value for all the felicities of domestic life, which characters of fancied enthusiasm, and violent agitation seldom really posses. “(P146-47)
“Lady Russell's argument is a manifestly sentimental one whose object is to establish the priority of that most basic unit of social structure, the patriarchal family. Of course Lady Russell is drastically wrong about Sir Walter's heir. Lady Russell is wrong about Wentworth as well, although in this case her error is plausible, since Wentworth is a complex figure whose own sensibility bears deep marks of ideological contradiction. Wentworth's description appears straightforward enough. But as his subsequent remarks attest, he is in fact caught within highly charged tensions about women's manners, and his description of the ideal woman is oximoronic, because however much he desires “strength” in women, he is considers it essentially inconsistent with sweetness he also exacts.”
“Wentworth's contempt for what he perceives as Anne's failure to be decided, forward and strong thus implicates and dissents from an already firmly established and widely available tradition of debate about women's manners. To Wentworth, a woman is guilty of “weakness and timidity” when she evinces a readiness “to oblige others” (P61), and when deferring to the judgment of family or friends, she credits fearful rather than hopeful predictions about her betrothed. A strong man himself, Wentworth knows, or at least thinks he knows, that he wants the same qualities in a woman. He “seriously described the woman he should wish to meet wit. 'A strong mind, with sweetness of manner' (P62).

“The objections not only to female sturdiness, but also to female “right” to it, that Wentworth expresses here explains why it was and still is impossible for him to recognize “strength of mind” and “sweetness of manner” in Anne Elliot, until Anne's sturdiness and her forwardness to take control after the catastrophe at Lyme obliges him to surrender his notions about delicacy.”
The incident is important for the evolution of character in Wentworth and in Anne. When Wentworth remarks - '"Is there no one to help me?" were the first words which burst from Captain Wentworth, in a tone of despair, and as if all his own strength were gone.' ...Captain Wentworth's eyes were also turned towards her. [Anne]
..."Then it is settled, Musgrove," cried Captain Wentworth,that you stay, and that I take care of your sister home... ; but if Anne will stay, no one so proper, so capable as Anne.'
Clearly here is a change in Wentworth's estimate of Anne's “sturdiness” and “strength of mind”. Concurrently with the observation: ' Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character.'
This is in the text. Therefore when Johnson quotes Burke in the following: “Conservatives and radicals alike agreed that amiable weakness and loveliness in women guaranteed the continuance of patriarchy itself. ... the gallant disposition in men to feel fondly disposed to the amiable softness of women restrains the otherwise indecent and uncivilized rapacity of their appetites, and the retiring docility and dutiful chastity of women insures the identity and survival of the blood lines of good families.” And she associates these sentiments with Wentworth's principled opposition to carrying women on board ships precisely because of their delicacy. She is introducing material outside of the text, and after the change in character, to associate Wentworth with Sir Walter's patriarchal and feudal notions of “right”.
The unintended irony in Johnson's argument is that Sir Walter “who prides himself on “the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed, the famous “Elliot pride”(P88). - Sir Walter restricts the term “gentleman” to “some man of property”, “Mr. Wentworth was a nobody...” Furthermore, the record of filial piety... has no place in Wentworth's history, and his impatience with Anne's hesitation at nineteen to defy paternal displeasure surely suggests how little store he sets by paternal authority in general. Since Wentworth has no place in, and is indeed actually hostile to, the patriarchal world of family and neighborhood which Sir Walter represents, though none too well, his “superfine” gallantry has no rationale and operates at political cross-purposes with his own designs and energies.”
In introducing Burke's quotation in the critique, Claudia L. Johnson commits the error of abandoning a close reading of Persuasion to advance a social notion of feudalism, that purportedly connects Wentworth to Sir Walter.

“...whether it is because we have a habit of regarding Persuasion in particular as a tender love story that is not conducive to such considerations, rather scant attention has been accorded to Austen's affiliation with the eighteen-century tradition of liberal psychology. But readers of Johnson's essays, who recall his fears about the corrosivesness of hopes and disappointments, his recommendations of “change of place” (Rambler5,47), and his anxieties about the “vacuity of recluse and domestic leisure” (Rambler 85), will recognize the provenance of her comments and character of her diction, and will appreciate how, by linking women's confinement within their changeless neighborhoods to the strength and longevity of their feelings, she develops this tradition with particular emphasis on women's problems. Anne herself tells Harville that women do “not forget you [men], so soon as you forget us” (P232). But far from presenting the constancy of woman's love in light of virtue, for example, loyalty, she presents it as a burden - “our fate rather than our merit”(P232). Men will love faithfully “as long as [they] have an object, “ but woman's love can subsist indefinitely as fantasy alone: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex ... is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone” (P235). A dubious privilege indeed, this liability to hopeless fixation. Anne's rather technical explanation for suborn durability of women's love combines social criticism with psychological acuity.”

Do you agree?

Autobiographical Data.

Claudia L. Johnson is Professor of English at Princeton University and is the author of Equivocal Beings:Politics , Gender and Sentimentality in the 1790's, as well as Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel.

08-26-2009, 11:14 AM
Adela Pinch, Lost in a Book: Jane Austen's Persuasion.

Adela Pinch begins cryptically : “Persuasion is a book that is interested in people's indebtedness to books, in the capacities of books to provide consolation, and in the adequacy of books to consciousness.”
Then she qualifies by: “Persuasion's exploration of the power of books might be situated within the context of debates that took place in England from the mid-eighteen-century on, debates about women and reading: about whether and in what ways women are particularly susceptible to the effects of reading, and to the extent to which this susceptibility can be either dangerous or beneficial to women's minds.” A very unusual perspective on Persuasion, and of English mid century society. Interesting but hardly sensational. What is, is the bombshell that she quietly introduces, that of the perception of the momentary stimulus in the flow of the theme: sound, touch, memory, noise.
“What interest me, however, is the way in which the novel foregrounds the sensory nature of perception. In disquisition on noises which Austen interjects right after her picture of the noisy family-piece at Uppercross, She highlights the sensory, the pleasurable or unpleasurable aspects of noise:
Austen (P135) - “Every body has their taste in noise as well as other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather quantity. When Lady Russell, not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camdem-place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men and milk-men, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint. No, these were noises which belonged to winter pleasure; her spirits rose under their influence.”
By pointing out the sensory aspects in Persuasion, Adela Pinch is forcing us to acknowledge another dimension in Persuasion, to read much more carefully, to savor Austen.

“it is above all, as many of these examples suggest, contacts with Wentworth takes these sensory , sensational forms. Their renewed courtship takes place through moments of physical contact – as when Anne finds herself handed into the carriage – which are both erotic and strangely intrusive, described as impingements from the outside world on her mind.”
“This combination of eroticism, claustrophobia and sensation can be found above all in the scene in Chapter Nine in which Wentworth removes the child from Anne's back. Maria Edgeworth singled out this passage in a letter, drawing attention to its surprising tactility:
'The love and lover are admiringly well-drawn: don't you see Captain Wentworth, or rather don't you in her face feel him taking the boisterous child off her back as she kneels by the sick boy on the sofa?(7)

“In Persuasion, the realm of feelings is the realm of repetitions, of things happening within a strong context of memory. The sensational quality of Anne's and Wentworth's encounters arises not from the newness of stimuli but rather from stimuli which takes place on a consciousness already prepared by memories of earlier sensations.“
“The temporal structure of the plot, its concern with reunion of lovers whose actions and feelings are always in reference to an earlier courtship, shapes the novel's understanding of feelings. It is the existence of past desire, and past submission to prohibition, that makes Anne a 'romantic' person today:
'How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been, - how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! - She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older – the natural sequel to an unnatural beginning.' (P30)

““Romance” in this context would seem to mean, roughly speaking, “feelings first”, as well all other things happening within a strong context of memory, The sensation quality of Anne's and Wentworth's encounters arise not from the newness of stimuli but rather from from stimuli which take place on a consciousness already prepared by memories of earlier sensations.”

“Anne's memory is of sustained and conscious recollection. Of the memory of pain she says, “when the pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure. (P184) Of all her experiences it might be said, as it is said of her stay at Uppercross, “she left it all behind her; all but the recollection that such things had been” (P123) Anne leaves very little behind her. Indeed, Anne is often so occupied with her own rumination and recollection that impressions from the outside seem to have a hard time finding their way in.”

“Critics sometimes point out that Persuasion seems to begin where the 'typical” Austen novel ends – that it seems not like a “second novel” that begins where a “first novel” has gone wrong.(14) The text itself suggested earlier that Anne's romance, or feelings are the belated effects of “unnatural” origins – from being forced to follow a conventional story of first love and family prohibition; Anne's early experience is like a text that she is now repeating with renewed feelings.”

Avery unusual and provocative reading of Persuasion. I have but skimmed over Adela Pinch's essay and I urge you to read the whole of it. You will be richly rewarded.


Adela Pinch is Associate Professor of English at the University of Michigan. She specializes in eighteen-century literature and literary theory.

Notes and References

7.Maria Edgeworth, 21 Feb 1818, quoted in Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage, ed. B.C. Southam (London 1968)
14. Tony Tanner, Jane Austen (Cambridge: Harvard University UP 1986)

09-09-2009, 08:39 PM
Claude Rawson, Satire, sensibility and innovation in Jane Austen: Persuasion and the minor works.

A few sentences before the end of the essay Claude Rawson writes”:The elaborate pieces of summary-portraiture of Lady Russel at the beginning and the end, even more than the presentation of her in the main course of the action, suggest not so much of a complexity of which the author has a comprehensive grasp, as an uncertainty as to which of her characteristics is to be approved or disapproved.” The sentence is a good example of the style of the essay that Rawson adopts: academically ponderous. He ends the essay with : “Although Austen seems to have maintained in principle her faith in traditional notions of 'character' as stable, definable, and subject to clear moral judgment, and although she specifically admired Richardson for 'preserving the consistency of his characters', she may in this last novel be on the edge of a more open and destabilizing perception of human personality and behaviour.”
What does the sentence mean? Where lies the primary trust of the argument? Is there one? Such questions are not isolated to the ending of the essay but are endemic in the essay.

As an example of convolution in argument Rawson quotes Norman Page: “it is Persuasion that offers the fullest and most important use of free indirect speech in Jane Austen's work, and represents a remarkable and fascinating step toward technical experimentation at the end of the novelist life.' An example, cited by Page as showing the power of free indirect speech to embody dramatic elements within the flow of narrative' can also be seen as s reversion to a stylised Augustan satirical mode.” Here two academics are used to buttress an argument but does it apply to the theme of Persuasion?

The passage cited is Sir Walter's response to Lady Russel's advise to economize. And Rawson 's explanation is: “Formal triadic arrangements were a feature of eighteen-century prose, much practiced by Johnson. His famous letter to Chesterfield of 7 February 1754, quoted in Boswell's life, is a classic example.” Thank you professor Rawson, without the references to Johnson and Boswell, I could neither understood nor enjoyed the passage!

An opinion: A slight indeterminacy
“As we have seen, 'Lady Russell's [requisitions] had no success at all' can naturally be read in context of the triad as the narrator's report of Lady Russell's phrases, alongside Lady Russell's report of Sir Walter's. But it is equally possible to take the words as the narrator's factual account of Lady Russell's failure, without implications of reported speech. A slight indeterminacy exists as to who is saying what. In the phrases in quotation-marks we know the words to be Sir Walter's, as reported by Lady Russell, and the same is true of the last two phrases in the triad: 'could not be put up with – were not to be borne'. The report is satirical one, but Lady Russell is not normally satirical in this manner in her own direct speech, and there is is a sense that her report is itself reported by a subtly interfering authorial voice.”
It would seem to me that the 'slight indeterminacy' exists not in Austen's text but in C. Rawson's interpretation; that his conception of Lady Russell's does not square with Austen's and he is objecting to the 'interfering authorial voice.'

A second opinion: Regulated Hatred.
Rawson writes: “the phrase 'regulated hatred' (1) has been applied, in a memorable essay, to her style, and finely conveys its mixture of hard-edge perception and decorous restrain.” The phrase 'finely conveys' asserts that C. Rawson agrees that Austen's irony and satire are 'regulated hatred'. He writes: “In Austen, they occur inside a chapter, at no specially strategic point, a momentary crystallization in a continuing narrative ... They look like a Swiftian sarcasm, but they function less as a localised epigrammatic aggression than as part of an intricate system of narrative ironies.”

Such a judgment on Austen – 'regulated hatred' - is most curious when he writes that “Fielding and Austen, retained a commitment to older cannons of 'polite style. The rule, as Fielding put it in the Preface to the Voyage to Lisbon, is that you should not mention a 'merely common incident ... for its own sake, but for some observation and reflection naturally arising from it', was for many writers a matter of deep cultural predisposition... Breach of the rule implied vulgarity and unhealthy and unregulated surrender to the flow of events. A prolixity which resulted from this was especially culpable.”

We could take the introduction of Richard Musgrove as an example of a 'merely common incident',? A 'Breach of the rule implied vulgarity and unhealthy and unregulated surrender to the flow of events.', described as: “He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him "poor Richard," been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name,
living or dead.” Austen does have a go at irony describing Mrs Musgrove seated between Anne and Wentworth. But what of the incident at Lyme,where Anne's character is described as:
“She endeavoured to be composed, and to be just. Without emulating the feelings of an Emma towards her Henry, she would have attended on Louisa with a zeal above the common claims of regard, for his sake; and she hoped he would not long be so unjust as to suppose she would shrink unnecessarily from the office of a friend.” Emma towards her Henry? Is Austen violating the 'polite style' in introducing a 'merely common incident'? Only if you subscribe to C. Rawson's analysis.

In the reference to Emma, from the ballad,The Brown-Nut Maid, Austen mirrors the theme of Persuasion: A man and woman talk of women's fidelity, he disbelieving that she will persist in danger and she retorts that she will still come, because she loves him alone.
C. Rawson passes over Emma because symbolizing fidelity and love, Emma would compromise his view of Austen's irony and sarcasm as ' Regulated Hatred'.

C. Rawson ends the essay by: “Although Austen seems to have maintained in principle her faith in traditional notions of 'character' as stable, dependable, and subject to clear moral judgment, and although she specifically ad mired Richardson for 'preserving the consistency of his characters' (2), she may in this last novel be on the edge of a more open and destabilizing perception of human personality and behaviour.”
If in Persuasion we have a more open form, then the backward looking references to Swift, Richardson and Fielding or Pope, are beside the point. It would have been more informative to analyze Persuasion referencing Virginia Woolf or Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage.


1. D.W. Harding in the essay: 'Regulated Hatred: An Aspect of the Work of Jane Austen', reprinted in Ian Watt, ed. Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1963 Englewood Cliffs NJ.
2.Brian Southam, Jane Austen's Literary Manuscripts, Oxford 1964.


Claude Rawson is Maynard Mack professor of English at Yale University. He is the author of Henry Fielding and the Augustan Ideal Under Stress, Gulliver the Gentle Reader and God, Gulliver and Genocide:Barbarism and the European Imagination.

09-20-2009, 04:08 PM
John Wiltshire, Persuasion: The Pathology of Everyday Life.

In The Pathology of Everyday Life John Wiltshire states: “This reading of the novel then centers about the notion of injury, and for the most part, Persuasion depicts spiritual or mental pain and physical pain in the same terms, as when Wentworth speaks of Benwick's 'pierced, wounded, almost broken' heart. It's concerned with the ways people adjust to loss, or curtailment of life, and live through, or cope with, its deprivations.” That is a very iconoclastic reading of Persuasion, a reductionist view – an analysis of the theme as a deviation from a healthy or normal condition; which is a definition of pathology.
Pathology is an unusual criteria to apply to a novel. It implies knowledge in depth, and how much can we know of a character? Only what the author tells us, no more. I won't argue that there is pathological behavior in the novel, but is that all? Or even the main description of character traits? Then there is the question of applying 20th-century criteria to a early 19th-century novelist. I'm uneasy with this.

When Wiltshire writes: “Austen's concern is not so much with accidents or misfortune as such, as with the positive human response to suffering.” Such a reading of Persuasion is within bounds, though 'melancholia' would be more accurate than 'suffering'. However when he qualifies the above sentence with:” In particular, she depicts (and critically examines) the isolated individual attempts to gather the emotional resources to cope with chronic pain of psychological nature, and modes of support and nursing that enable others to endure and overcome their suffering and deprivation.”, the emphasis on “chronic pain of psychological nature”, Wiltshire's vision becomes myopic.
He uses Anne's sentence: “Nursing does not belong to a man, it is not his province. A sick child is always the mother's property, her own feelings make it so.”, to support what is a very narrow and ideological argument - “Femaleness and nursing are thus ideologically linked, but it is a curiously restrictive femaleness. The nurse is functionally substitute for the nurturing and nuturant, supportive, mother in Alexander Pope's phrase, 'the tender Second to a Mother's care'; whilst being quintessentially female, her femaleness is thought of as Maternal, not sexual.”..... “Yet because Persuasion depicts the body as fragile and vulnerable, nursing does emerge as an important value, despite its association with the sexually and subordinate.”
Persuasion is much more than a pathology of everyday life. It is of irony, satire of individuals and society and above all an affirmation of life, and the craft of a superb writer. Bloom ends his introduction to the criticism of Persuasion - “Austen will survive even bad days ahead of us, because the strangeness of originality and of an individual vision are our lasting needs, which only literature can gratify in the Theocratic Age that slouches toward us.”

Did I mention that John Wiltshire was an iconoclast? Consider the argument he presents in analysis of Persuasion. First he gives the readings of the established critics, Monagham, Poovey, Tanner, then he dismisses them, supporting his view by the arguments of David Spring (8). Who is D. Spring? Literary search by Google produced scan results;no citations in scholarly publications, a few references in poetry reviews. By all accounts, minor in analysis to Stuart Tave's poetics:
“Nobody hears Anne, nobody sees her, but it is she who is ever at the center. It is through her ears, eyes, and mind that we are made to care for what is happening. If nobody is much aware of her, she is very much aware of everyone else and she percieves what is happening to them when they are ignorant of themselves ... she reads Wentworth's mind, with the coming troubles he is causing for others and himself, before those consequences bring the information to him.'

In the middle of the essay, Wiltshire presents a strange and contradictory analysis of Austen's evolution from early to late style.
“ 'By the time she wrote Persuasion', argues David Monagham, for example, 'Jane Austen seems to have lost faith in the gentry'. (2) Monagham is one of the many critics who read the Elliot's abdication of the country estate and their removal to Bath as symptomatic of a crucial transformation in English society, one indicative of a new hollowness in the code of polite manners, and the loss of the old order representing 'an ideal of civilised existence far beyond anything the Musgroves or the sailors could hope to achieve. (3)
“'Just about all the previous stabilities of Jane Austen's world are called into question in this novel.(5)' declares Tony Tanner, arguing that Austen in Persuasion demonstrates a 'crisis' or even 'chaos' in the gentry's values, and that this is in turn reflected in or signified by a shift in Austen's own priorities and narrative technique. The novel is seen as Austen's farewell to a way of lofe. 'She is clearly undertaking a radical reassessment and revision of her system of values', claims Tanner (6).”
The counter argument that Wiltshire present, seems pallid and provincial - “ To read Persuasion as 'shaking the foundations of Austen's conservatism' (7) is to make Austen into a social historian of percipience indeed, discovering between the end of March 1815, when Emma was finished, and the beginning of August the same year, when Persuasion was begun, that rural gentry were spiritually and financially bankrupt, foreseeing the modern condition, turning to newly discovered romantic values, and even more, it seems, anticipating the modern, or even postmodern, conviction of the relativity of all value and perception.
David Spring has shown how unfounded are the historical assumptions upon which the view of Persuasion as depicting a social transformation rests: Sir Walter Elliot is not abandoning his estate in removing to Bath, and renting his property, he is simply repairing his fortunes in a time honored way. At the end of seven years he will return to Kellynch. (8)”
This is ridiculous! - “ At the end of seven years he will return to Kellynch.” All we know of Sir Walter is what Austen tells us, no more! What is important of Sir Walter Elliot, is not the abandoning of the estate but as Julia Previt Brown in The Radical Pessimism of Persuasion, notes:”The exhaustion implied in these metaphors is intensified by the opening conviction that we have hit rock bottom of moral life in Sir Walter.”

However we should be grateful to J. Wilshire for illuminating what Anne feels when in chapter 2, “There had been three alternatives, London, Bath, or another house in the country. All Anne's wishes had been for the latter. A small house in their own neighbourhood, where they might still have Lady Russell's society, still be near Mary, and still have the pleasure of sometimes seeing the lawns and groves of Kellynch, was the object of her ambition.” Or on chapter 5, “ Anne though dreading the possible heats of September in all the white glare of Bath, and grieving to forego all the influence so sweet and so sad of the autumnal months in the country.”

Bath itself is a secondary character in the novel. Not less important than Mrs. Smith or Captain Harville who recounts Wentworth's humanity to Benwick's loss of Fanny Harville.
“It is easier, perhaps to think of Sir Walter Elliot as a representative figure (rather as a patent eccentric) because Bath, a real place, seems to function in this novel as the symbol – the structural embodiment and institutionalization – of his own vanity and snobbery. One could easily suppose that Bath is presented in Persuasion as a specific microculture, a place in which traditional values have been replaced by commodity values, a built environment which seems to give concrete expression to a culture of narcissistic self-involvement.”
When Anne objects to Bath, Austen does not explicitly stated what her objection to Bath is. Here John Wiltshire fills in the very necessary detail and thereby expands our understanding of Anne's character.
“Eighteen-century Bath is a city of enclosures, Squares and Circuses of geometric design explicitly sequestering the gentry who were to inhabit them from any natural wilderness or irregularity. Describing John Wood's early eighteen-century proposals for Queen's Square, the social historian R.S. Neal writes that 'Nature, except in shape of green turf and formal shrubs, was expressly excluded. There were to be no forest trees in the square,only low stone walls and espaliers of elm and lime.' (9) Later in the century, the lease of the Royal Crescent (1767 – 71) prevented the adjacent landowners from growing any tree more than eight feet high. The typical architecture of eighteen-century Bath follows Wood's liking for 'enclosed spaces, designed to provide some isolation from the economic bustle of civil society. (10) Separation of the gentry sections of the city both from the natural world and from the lower classes who were necessary to its existence was designed into its structure.
In Bath itself, in the novel, this social distribution of space is conveyed in the fact that addresses have a precisely calibrated economic and hence social value. Laura Place, for example, leased by the Elliots' cousin, Lady Dalrymple, a member of the (Irish, and therefore fringe) aristocracy, was an especially prestigious address, with one house built by John Eveleigh in 1702 advertised for letting at (pounds)120 per annum, with the 'special attraction of two water closets' (11).” The addresses are disposed in the novel as signifiers of social status – Camden-place, Gay Street, Lansdown Crescent, Marlborough Buildings – to be quickly, immediately, read as locating the addressee in a precise position on the social scale (12)


(2) David Monadgan, Jane Austen: Structure and Vision, 1980, p143.
(3) ibid, P157.
(7)Penny Gay, 'A changing view: Jane Austen's landscapes', Sydney Studies in English15, 19889-00, p. 62.
(8)David Spring, 'Interpreters of Jane Auste's social world, literary critics and historians', in Jane Austen, New Perspectives, Women and Literature.
(9) R.S. Neal, Bath 1680-1850, A Social History. Pg 193-6
(10) R.S. Neal, Bath 1680-1850, A Social History. Pg 207, 205
(11) R.S. Neal, Bath 1680-1850, A Social History. Pg 246
(12) Patricia Bruckman, 'Sir Walter Elliot's Bath address', Modern Philology.


John Wiltshire is Professor of English at La Trobe University. He has written widely on Jane Austen and is the author of Samuel Johnson and the Medical World: the Doctor and the Patient.
Note: La Trobe University is a multi-campus university in Victoria, Australia. It was established in 1964 as Victoria’s third university by an Act of Parliament[3].The main campus of La Trobe is located in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora;

09-27-2009, 12:17 PM
Tony Tanner, In Between:Persuasion

That is how Tony Tanner begins his essay:
“Persuasion. Not 'Persuasion and ...' - Resistance, Refusal, Rebellion, for instance. Just Persuasion.”
“This time the debate, the struggle, the contestation, the contrarieties and ambiguities are all in one word. As they are all in, or concentrated on, the one girl. Anne Elliot is the loneliest of Jane Austen's heroines. Persuaded by others, she has to repersuade herself.”

That by itself is sufficient an analysis of Persuasion. Multiplicity of words do not necessarily clarify, what does is the writer being in love with the subject.
To end the review of Tanner's In Between: Persuasion here, is to deprive oneself of the pleasure and insights of an analysis that itself qualifies as a work of art. He examines the structure of the novel, as 'the first novel' and 'the second part' as to the change in evolution of stylistic values. He examines the change in 'sources of authority', on which principally, Anne's values, and in contrast those of other characters, undergo a sea change. He examines the idea of 'awareness of a common language' among the characters in the novel and the relationship to how we read Austen.
Any one of these topics would suffice for an essay in lesser hands. Tony Tanner weaves them into an analysis that H. Bloom characterized as: “In a brilliant reading, the late Tony Tanner identifies Anne Elliot as a threshold figure, posed in between two houses, her fathers and her prospective husbands.”

Tanner writes: “It is a novel of great poignancy and sadness and astringency, for it is deeply shadowed by the passing of things, and the remembrance of things past.”
“It is hardly surprising , then that time plays a larger part in this novel than in any other of Jane Austen's works.”
“ It is only one her novels which gives a specific date for the opening action – 'summer 1814' ... The significance of that date (the end of the Napoleonic wars – apart from the 'hundred days' of Napoleon's abortive return, concluded by the battle of Waterloo in 1815), becomes increasingly obvious: it marks a big change in English history and society.”
However in the novel, the passage of time is not only linear, historic, it is also emotional: “the crucial passage of time is that which has elapsed since Anne was 'persuaded' to give up Wentworth.”
“When Anne does finally meet Wentworth again, her concern is very much with the effect of time:
'How absurd to be resuming the agitation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness! What might not eight years do? Events of every description – changes, alienations, removals, - all, all must be compromised in it; and oblivion of the past – how natural, how certain too!'
“In the event Anne finds that 'to retentive feelings eight years may be little more than nothing.'”

When Wentworth reproaches Captain Benwick for having put aside his devotion to the dead Fanny Harville: ' A man does not recover from such a devotion of heart to such a woman! - He ought not – he does not.' Past time and present intermingle in “Wentworth's assertion, he is both indirectly signaling his own unbroken devotion to Anne, and questioning hers.”
“There are moments when Wentworth speaks to Anne 'which seemed almost restoring the past'. 'Restoration' on this personal level does prove to be joyfully – miraculously – possible. But on the social and familial level no such restoration is possible.”
Anne's poignant defense of woman's faithfulness: 'All the privilege I claim for my own sex ... is that of loving longest, when existence or hope is gone.', is as much a reference to the past as an acknowledgment of her own feelings of the moment.
When Lady Russell says:'Time will explain' – “certainly in this novel, in which time is so central, and 'explanations' (making intelligible, laying things out clearly ) are both crucial and difficult to come by. And the novel itself is an inquiry into – an explanation of – the effects of time. “

But in the novel the crucial passage of time is that which has elapsed since Anne was persuaded to give up Wentworth and he disappeared into the navy. ... Indeed Persuasion is in effect a second novel. (Part of its rare autumnal magic – not unlike that of one of Shakespeare's last plays – is that it satisfies that dream of a 'second chance' which must appeal to anyone who has experienced the sense of irreparably ruined life owning to an irrevocable, mistaken decision.) The 'first novel' is what might be called (warily) a typical Austen novel and is told in telescopic brevity in a few lines in chapter 4:
“ 'He [Wentworth] was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modest taste and feeling. - Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly any body to love; but the encounter of such lavish expectations could not fail. They were gradually acquainted, and when acquainted, rapidly and deeply in love. It would be difficult to say which had seen the highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest; she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted.'
End of story. To get there could have taken the younger Jane Austen some hundreds of pages. ... That was a happy novel of yesteryear, here no more than a distance trace, a radiant but receding, summarisable memory in this second novel.” 'More than seven years were gone since this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close.'
“The first novel ended when the totally vain, egotistical anti-father (he is even described as womanly in his vanity) Sir Walter Elliot 'gave it all the negative of great astonishment, a great coldness, a great silence'. His 'negative' blocked the marriage and the novel alike.” ... Here is enough to point out that it provides the starting-point for a new kind of novel for Jane Austen; a novel which arises precisely out of the thwarting and 'negating' of her first (earlier type of ) novel. ... What Jane Austen does say is this: 'She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older – the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning.' An observation, a philosophical observation, in language that is poetic.

“But what is striking about the world of Persuasion is the absence of any real center or principle of authority.”... “But in this novel all such potential sources of authority have gone awry, gone away, gone wrong; they are absent, dispersed or impotent; they have become ossified, stagnant or - worse – totally unreliable and misleading. Everything is in a condition of change in this novel, and as often as not it is change as deterioration or diminution. ... “Just about all the previous stabilities of Jane Austen's world are called into question in this novel – in which things really are 'changed utterly', with no terrible beauty being born.”
“The normal sources of stability and order in Jane Austen's world would include social position, property, place, family, manners and propriety, as generating a web of duties and responsibilities which together should serve to maintain the moral fabric and coherence of society. In this novel all these institutions and codes and related values have undergone a radical transformation or devaluation. “
An observation - this has to be qualified by differentiating what is Austen's view from that of Anne's : 'Anne, satisfied at very early period of Lady Russell's meaning to love Captain Wentworth as she ought, had no other alloy to the happiness of her prospects than what arose from the consciousness of having no relations to bestow on him which a man of sense could value. There she felt her own inferiority keenly. The disproportion in their fortune was nothing; it did not give her a moment's regret; but to have no family to receive and estimate him properly; nothing of respectability, of harmony, of good-will to offer in return for all the worth and all the prompt welcome which met her in his brothers and sisters, was a source of as lively pain as her mind could well be sensible of, under circumstances of otherwise strong felicity.' (chapter 24)
When Tanner writes: “Instead of a heedful regard for position and property and family, we have a new obsession with 'rank', connections', money and private relationships – Lady Russel esteems Sir Walter not as a man or father (he is a wretched example of both) but as a baronet: ' she had prejudices on the side of ancestry; she had a value for rank and consequence.' “, there seams to be a problem in defining 'heedful' since all these social distinctions operate in irony and satire, that in degree; of the satire of Mr. Williams Collins and Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice, the irony differs in Persuasion.
“Mary, the most insufferable snob (she is not comic – she is unbearable), looks not at Mr. Elliot bur at 'the horses ... the arms ... the livery'; she regards only the insignia of rank, empty signifiers of another series of signifiers. For 'rank' in this book does not betoken a responsible authoritative position in society: it signifies only itself.”

“The honorific term 'gentleman' – always somewhat vague – now means different things to different people (sir Walter is 'misled' when his agent Mr Shepherd refers to Mr Wentworth as a 'gentleman') ... or worse it conceals heartless and ruthless anti-social egotism (Mr Elliott passes as 'completely a gentleman'). ...A whole social system of categorization and terminology is slipping into meaningless or perverse misapplication, dangerously so when the label the label 'gentleman' is confidently affixed to a man who is the complete opposite (or inversion) of everything a true gentleman should be. Society's very taxonomy seems to have collapsed, being at best misleading and at worst totally corrupt.
While indisputable, T. Tanner's judgment is harsher than what Jane Austen makes. Hers is gently ironic and aimed at particular individuals, not of a societal class condemnation. But Persuasion was written in 1815, by 1855 with Dickens' Little Dorrit the criticism of the British aristocracy, and patronage in government, has become acerbic. However what can't be passed over, as in The Pathology of Everyday Life, John Wiltshire argues that: (“D. Spring has shown how unfounded are the historical assumptions upon which the view that Persuasion as depicting a social transformation rests. ..There is no suggestion that such a society is either despicable, or in decline.) , is that Jane Austen's view of the elites has changed from what they were in P&P or Emma.

The third topic: the idea of 'awareness of a common language', is perhaps the most controversial if not fecund in that it calls into question the capability to understand the metaphors and allusions in the text, especially when the reader crosses a cultural boundary. This topic is complex in the examples used and difficult to summarize, to do justice to Tanner's meaning.
“This topographical dispersal and social scattering also have their effect on the style and vocabulary of the novel. Of the incident on the Cobb we are told parenthetically that ('it was all done in rapid moments)'. In a way that is true of the book as a whole, which is more episodic, more fragmentary, and more marked by quick and sudden changes and abrupt transitions and jerks of plot than any of the previous novels. Related to that is a perceptibly new note of emotional volatility and irruptivness, even excess. After the incident on the Cobb there is, not a cool discussion of coherent speech in feeling. The word 'burst' appears a number of times in relation to sudden mental and emotional eruptions – 'extraordinary burst of mind', burst of feelings'; phrases such as 'a thousand feelings rushed on Anne', 'overpowering happiness contribute to the increased presence of sudden unanticipated and unpredictable inward intensities. And such 'burst', 'rushes of feeling', emotional 'overpowerings' are not always the signs of a potentially dangerous and disorderly (or 'improper') lack of control, as they often are in Jane Austen's earlier work. On the contrary, they can now be the desirable manifestations of a capacity for authentic and spontaneous feeling.”
Anne's self awareness and understanding is challenged:
'Anne had not wanted this visit to Uppercross, to learn that a removal from one set of peoples to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion, and idea ... she acknowledged it to be very fitting, that every little social commonwealth should dictate its own matters of discourse; and hoped, ere long, to become a not unworthy member of the one she was now transplanted to ... she believed she must submit to feel that another lesson, in the art of knowing our own nothingness beyond our own circle, was becoming necessary for her.'
“This awareness that within the one common language – English – there can be innumerable discourses according to group, place, and so on, is a very crucial one. It is not the same as a dialect but what Roland Barthes calls a 'sociolect' – 'the language of a linguistic community, that is of a group of persons who all interpret in the same way all linguistic statements.'....”It is characteristic of many Jane Austen heroines that they are aware when people are operating within different discourses – an awareness which is an aspect of their sense and linguistic 'conscience' and very often a consequence of their detachment and isolation.”
“ Anne comes to embody what we might call the conscience of language. She, and she alone, always speaks truly, and truly speaks. Indeed, Jane Austen may well be intending to depict Anne as in some ways old-fashioned – or, rather, out of fashion (which is by nature ephemeral and fickle.)... Anne's 'lessons' do point to the fact (glimpsed at the end of Emma) that society is breaking up into smaller and smaller 'circles' and units. This implies – indeed involves – the loss of any sense of true, authoritative 'center', and the possible disappearance of any 'common' language (and with that a shared sense of common values.)... It is not 'society' as Jane Austen had thought it should be. But she saw that the change was coming and was inevitable. To a large extent she could see why. It is all there in this unique novel.”

Tony Tanner ends the essay with - “Meanwhile the message within the message of the book, the not-so-hidden 'letter' under the text of the story, reads like this: 'There was nothing less for English society to do, than to admit that it had been pretty completely wrong, and to take up a new set of opinions and hopes.'

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On a lighter note to all poets: Tanner's argument In Between: Persuasion, requires neither footnotes nor endnotes.