On Persuasion (Part 1)

by g

Our class has done a wonderful job defining the mode of narration for Jane Austen’s novel as it pertains to it’s movement from the main focus of Anne onto to various characters that surround her. However I would like to remain in the confines of this definition of free indirect discourse, at least for the moment, in order to successfully move onto another post in which my elation for this novel’s ending may be better analyzed and more clearly presented. My posts up to this point will appear quite different from the following two because what I have found to be particularly striking about Austen’s prose in comparison to the poetry we have read so far, is the experience of reading it, which becomes a severe amount of anxiety and anticipation for how the story will conclude.

For the first half of this novel I was under the impression that Benwick would end up being the marital providence for the withdrawn and governess-like character of Anne. However, throughout the second half of the book his Byron-like, quiet importance remains but his purpose becomes evident only with his engagement to Luisa. So that it is not until then, which we see Anne begin to shovel aside the pedestal in which she has placed atop the importance of manners, that as readers we start to see her true affections for Captain Wentworth. What free indirect discourse accomplishes is an owning of the ability to see the inner thoughts of Anne while only giving small hints as to the feelings of Wentworth. As readers we have reason to believe that his manner is so pleasant amongst the throng of Bath because he wants to pursue another chance at his and Anne’s failed union of eight years before. But we are not sure whether the coldly mechanical, economic reasons for partnering the characters of this society will in some way thwart what modern readers will most likely wish to destroy as to remain faithful to the belief that marriage was and still is a beast of Love. It was at this moment that I feared Anne may never find the companionship she had been looking for;

Jealously of Mr. Elliot! It was the only intelligible motive. Captain Wentworth jealous of her affection! Could she have believed it a week ago; three hours ago! For a moment the gratification was exquisite. But, alas! there were very different thoughts to succeed.” (Austen 151).

The concert was an important moment in the narration. On one hand I could see that it was very plausible Mr. Elliot’s advances were what caused Wentworth’s desire to speak with Anne to go sour. But it was also quite possible that the narrator AND Anne were quite simply wrong. Or that something had been said to Wentworth by another person, perhaps Lady Russell, as to a line of reasoning that could potentially destroy any lasting affection for Anne. Suddenly Benwick to me was not a character of salvation for Anne, (although in a way his engagement was) but that the reunion of Anne and Captain Wentworth was what needed to happen in order for the reliability of the narrator to remain intact. Anne indirectly comments on the chaos in which this narration accomplishes a litter later on;

Indeed, Mrs. Smith, we must not expect to get real information in such a line. Facts or opinions which are to pass through the hands of so many, to be misconceived by folly in one, and ignorance in another, can hardly have much truth left.” (Austen 161).

What is so incredibly beautiful about this novel is that for all of the genealogical and mundane reasons that families align themselves, Wentworth and Anne find compassion in each other again, even after the sociology of world sets walls before the paradise on the other side.

We are not boy and girl, to be captiously irritable, misled by every moment’s inadvertence, and wantonly playing with our own happiness.” (And yet, a few moment’s afterwards, she felt as if their being in company of each other under their present circumstances, could only be exposing them to inadvertencies and misconstructions of the most mischievous kind)” (Austen 175).

Like I said, my following post will speak more as to why I find so much happiness in the ending, since finally the difference between genders unites rather than divides, (something especially troubling having just read the conclusion of Edith Wharton’s novel Summer) but also how the other character’s views of the engagement seem to remain cold and emotionless and what this says about the purpose of Austen writing this novel. However for now it will serve well to show how the mode of narration sets the reader up for what they think will either be a wonderful ending, or a completely terrible one.

Were you surprised in any way as you concluded this book? Does Mr. Elliot seem like he will succeed in maintaining his fortune by way of marriage? Or does Anne appear to be as on top her romantic life as much as she appears to be in control of navigating through such a prying and gossipy bunch of semi-aristocrats? Finally, what does the reunion between Anne and Wentworth seem to say as to the nature of love in marriage during Jane Austen’s time?

-gH

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