• Judy Simons
Part of the Macmillan Master Guides book series (MMG)


One of the most notable features of the narrative of Persuasion is its retrospective structure. The present action of the novel is framed by past events, and the issue of the relationship between past and present is vital to a complete understanding of the text. The way in which the time dimension operates forces us to question this relationship, for not only does the opening paragraph of the book draw our attention to the insistent impact of past events on the present consciousness, but, once Anne Elliot’s dismal situation has been depicted, the scene moves rapidly backwards eight years in time in an attempt to explain the causes of her present misery. This time shift is crucial, for the past in this novel never recedes, although the way in which it is interpreted by different characters varies. All Anne’s conduct towards Wentworth is governed by her knowledge of their past relationship, and her memory is what gives the reader a perspective on her current behaviour. This has obvious thematic relevance, and indeed it is often very difficult to separate technique from subject matter in analysing Jane Austen’s novels, for the two are closely bound together, so that the structural organisation of the text is used in order to make a positive thematic contribution. Here, one incident from the past has determined the nature of Anne Elliot’s future in ways she could not have envisaged, and the sense of the disproportionate effects of that one decision taken so long ago dominates the novel.


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© Judy Simons 1987

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  • Judy Simons

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