Austen Unpersuaded

Jane Austen completed Persuasion on this day in 1816. It is a date lamented by all Janeites: she died not quite a year later, and this last novel, published posthumously, marks the close of her career. The story gets its momentum from the personality of Anne Elliot who, against all family persuasion, must learn to trust her own path and full heart: “She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”

Family and friends were always trying to persuade Austen to give up her fine brush and sharp scalpel for High Romance. Her letters seem to have given answer — “Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked” — but just in case, she left behind a “Plan of a Novel according to Hints from Various Quarters.” This begins with the introduction of the two main characters, a father who is “perfect in Character, Temper, and Manners,” and a daughter who is “perfectly good, with much tenderness and sentiment, and not the least Wit.” Austen’s notes promise complete obedience to the genre’s dictates, and then some:

Often carried away by the anti-hero, but rescued either by her Father or by the Hero—often reduced to support herself and her Father by her Talents and work for her Bread; continually cheated and defrauded of her hire, worn down to a Skeleton, and now and then starved to death.  — At last, hunted out of civilized Society, denied the poor Shelter of the humblest Cottage, they are compelled to retreat into Kamschatka where the poor Father, quite worn down, finding his end approaching, throws himself on the Ground, and after 4 or 5 hours of tender advice and parental Admonition to his miserable Child, expires in a fine burst of Literary Enthusiasm, intermingled with Invectives against holders of Tithes.  — Heroine inconsolable for some time — but afterwards crawls back towards her former Country — having at least 20 narrow escapes from falling into the hands of the Anti-hero — and at last in the very nick of time, turning a corner to avoid him, runs into the arms of the Hero himself, who having just shaken off the scruples which fetter’d him before, was at the very moment setting off in pursuit of her. — The Tenderest and completest Eclaircissement takes place, and they are happily united.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.