The Romanticism of 'Persuasion'

Penny Gay


Most readers will define the difference between Persuasion and Jane Austen's other novels as arising from a new concentration on "feelings", on the emotional rather than the moral life of the heroine. As Reginald Farrer strikingly phrased it in a centenary essay, "Though Persuasion moves very quietly, without sobs or screams, in drawing-rooms and country lanes, it is yet among the most emotional novels in our literature." Recently, A. Walton Litz, in a collection of studies to mark the bicentenary of Jane Austen's birth, defined more precisely the peculiarly "modern" appeal of Persuasion. Locating it at first in the "almost obsessive" metaphor of "the loss and return of [Anne's] bloom", he speaks of "the deeply physical impact of Persuasion", and quotes passages from Volume One in which Jane Austen makes a "poetic use of nature as a structure of feeling, which not only offers metaphors for our emotions but controls them with its unchanging rhythms and changing moods." Here, where Anne is the receptive consciousness to the phenomena of nature, whether at Kellynch, Uppercross, or Lyme, Jane Austen displays a subtle Romanticism more integral to her work than the passing half-satirical comments about contemporary taste in poetry (both Anne's and Captain Benwick's).
But it is necessary to go further.

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