Category: Writing & Reading | Type: Discussion | Title: Persuasion (in Context) | Author: Jane Austen | Ch: Chapter 1

Were the reader to read aloud this opening (a single long sentence), she or he would hear the rhythmic litany of "there," the four of them parallel, each intoned at the beginning of a main clause, each a reverential iteration of the thing it represents, the Baronetage, as if it were the King James Bible and Austen was reminding us of Numbers.  

A classic bit of Austen's subversive irony is that Sir Walter's reading for amusement no other book means he wouldn't condescend to pick up the very one that Austen is writing and we're beginning.

But how could she compete? The description of his turning to the Baronetage for occupation, consolation, admiration and respect, pity and contempt is more appropriate to the Good Book. 

A reader of Austen will note a significant difference in the opening of Persuasion compared with those of her other five completed novels. They begin briskly, epigrammatically, whereas here the wit is submerged in the mellower shadings of irony. Persuasion departs from her other novels in being about a heroine who is some seven or eight years or more older than her others. They are all about to cross a threshold and love for the first time; Anne Elliot has years since crossed the threshold, only to find herself alone on the other side. Rather than expectation, Persuasion'dominant emotion is regret. Irony's subtler shades are appropriate to the subject of the knowledge that comes with retrospection. 

Similarly, Persuasion's comic figures are not so brilliant as others in Austen, and what makes them funny cannot be disentangled from what makes them noxious in the sense of harmful. P., like so much of Austen, attacks narcissism, arrogance, and self-indulgence but more trenchantly reveals the lasting pain and the deformation they cause. Time—because the heroine is older; because Jane Austen is older—plays a larger role in this novel, and narcissism, arrogance, and snobbery have a way of devouring other people's time. Persuasion expands in space as well as time. The novel begins at Kellynch Hall, moves to a neighboring estate, spends some time at Lyme Regis, and settles in Bath. 

Yet Persuasion, despite the elegiac tone of lost time, is not elegiac. It celebrates vigor, female as well as male, passion, and competence and specifically female resilience, dignity, and tenderness.


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