“Unbecoming Conjunctions”: Comic Mourning and the Female Gaze in Persuasion

  • Jillian Heydt-Stevenson


Austen’s unbecoming conjunctions—the odd, uncomfortable juxtapositions she includes in all the novels—multiply and problematize meanings by rendering each half of the conjunction absurd or indeterminate at the same time; by thus emphasizing context and point of view, they destabilize any ready access to firm judgments and tidy truths. In all the novels, they provide a wry humor, but nowhere so much as in Persuasion, in which, linked to mourning, they offset the “autumnal” tone often attached to this narrative and instead expose the paradoxical nature of grief: sometimes it is moving, sometimes comical, sometimes erotic, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes all of those simultaneously. When the novel mentions that Dick Musgrove, whose death before his twentieth year has earned him the appellation “poor Richard,” had “been nothing better than a thickheaded, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done any thing to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead” (51), Austen introduces how subjective taste determines the integrity and veracity of bereavement. Dick was “scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Upper cross” (50–51). This sentence, which presents his death as the best part of his life, the most intelligent and hardworking point of his existence, provides a striking example of the large issue Austen addresses: what role does aesthetic appeal play in how and about whom one repines?


Male Body Sexual Appeal Paradoxical Nature Physical Prowess Sway Back 
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© Jillian Heydt-Stevenson 2005

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  • Jillian Heydt-Stevenson

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