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Sunday, 25 December 2016

THE CLEVER OPENING CHAPTERS OF JANE AUSTEN'S 'PERSUASION'

Persuasion opens by telling us how Sir William loved to study the 'Baronetage'. With him, we learn about his family (for he has entered dates of marriages and births) and we infer that he is conceited and foolish.

The skill with which Anne Elliot's past is explained was well described by Dr. C.V. Wedgwood (in the 1966 Annual Lecture of the Jane Austen Society): 'Jane Austen moves in towards Anne slowly, starting with the revealingly funny account of her father.... It is only after we have had Sir Walter, his life, his interests, and his intention of letting his house, fully set down for our interest and amusement, that Jane Austen breaks off the narrative to explain the predicament of Anne in a straightforward, economical, deliberately low-toned chapter, which, as much by its position in the book as by any direct statement, establishes the fine character of Anne and the nature of her tragedy, her broken engagement to Captain Wentworth, in almost austere contrast to the false values with which she is surrounded.'

It is typical of the way Jane Austen interweaves comedy with sadness. (A similar effect is achieved when Fanny Price, aged ten, arrives at Mansfield Park. She is distressed, shy, lonely, made to feel inferior and guilty; yet the scene has all the outward appearance of comedy.)