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MARGARET RUSSETT Persuasion, Mediation As opposed to her earlier novels which centered their interest on persons . . . places ... or paired oppositions, Persuasion implies the need for mediation or communication between opposing standpoints . . . between yes and no. —Anne K. Mellor1 T he love-story of persuasion is bracketed by two strikingly similar questions, both posed by Anne Elliott about her once and former lover, Frederick Wentworth. “Now, how were his sentiments to be read?” Anne wonders upon the renewal of their acquaintance; one hundred pages and several months later, much reassured upon that first point, she asks in­ stead, “How was the truth to reach him? How . . . would he ever learn her real sentiments?”2 The question of how any two people can reach an un­ derstanding is, as every critic has noticed, central not only to Persuasion but to all Austen’s novels. The aspect I will address has less to do with what those “sentiments” might be, or whether they will be understood, than with the means—or, more precisely, the medium—of their communication. The assumption that sentiments may be “read” is in one sense a common­ place of social interaction, but the metaphor acquires unusual point in a novel that, like Persuasion, is notably preoccupied with reading and watch­ ing; with hearing and overhearing; with gossip, advertising, and “states of the nation”; with convictions and proofs. This essay posits “mediality” as the condition of Persuasion, in the hope that this way offraming Austen’s concerns can help us understand the novel’s experimental representation of “consciousness” as part and parcel of its interest in social systems. “Persuasion” signifies both an intersubjective act, performed by one mind upon another—“influencing by expostulation,” or “attempting the passions,” according to Samuel Johnson—and an intrasubjective state, otherwise known as “opinion” or belief.3 Used repeatedly, and in both i. Mothers of the Nation, 127. 2. Jane Austen, Persuasion, ed. Linda Bree (Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 1998), 94, 207. Subsequent references to this work are cited parenthetically in the text. 3. Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, 2 vols. (London: W. Strahan, 1755-56), “Persuasion,” 2:1—2. Silf 53 (Fall 2014) 417 418 MARGARET RUSSETT senses, throughout Persuasion, the word is fitting not only as a description of how its characters interact, but as a name for the strategy of free indirect discourse through which, according to D. A. Miller, Austen establishes her narrator’s authority as the differential relation between “inner life” and ex­ ternal judgment.4 The title is only one of the ways in which Persuasion sig­ nals its reflexive concern with rhetoric and representational systems, and its traversal of the fictional wall between the “inner” world of its characters and the “outer” one of its readers. “Persuasion” is also the explicit preoc­ cupation of Persuasion s characters, especially the famously preoccupied Anne. Conceptualized in Lockean fashion as the “impression” rendered by argument or example, it is represented phenomenally as noise, physical pressure, even violence: Anne was “forced into prudence in her youth” (69), with permanently debilitating consequences. By figuring influence in this way, Austen takes up a question conspicuously elided in Locke’s dis­ cussion of what he variously describes as the two-dimensional surface (tabula rasa, “white paper”) or three-dimensional space (“empty cabinet” or “dark room”) of human understanding.5 That is to say, Austen is concerned with the medium of impressions, not just their form, for the problem of me­ diation subsumes considerations of matter into the spatial-temporal dimen­ sions of the impressing event. “Impression,” therefore, is both a perceptual and a communicative phenomenon in Persuasion. Initially posed in terms of form, the novel’s speculations about mental impressions crystallize in Wentworth’s jocular speech on the hazelnut, de­ livered to the “headstrong” or merely “thick-headed” Louisa Musgrove, and overheard by Anne, whose character he believes himself to be dissect­ ing:6 “Your sister is an amiable creature; but yours is the character of deci­ sion and firmness, I see. If you value her conduct or happiness, infuse as much of your own spirit into her, as you can. But this, no doubt, you have been always doing. It is the worst...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 417-433
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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