A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen's Persuasion

University of Delaware Press, 2007 - 280 páginas
To praise Jane Austen's novels only as stylistic masterpieces is to strip them of the historical, cultural, and literary contexts that might otherwise illuminate them. By focusing primarily on the political, historical, satiric, actively intertextual, and deeply sexualized text of Persuasion, Jocelyn Harris seeks to reconcile the so-called insignificance of her content with her high canonical status, for Austen's interactions with real and imagined worlds prove her to be innovative, even revolutionary. This book answers common assertions that Austen's content is restricted; that being uneducated and a woman, she could only write unconsciously, realistically, and autobiographically of what she knew; that her national and sexual politics were reactionary; and that her novels serve mainly as havens from reality. Such ideas arose from literal readings of Austen's letters, the family's representation of her as a gentle, unlearned genius, and the assumption that she could not write about the Napoleonic Wars. Persuasion is, though, permeated with references to war as well as peace. Harris suggests that Persuasion may respond to Walter Scott's review of Emma, Austen's correspondence with Fanny Knight, hostile reviews of Frances Burney's The Wanderer, contemporary attacks on the novel, and her own defense of fiction in Northanger Abbey. Self-critical in revision, Austen calls on Byron, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Cook to modify wartime constructions of English masculinity such as Southey's Nelson. Similarly, her critique of Scott's first three novels confirms that her attitude toward class and gender is far from reactionary. Persuasion reveals Austen's patriotism, her pioneering lyricism, and her hopes for sexual equality. Although like Turner she portrays Lyme as sublime and liminally open to change, she attacks Bath, a city shadowed by mortality and corruption, with a savage indignation characteristic of contemporary satire. Persuasion sketches a society founded on merit and distributive justice, its turn from woe to joy derived not so much from her own life as from the seasonal resurrections of Shakespeare's late tragicomedies, her religious beliefs, and the nation's mixed grief and jubilee after Waterloo. Harris draws on new information to argue that Austen is an outward looking, intertextually aware, and remarkably self-conscious author.

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“Jocelyn Harris’s exhaustive study of Persuasion is endlessly fascinating … reveals so much about the process of writing and the influences at work on the writer’s consciousness…. a superb and enlightening companion” (Regency World, May 2014).
“Confirmed Austenistas … will rightly consider it worth their while to read everything that Harris writes about Austen … sensitive, illuminating, meticulous chapters … thorough and satisfying … engaging detail … striking … fascinating information… refreshing … stimulating … deftly supported idea . . . beautiful, affecting essays about Lyme, Bath, and their roles in Persuasion. … lovely Conclusion … invaluable reference … thrilling facts … a wonderful ear for Austen … Grateful scholars will be piecing together the riches she has heaped up here … for years to come” (Sarah Raff, The Eighteenth-Century Novel, 2011).
“… exceptionally rewarding reading … outstanding … lively … fascinating and telling account … characteristically clear and cogent … vigorous and enjoyable” (Aileen Douglas, Eighteenth-Century Fiction 23, on-line, 2010-11).
“… luminous clarity of her prose … sympathetic and plausible… gems of interpretive discovery” (Janet Aikens Yount, Eighteenth-Century Life, 2010).
“Jocelyn Harris’s extended defence of Persuasion as an ‘innovative, even revolutionary’ novel is ... much to be welcomed … the relationship between Persuasion and numerous surrounding texts [is] revealed gradually and astonishingly ... the literary revolution presented in this book will be a revelation ... any serious discussion of Persuasion will now have to engage with Jocelyn Harris’s book” (Fiona Stafford, TLS, 22 May 2009).
“…opens up further possibilities for research and critical re-evaluation, and shows how much can be done by critical and well-researched delving into associated texts and historical records ... interesting ... intriguing” (Margaret Kirkham, Newsletter, The Jane Austen Society [UK] #32, March 2009).
“… a pleasure to read a sustained, multilayered study of a single novel, especially a novel as rich and beloved as Persuasion … meticulous study of ‘the contexts and intertexts of Persuasion … Harris’s prose is clear and engaging. … invaluable to anyone embarking on a study of Persuasion … much to offer other readers as well. … illuminating … Equally strong are the discussions of Lyme Regis and Bath … clever premise …vivid and detailed … convincing … Harris’s methodology is provocative … valuable [contribution] to the distinguished body of Austen scholarship” (Lorri Nandrea, Eighteenth Century Reviews On-Line, 17 August 2009).
“… underscores once again Jocelyn Harris's eye for reading literature in terms of its larger context, for making important connections, and for noticing and explicating in Jane Austen's work [her] transformations of the work of other authors … interesting and compelling reading” (Sylvia Casey Marks, 18th Century Intelligencer, 2009).
“… fascinating new study . . . rich … radical” (Olivia Murphy, RES, 2008).
“Jocelyn Harris … invites us to contemplate ... a novelist who writes with political awareness and extensive knowledge ... demonstrates how carefully Austen worked and how brilliantly she focussed her points ... great resonance ... compelling ... convincing detail ... revealing ... A work of commanding erudition, informed by intimate knowledge of Austen and of her literary, social, and political contexts ... [Harris's] far-ranging knowledge and her verbal energy ... have generated an impressive critical work” (Patricia Meyer Spacks, JASNA News, 2008).
“ thorough and often fascinating … One finishes this study with a much better understanding of the novel's literary origins, of its allusions to the Napoleonic wars and to the British navy, of the settings, and even of Austen’s revisions” (Anne C. Colley, SEL 2008).
“A valuable study for all who are interested in Austen


Origins for Persuasion
The Reviser at Work MS Chapter 10 to Chapters XXI 1818
At the White Hart MS Chapter 11 to Chapter XII 1818
The History of Buonaparte
Domestic Virtues and National Importance
A Critique on Walter Scott
Prejudice on the Side of Ancestry
The Worth of Lyme
The White Glare of Bath
Meaning to Have Spring Again
A Thoughtless Gay Set
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Joceylyn Harris is professor emerita at University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

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