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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 12, Issue 2 (June 2014) : 255-265
Austen’s Persuasion and the Comedy of Remarriage

Judith Levy
Rubric A: Literature and Theories of Love
Rubric B: The English Novel

Abstract

 

 

The paper reads Jane Austen’s Persuasion in light of Stanley Cavell’s Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, focusing on three main links between Cavell’s analysis of seven Hollywood films and Persuasion: the concept of remarriage itself, the social agenda and the cultural/feminist vision. In addition to applying the Cavellian idea of remarriage as “a reconciliation of a genuine forgiveness” to the renewed romance between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, the paper borrows the term “co-creation” from the business world and, associating it with the idea of the “analytic third” in contemporary psychoanalytic theory, defines Anne's and Wentworth's evolving rediscovery of each other as a “knowing again” or a co-creation, assisted by the novel’s temporality, in which the fictional present consists of a mutual evolving relationship intertwined with the events of the past, which must be faced and worked through. In Persuasion, the newly created mutuality between Anne and Wentworth also signals social change in which the old, stagnant aristocratic way of life must give way to the energy of the middle class, here represented by the navy. For Cavell, the comedies of remarriage reflect a hidden agenda of culture in which the previous generation’s feminist gains are worked through in the private sphere. The paper claims that Persuasion, and more specifically its heroine, Anne Elliott, also reflect a phase in the struggle of gender equality in which the radical feminist notions go “underground” and are worked through in the private domain, to serve as building blocks for the public feminist struggle of the late nineteenth century.
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