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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 1, Number 1 (January 2003) : 65-87
The Beginning and Early Middle of Persuasion; Or, Form and Ideology in Austen's Experiment with Narrative Comedy

James Phelan
Rubric A: Literature and Ideology
Rubric B: The English Novel



This essay has two main arguments, the first of which proposes a model for understanding narrative beginnings that focuses on both their textual dynamics (designated by the concepts of exposition and launch) and their corresponding readerly dynamics (designated by the concepts of introduction and entrance) and then uses that model to analyze Austenís atypical beginning and its consequences in Persuasion. The novelís exposition and launch do not invite the audience to feel that they have entered a comic world, one in which the protagonistís eventual happiness is assured. Instead, Austen delays these assurances until the setting of the novel shifts to Lyme. As a result, Austen interjects into her comedy some striking new elements: unmerited suffering by the protagonist without any promise that it is only temporary; an awareness that the happy outcome could have been achieved by way of a much less painful route; and a corresponding awareness that, despite the happy outcome, the painful past has permanent effects. The second argument contrasts this view of Persuasionís form and ideology with the account of both offered by Mary Poovey. Where Poovey sees the form papering over tensions in the ideology of romantic love, this essay sees the novelís attitude toward love as more realistic than romantic. Furthermore, the analysis suggests that, in the effort to connect form and ideology, critics are likely to be better served by starting with form and then working out toward ideology rather than starting with ideology and working back toward form.

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