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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Jane Austen's 'Persuasion': Exploiting The Minutiae

It is wonderful how Jane Austen shows us so much through the minutiae of her characters' behaviour. True, she occasionally intervenes to 'tell' us a few essential facts; but the way she makes her characters reveal themselves through what they say and do must be the envy of other novelists.

Take Chapters 13 and 14 of Persuasion. Charles Hayter keeps riding off to Lyme and reporting back on Louisa's convalescence. In addition to advancing the story, it 'shows' us what a good chap Charles is. The poor fellow doesn't have many other chances to shine. In Chapter 13, only a tiny point is made of Mary (still in Lyme) planning to go out for a walk with Captain Benwick. Nothing in itself, but when Mary in the next Chapter brings up the subject of that walk, her comments tell us much about herself and about Benwick and (by implication) about Anne. In a marvellously ironic couple of speeches, Mary describes Benwick as a bore! We are left to infer what he made of her and how he must have compared her with her sister. Mary of course also resents Charles Hayter's visits to Lyme, typically revealing her snobbery and failure to appreciate an act of thoughtfulness.