Persuasion, 1818

Because everyone is pushing to get their reading done and assignments underway, we’ll have a very simple prompt for class discussion tomorrow.

Choose a passage from Persuasion that lets you talk about Austen’s development as a novelist, or about the novel’s development since Haywood.

Because I know everyone is pushing hard to finish the reading and move their essays along, I’m making this weekend’s reading question very simple.

Use a passage of Persuasion to talk about Austen’s final development as a novelist.  Does your passage reveal an extension or elaboration of previous novelistic style or concerns, or does it show some sort of departure or opening towards the future?

You can answer here or bring these to class. We’ll use these to frame discussion on Monday. We’ll also continue to brainstorm and workshop the final assignments.

Good luck, DM


Author: Dave Mazella

I am an Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston, Department of English, specializing in 18th-century British literature.

One thought on “Persuasion, 1818”

  1. “Poor Fanny! she would not have forgotten him so soon!”

    “No,” replied Anne, in a low, feeling voice. “That I can easily believe.”

    “It was not in her nature. She doted on him.”

    “It would not be the nature of any woman who truly loved.”

    Captain Harville smiled, as much as to say, “Do you claim that for your sex?” and she answered the question, smiling also, “Yes. We certainly do not forget you as soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. You have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions.”

    “Granting your assertion that the world does all this so soon for men (which, however, I do not think I shall grant), it does not apply to Benwick. He has not been forced upon any exertion. The peace turned him on shore at the very moment, and he has been living with us, in our little family circle, ever since.”

    “True,” said Anne, “very true; I did not recollect; but what shall we say now, Captain Harville? If the change be not from outward circumstances, it must be from within; it must be nature, man’s nature, which has done the business for Captain Benwick.”

    “No, no, it is not man’s nature. I will not allow it to be more man’s nature than woman’s to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of bearing most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather.”

    “Your feelings may be the strongest,” replied Anne, “but the same spirit of analogy will authorise me to assert that ours are the most tender. Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer lived; which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments. Nay, it would be too hard upon you, if it were otherwise. You have difficulties, and privations, and dangers enough to struggle with. You are always labouring and toiling, exposed to every risk and hardship. Your home, country, friends, all quitted. Neither time, nor health, nor life, to be called your own. It would be hard, indeed” (with a faltering voice), “if woman’s feelings were to be added to all this.”

    “We shall never agree upon this question,” Captain Harville was beginning to say, when a slight noise called their attention to Captain Wentworth’s hitherto perfectly quiet division of the room. It was nothing more than that his pen had fallen down; but Anne was startled at finding him nearer than she had supposed, and half inclined to suspect that the pen had only fallen because he had been occupied by them, striving to catch sounds, which yet she did not think he could have caught.

    “Have you finished your letter?” said Captain Harville.

    “Not quite, a few lines more. I shall have done in five minutes.”

    “There is no hurry on my side. I am only ready whenever you are. I am in very good anchorage here,” (smiling at Anne,) “well supplied, and want for nothing. No hurry for a signal at all. Well, Miss Elliot,” (lowering his voice,) “as I was saying we shall never agree, I suppose, upon this point. No man and woman, would, probably. But let me observe that all histories are against you — all stories, prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

    “Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

    Thinking about this passage in relation to Jane Austen’s juvenilia and earlier cases of “the novel”, I was struck by the great psychological depth that her characters portray in Persuasion, as well as what Ian Watt refers to as “realistic particularity” and the use of non-traditional plot. Jane Austen’s juvenilia, while incredibly entertaining, definitely seemed to parody the literary tropes and movements of amatory fiction and 18th c. novels we encountered before. In contrast, this scene— in which Anne indirectly reveals her true feelings about Wentworth (while speaking to Cap. Harville) while he is in the room by explaining the extent of women’ love— is much more serious and harbors a realism more accurate than earlier texts. For one, based on Watt’s categorization of the “non-traditional plot,” the entirely of Persuasion shies away from the rake/reformed rake or coquette/reformed coquette narrative we see in earlier books. Anne and Wentworth, we are told at the start of the novel, are already acquainted, and are not particularly interested in trying to court other people, because they still love each other, but just don’t know that the other does. Too, the dialogue exchange in this moment is particularly notable— it’s not so stilted as one may hear a real life conversation, but nor is it so prosaic or excessive that it’s unbelievable. Instead, it falls in a happy medium, in which the reader understands that the fluidity of the conversation is not akin to real talking, and that the prose itself is smart, thought-provoking, and helps to characterize the people in the room. The indirectness of the dialogue too— that Anne is (on the surface, speaking of Louisa and Benwick, but referring truly to herself and Wentworth, and indeed, speaking to him!) using allows the reader to feel the emotions that Wentworth does, as this is the first moment that she can speak openly about her feelings— and not even entirely openly at that. The possibility of such a well-timed conversation, with the right people in the room, is very unlikely in the most realistic sense, but caters to Watt’s definition of a novel’s realism: “that [a novel’s realism] does not reside in the kind of life it presents, but in the way it presents it.”


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