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The Beginning and Early Middle of Persuasion; Or, Form and Ideology in Austen's Experiment with Narrative Comedy
James Phelan

Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, Volume 1 Number 1, January 2003, pp. 65-87 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/pan.0.0060

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The Beginning and Early Middle of Persuasion; Or, Form and Ideology in Austen's Experiment with Narrative Comedy
James Phelan

Ohio State University, Columbus Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the

Baronetage;there he found occupation for an idle hour, and
consolation in a distressed one. (3)

Mr. Shepherd was completely empowered to act; and no sooner
had such an end been reached, than Anne, who had been a most

attentive listener to the whole, left the room, to seek the comfort of cool air for her flushed cheeks; and as she walked along a favourite grove, said, with a gentle sigh, "a few monthsmore,

and he, perhaps may be walking here." (25)
This little circumstance seemed the completion of all that had gone before. She understood him. He could not forgive her - but he could not be unfeeling. Though condemning her for the past and considering it with high and unjust resentment, though

perfectly careless of her and becoming attached to another, still
he could not see her sufferwithout the desire to give her relief. It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without

emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not
which prevailed. (91) These three well-known passages from Jane Austen's last novel

represent the firstmove of exposition, the introduction of the narrative's global instability (that is, the situation that must be complicated and
resolved before the novel can end), and the culmination of Anne's reflections about Wentworth during the Uppercross section of the novel, at a point I will call its early middle. It is my contention that, in
Partial Answer 1/1 (2003)


James Phelanconstructing the progression from the opening exposition through the introduction of the global instability to Anne's culminating reflection, Austen develops her most radical experiment with the form of narrative comedy. Indeed, during this section of the narrative Austen almost

transgresses the boundaries of the form. In this essay, I shall seek to demonstrate these claims and to consider theirconsequences for the larger narrative, including their relevance to the widely-held view that Persuasion
is distinctive among Austen's novels for its elegiac, autumnal quality. Even as I turn my attention to these formal issues, I am aware that

the dominant emphasis of Austen criticism over the last twenty-five years has been on her relation to the cultural politics, especially gender politics, ofthe first two decades of nineteenth-century England. Indeed, work by critics such as Mary Poovey, Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert, Julia Prewitt Brown, Claudia Johnson, and John Wiltshire, to name just a few, has permanently and beneficially shifted our view of Austen as a writer who lived apart from the larger social and political currents of her time to one who is very much engaged with them in herfiction.11
pursue my questions about the form of Persuasion within this larger

understanding of Austen's fiction, but I also hope that this essay, by
calling attention to elements of Austen's craft that tend to be overlooked

within the more ideological and cultural readings, can suggest something
about the benefits of renewed attention to questions of form.

Furthermore, towards the...
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