PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.24, NO.1 (Winter 2003)

A New View of Austen’s Persuasion

Lenore Macomber


Lenore Macomber (email: studied social sciences with special emphasis on graphic and quantitative methods.  Since then she has enjoyed trying to apply these techniques in other fields to describe simple but unexpected patterns.


the fairy-tale aspects of this beautifully written novel, including three sisters (the gentlest mistreated by the other two) and a fairy god mother (who drives away the prince and later favors an impostor), surely contribute to its lasting appeal.  But the book also contains a great deal of subtle structure which may help explain why plot and narrative produce such a satisfying whole—and might help a new film version live up to the book’s potential.  In fact, it was a feeling of dissatisfaction with existing film versions that sent me back to the novel to try to find out what it is in the plot that somehow fails to appear on the screen. The answer seems to lie in Austen’s complex, two dimensional organization of chapters in a way that makes Persuasion unique among her novels—in this as in so much else.


I find the unusual chapter structures described below interesting for several reasons.  It’s possible that carefully pre-planned chapter content helped Austen in the task of composition at a time when physical, financial, and family problems often made writing difficult.  In addition, more sensitive, one-to-one conversion of Austen’s closely linked chapter sequences into separate scenes of a film could result in a production preserving more of the balance and harmony so often sensed by readers as special virtues of this novel.  And surely it is not just chance that other structures she invented are ideally suited to its story of remembered love.  Finally, taken together, these chapter structures give film-makers an opportunity to be as inventive as Austen was—remaining true to the novel as written but also going beyond it in ways they have not yet attempted and Austen could not have imagined.


“Structure” Defined in Terms of Chapters


Austen looked forward to publication of this novel in two volumes of 12 chapters each.  That she was not merely trying to anticipate the wishes of publishers is signaled by the observation that heroine and hero, Anne and Wentworth, are in each other’s company only in the second half of each volume (now usually published together as Parts I and II):

It seems clear that at least with respect to this major plot component, she consciously tied the organization of the novel to the number and position of its chapters divided into quarters of 6 chapters each—with the book’s most significant interactions occurring in quarters two and four.


When the chapters of the two Parts are aligned vertically

and chapters with the same chapter number are paired and compared (Chapter 7 in Part I with Chapter 7 in Part II, for example; or the whole sequence in Chapters 7 through 12 in Part I with the equivalent sequence in Part II), additional similarities appear, suggesting that Austen herself may sometimes have used this format to help plan in advance the key content of later chapters—here defined as, and limited to, the thoughts and/or actions of heroine and hero with respect to each other that are most descriptive of successive stages in their gradual, progressive recovery of trust and love (the progressivity of which is perhaps the novel’s single most noticeable feature).  The plot of the novel unfolds so naturally and is so perfectly paced when chapters are read in numerical order (especially if numbered I through XXIV in editions without Part subdivisions) that other readers may be surprised, as I was, at the number and kinds of links to be found when the novel is scanned in this alternative way.


Two Important Vertically Matched Chapters


In the first half of each Part, Wentworth’s whereabouts are something of a mystery; and in both Parts, his dramatic reappearance occurs in the same place (in each Chapter 7):

Both reunions occur under comparable circumstances: in large rooms, in the daytime, and in the company of one of Anne’s sisters (Mary in I, Elizabeth in II) and other people, who begin to gossip after Wentworth leaves (in I) and after Anne leaves (in II).


Their respective nadirs or points of greatest misery and feelings of hopelessness also occur in the same place (at the end of each Chapter 8):

under comparable circumstances: at crowded evening parties, amid music and hubbub; and both end in Wentworth’s refusal of a seat proffered by Anne.


Similar links throughout the novel not only between other matched chapter pairs but also between entire matched chapter sequences suggest that the two “vertical” links discussed above are not due to chance but were planned.


Matched Chapter Sequences When Heroine and Hero Are Apart


The central chapters (5 through 10) of Part I are all set in and around the homes of the two families at Uppercross: at the large, old-fashioned “Great House” belonging to the comfortably old-fashioned Musgrove parents; and at the smaller, slightly shabby “Cottage” occupied by their eldest son Charles and his wife Mary (Anne’s younger sister).  Arriving before Wentworth, Anne comes to the Cottage (I,5) from Kellynch, the courtly home of her impecunious father now forced to rent to Admiral and Mrs. Croft (Wentworth’s older sister).  Captain Wentworth comes to the Crofts at Kellynch (I,7) from overseas and is soon a daily visitor to the Musgrove sisters, Louisa and Henrietta.  However, Anne’s knowledge that she and Wentworth are destined to meet predates his coming by several weeks (I,3), news that he is actually in England (I,6) runs ahead of his arrival at Anne’s old home; reports of his first visits to the Musgroves senior reach Anne on a daily basis, adding to the tension which finally peaks a day or two later (I,7) when she and Mary have only a few minutes warning before his actual appearance at the Cottage—and heroine and hero come together again for the first time in eight years.  This build-up of excitement in Chapters 3-6 feeds directly into the tensions between them as they gradually learn again to trust each other as friends—the dominant theme in the 2nd half of Part I.


In Part II, after the climactic dispersal of so many people at the end of Part I, almost all the major characters including Anne and Wentworth converge in turn on the town of Bath.  As before, Anne’s arrival (end, II,2) predates that of Wentworth.  As before, in earlier chapters there is a build-up of excitement (and even mystery) with regard to Wentworth’s whereabouts (and increasingly with regard to his motives) which reaches a peak, as before, in Chapter 6—preparing the way for his sudden reappearance in Chapter 7 and the series of intense verbal encounters with Anne which are the dominant theme in the second half of Part II.  Thus, not just chapter pairs but entire sequences are matched in the early chapters of Parts I and II.


Note also that Chapter 6 in I matches Chapter 6 in II, and that both play a central role in the plot just as do Chapters 7 and 8, for it is in Chapter 6 of each Part that Anne receives her most “electrifying” news about Wentworth, in each case delivered by a sister.  In I,6, his sister Mrs. Croft politely asks Anne if she has heard that he is married—referring (fortunately for Anne and readers alike) not to Captain Wentworth but to his elder brother, former curate at nearby Monkford.  In II,6, Anne’s sister Mary stuns her with the news that Wentworth is not going to marry—referring to the still bedridden Louisa at Lyme.  So at the time of each highly charged face-to-face meeting after separation (Chapters 7 in both I and II), Anne already knows that Wentworth is still “unshackled and free” (167)—that there is still hope that he may someday reward the unchanged, unselfish affection she still feels for him by loving her as he did before.  All the action that follows, in both Parts I and II, and all Anne’s emotions, are energized by this hope.


These two kinds of chapter relationships—the close similarity in the gradual build-up of excitement in separate matched chapter sequences (horizontal arrows in the chart below) and the vertical matching in two trios of centrally located chapter pairs (6, 7, 8)—serve to bind together all four quarters of the novel:

and show how Austen’s attention to both kinds of chapter structure helps create the sense of balance and harmony that set this novel apart. The remaining chapters in each Part complete the picture.


Matched Chapter Sequences when Heroine and Hero Are Together


Chapter sequences in the first half of each Part (discussed above) are followed by closely matched chapter sequences in the second half of each Part during which heroine and hero are together:

Each of these two later sequences spanning Chapters 7-12 is unified by its own fascinating, step-by-step increase in intimacy between Anne and Wentworth—their painfully slow achievement of friendship as expressed in physical nearness (Part I) and their equally difficult recovery of love measured by their ability to communicate their feelings for each other in words (Part II).


Because of the extreme difficulty they experience in learning to converse—that is, to speak to each other face-to-face, in relative private, at some length, on non-trivial topics (never even begun until Chapter 8 in II and then soon interrupted)—their progress toward intimacy in Part I is told almost exclusively in physical terms of looking, listening, and overhearing; glances and half-glances; standing at a distance, walking with others, moving apart, and turning away; stepping forward and stepping back, approaching unseen, first from behind and then from the side; a fleeting touch of hands; a bright glance of approval in the hero’s eyes, a heightened color in the heroine’s cheeks; all, at last, crowned by the closing scene of Chapter I,12 which finds them seated side-by-side in a carriage, on a shared mission, speeding through the night on the journey from Lyme.


It is of course hard to imagine a love story (not told exclusively by letter), which does not make use of these primarily visual components for describing contact with others.  What is impressive about Austen’s use of them is her gradation and placement of them in unbroken sequence, so that all the chapters in which Anne and Wentworth are together are linked into one continuous story line of steadily increasing emotional intensity.  At the heart of each chapter in Part I,7-12 is one key encounter between Anne and Wentworth, each more intimate than the one preceding (lasting longer, arousing more emotion, or conveying more tenderness), each bringing them closer together physically and mentally.  But despite his gradually changing feelings, Wentworth studiously avoids speaking directly to Anne (beyond the barest civilities required in the presence of others).  Only at the very end (I,12) does he ever address Anne purposefully, and then only in the form of anxious questions to seek advice during the crisis at Lyme.  They never converse.


In contrast to the progressively increasing physical intimacy of their encounters in Chapters 7-12 in Part I, the highlights of Chapters 7-12 in Part II, when Wentworth and Anne again come together, consist of a series of stressful attempts at conversation showing a comparable steady, carefully controlled increase in scope and significance (from trivial in II,7 to momentous in II,11), each in a different setting, each more urgent than the one before (lasting longer; allaying fear; restoring hope; declaring love), each carrying their story more and more swiftly to its fairy-tale ending (II,11-12).


Remaining True to the Novel: Filming Chapter Sequences


These two chapter sequences amounting to a choreography of rapprochement seem ready-made for film, with each chapter corresponding to a separate scene visualizing one step in the progress of heroine and hero toward the restoration of mutual love.  All the forms of nonverbal communication essential in Part I remain important in Part II because Anne and Wentworth are not only reluctant to express their feelings but are given few opportunities to do so, and their promising beginnings are cut short.  When Wentworth at last has the courage to express himself passionately, he does so by letter (for the sake of privacy), just as Anne gives him that courage indirectly by speaking (eloquently) not to Wentworth himself, though he is seated nearby, but to his friend.  At their story’s climactic moment (middle, II,11), they communicate through looks alone.  A love affair so nonverbal and outwardly so restrained should give film-makers an ideal opportunity to visualize all the ways there are of expressing tenderness without words or touch—as depicted in these sequential encounters so carefully constructed by Austen.


In addition, a new film version faithful to her text would focus attention on the locations and motions of heroine and hero in the crowded rooms (at Uppercross, Lyme, and Bath) where so much of their love story unfolds; and also on the intricate arrangements and rearrangements that occur among walking partners during the outings which add so much to the sense of liberation in the later chapters of both Parts I and II (including II,12).


Made-up scenes inserted in an effort to convey background information should not be allowed to interrupt and mar the two sequences culminating in Anne’s escape to a new life.  Fortunately, an untried cinematic solution to this problem is implicit in Austen’s use of chapter pairs (see final sections of essay).


Matched Chapter Pairs when Heroine and Hero are Apart


Individual chapters in the two sequences just discussed so consistently resemble each other when vertically matched—as already seen in the case of Chapter Pairs 6, 7, and 8—that to me it seems almost certain that Austen kept in mind the earlier chapter of each pair when planning content for its numerical counterpart in Part II.


In Chapter 1 in Parts I and II, Anne has no expectation of ever marrying Wentworth.  In I,1, however, she is still free to hope for a miracle (we later learn that she has kept informed of naval affairs and knows something of his career).  In II,1, therefore, she is actually less well off in this respect for, like everyone else, she considers it certain he will marry Louisa and that they must all continue to meet socially after the marriage—meetings that will be painful to her.  In addition, in these paired chapters, the virtues of both Admiral Croft and his wife (in II,1) are compared to the selfish vanity of Sir Walter and Elizabeth and the slow pace of Lady Russell (on display in I,1)—the people with whom Anne will spend the rest of her life if she never marries.


In each Chapter 2, I and II, we see Lady Russell doing her best as Anne’s surrogate mother, concerned over her lack of marriage prospects and therefore favoring Sir Walter’s relocation to Bath (I,2) where Anne will be “more known” (15); and delivering Anne to the town she dreads (II,2).


In each Chapter 3, I and II, the focus is on Sir Walter and Elizabeth, first their planned removal and then their re-establishment in rented luxury at Bath, their habitual sneering and snobbery continuing uninterrupted.  Precisely at the end of each Chapter 3, an entirely new and contrasting personality is introduced, in each case a suitor for the self-effacing Anne: her first whispered mention of Captain Wentworth’s existence (in I,3); and Mr. Elliot’s exuberant entrance in person (in II,3).


In each Chapter 4, I and II, we see Lady Russell doing her best to assure Anne’s permanent unhappiness, separating her from her true love (recalled in I,4); and recognizing from the first that Mr. Elliot’s interest in remarriage (II,4) is centered not on Elizabeth but on Anne—whose reservations about his character Lady Russell hopes to overcome.


In each Chapter 5, I and II, Anne manages to escape the sterility of her own home into more congenial society: first from Kellynch to Mary and the conviviality of the Musgroves at Uppercross (I,5); then from her father’s rented residence at Bath to the modest lodgings of her girlhood friend (II,5).  Both sister and friend play a role in Anne’s and Wentworth’s story: Mary (albeit unintentionally) by bringing them together, Mrs. Smith by helping to assure that they remain together when Bath’s gossip network threatens to come between them.


And in each Chapter 6, as pointed out early in this essay, Anne receives news about Wentworth that marks the culmination of the chapters in the first half of each Part and prepares Anne (and the reader) for his sudden reappearance in Chapters 7, I and II.


Matched Chapter Pairs when Heroine and Hero Are Together


The close similarity in the key content of the two trios of Chapters 6, 7, and 8 has already been discussed, and comparable close matching continues in the remaining chapter pairs of each Part.


In each Chapter 9, I and II, Anne is closeted in a quiet setting with one of her two “significant others.”  In I,9, she learns from Wentworth’s actions that his real feelings are not as they seemed at their previous meetings.  In II,9, she learns from Mrs. Smith’s information that Mr. Elliot’s true character is not as it seemed at their previous meetings.  In each case, one of her (two) true friends intervenes to relieve her from the unwanted attentions of a domineering male relative (Sir Walter’s namesake in I,9, Sir Walter’s heir in II,9).  Note that this visit to Mrs. Smith takes place on the single day intervening between the concert in II,8 (Wentworth’s nadir) and the novel’s denouement (on the two days after the visit).  Though not actually in each other’s presence on the day of the visit, Anne and Wentworth certainly continue foremost in each other’s thoughts—as is clear both from Austen’s description of Anne and from Wentworth’s later, impassioned description of himself (see middle, II,11).


Both Chapters 10 have key content and highpoints which also appear to have been closely matched.  In I,10, Wentworth learns from Louisa that Anne has refused another suitor—and he wonders, “Was this for me?” (see his words to Anne: 244).  In II,10, Wentworth deduces from Anne’s words to others that she refuses Mr. Elliot as a suitor—and that this is very definitely “for him.”  The result shortly thereafter is Wentworth’s quiet approach to Anne’s side (after keeping his distance, just as in I,10), making his way to her through the midst of the crowd around them (who are paying little attention to Anne, just as in I,10).  And he comes for the express purpose of showing her attention (just as in I,10).  But this time he is not silent but comes to converse—and begins with the first tender words he has ever addressed directly to her in the novel, words deliberately recalling, for the first time, their past acquaintance.


These comparisons make clear how far Anne and Wentworth have progressed toward reconciliation after their first unhappy contacts in Part I: from Wentworth’s wordless concern for Anne’s physical comfort alone, marred by avoidance of eye contact and refusal to hear her words of thanks (both I,9 and I,10), to direct, poignant, face-to-face reminiscence about what he knows to be one of Anne’s significant characteristics (her dislike of card parties) setting her apart from most of their society—above all, from her own family whose sinister entrance at the end of II,10 marks the beginning of the second stage of the denouement (II,11).


Numerous details also match in Chapters I,10 and II,10.  Both include a scene where Anne and her sister Mary walk out escorted by Charles; and each culminates in moments of intimacy between Wentworth and Anne that bring hope (to Anne in I, to Wentworth in II), each time made possible by a sister and brother-in-law (the arrival of the Crofts in their gig in I, the topics noisily debated by Mary and Charles in II).  In both, the same minor character’s changing status affects the relationship between Anne and Wentworth: Henrietta’s engagement (to her cousin) creates a crisis for Wentworth (in I) by turning his casual flirtation with two sisters into the serious courtship of one (in the eyes of all around them); later, Henrietta’s role as bride-to-be brings the Musgroves to Bath (in II), just in time to provide the secure haven Anne needs (away from Sir Walter and Elizabeth) in which to resolve Wentworth’s second crisis (caused by her supposed engagement to her own cousin).  Thus already in II,10, Austen is drawing together and tightening relationships among characters important earlier in the novel.


The key content of Chapter I,11 is also closely Matched in Chapter 11 of Part II.  In both, Wentworth is able to overhear Anne in long and eloquent conversation with fellow naval officers, Captain Benwick in I, Captain Harville in II—the first demonstrating her intellectual erudition and capacity to respond sympathically to the needs of a peer; the second revealing her personal constancy in love so that Wentworth has the courage at last to write the letter that reunites them as lovers half-an-hour later.  It is not too much to say that the powers of conversation Anne has recovered by Chapter I,11 assure her success in II,11 in recovering Wentworth himself.


The key content of Chapter I,12, however, finds no match in Chapter II,12.


Although both are appropriate final chapters—I,12 at the end of Part I and II,12 concluding the whole novel—they bear no close relation to each other, and their respective contributions to the love story are quite different.  For one thing, Chapter I,12 is among the longest chapters in the book, whereas Chapter II,12 is noticeably the shortest.  It is, in fact, a typical Austen finale (low-key, dialogue-free, judgmental, and witty) of the kind she usually provided to conclude her novels.  For this reason it is set aside in the chart below:

in which the widths of chapters are proportional to their relative numbers of pages, and the diagonal lines connecting them indicate the matching of key content in all but the two Chapters 12.


A solution to the puzzle of “unpaired” Chapter I,12 is suggested in the chart above. The clue lies in the different lengths of the two Chapters 11, with Chapter 11 in Part II almost exactly twice as long as Chapter 11 in Part I.  As shown in the chart below, it is only the first half of Chapter 11 in II that is matched in its key content (Anne’s eloquent conversation with Harville) to the key content of Chapter 11 in I (Anne’s eloquent conversation with Benwick):

If Chapter 12 in Part I is matched to anything, it must be matched to the second half of Chapter 11 in Part II—and this appears to be the case.


Chapter 12 in Part I and the second half of Chapter 11 in Part II have much in common.  Both contain the climactic final pages of their respective Parts.  It is not the little finale set aside in the charts above but the second half of Chapter 11 that actually concludes Part II (just as Chapter 12 above it in the chart concludes Part I).  Both follow scenes with similar indoor settings at inns at Lyme (I,11) and at Bath (1st half, II,11) where Anne and Wentworth are apart but within hearing distance amidst a jovial crowd of many of the same supporting characters (including Charles and Mary, other Musgroves, and Captain Harville).  Both open with scenes contrasting strongly with these earlier scenes, in each case involving Anne’s emergence into light and fresh air out-of-doors.  The highpoint in Part I (and turning point in Wentworth’s awareness of his feelings for Anne) closely matches the highpoint in Part II (and their love story): in each case, one quick, bright look from Wentworth into Anne’s eyes and her warm glow in response—internal in I,12, ecstatically shared in II,11 (2nd half).


Numerous details also match in these two subdivisions.  In each we share the anguish, first of Benwick and then of Wentworth, at the loss of a woman beloved.  At the end of I,12, Wentworth eagerly tells others his high opinion of Anne’s virtues; several times in the second half of II,11, he eagerly tells this to Anne herself.  Although the accident at Lyme is not, in itself, part of I,12’s key content (as here defined), it is specifically recalled in II,11 when Anne’s excitement causes a flurry of concern and Mrs. Musgrove expresses the fear that she too may have received a blow to the head.  In both, comparison is made between the value of determined self-will and what Anne calls a “persuadable temper” (in I,12:116).  Even the concluding scenes in I,12 and II,11 seem to match in mood and message.  In the first, we see Anne and Wentworth in a world of their own, of one mind, secure in each other’s company despite their destination; in the second, we watch them moving toward a new life of their own making, oblivious to the crowd around them at the only evening card party they will ever again have to attend.


Proposal for a Two-word Change


The simple insertion of just the two words “Chapter 12” approximately midway through Chapter 11 in Part II—at the point where Anne has just completed reading Wentworth’s great letter—makes possible consistent matching of all chapters preceding the short finale.  The climactic chapter at the end of Part I (Chapter 12) is no longer exceptional in being unmatched; and the climactic chapter at the end of Part II (Chapter 11) is no longer exceptional in being matched to two chapters instead of one.  All chapters preceding the short finale are now paired to another chapter and only to one.


I think Austen herself would have approved this change and intended for the two words to be there.  Evidence for this is found in the short single-chapter ending she first wrote for Part II (preserved in manuscript along with the brief finale which, interestingly enough, was also written at that time).


Support for the Proposal in the Original Ending to Part II


Compared to the published ending, the original, manuscript ending (Ms) is very short:

Partly for this reason, it is also very inadequate.  In addition to the fact that most of the supporting characters important throughout the novel fail to reappear, the few who are present act out-of-character.  Such compression of the entire denouement also means that the beautiful pacing in the chapter sequences elsewhere in the novel comes to an abrupt end.  But despite these differences, the two endings have one thing in common: the matching process is continued in a manner consistent with its use in earlier chapter pairs.


In the longer, published ending, key content in Chapters II,10 and 11 is matched (as described above) to all three Chapters I,10,11,12.  Considering the task at hand (the writing of the entire denouement) and the richness of incidents and characters there are to choose from in these three chapters in Part I, one might expect the Ms ending to have been matched to any and all of them.  But this is not the case.  Coming immediately after Chapter II,9, it is not only labeled “Chapter 10” in Austen’s own hand, but its key content is strictly confined to counterparts in Chapter I,10 alone.  The simplest explanation for this restricted choice is that Austen was in the habit of matching each new chapter in Part II to the chapter in Part I with the same chapter number—and to that chapter alone.


In that case, the simplest explanation for the seeming failure of matching at the ends of Parts I and II is that Austen intended for there to be two chapters where in the published ending there is only one (Chapter II,11); and that at some point during the writing, revising, copying, and printing of the novel, the two crucial words were omitted.  The manuscript ending thus confirms the consistent application throughout the text of a single rule for matching with no failures of fit.


Support for the Proposal in Austen’s Other Novels


Division of II,11 into two chapters adds a chapter to Persuasion, giving it a pattern seen in several of the novels:


Persuasion 25 chapters in 2 volumes = 2 x 12 + 1
Emma 55 chapters in 3 volumes = 3 x 18 + 1
Northanger Abbey 31 chapters in 2 volumes = 2 x 15 + 1
Pride and Prejudice 61 chapters in 3 volumes = 3 x 20 + 1
               (or in 2 volumes = 2 x 30 + 1)




—in each of which the final chapter differs from the others in length, style, and function.  Despite the potential for matching inherent in this pattern, none of the other novels seems to have exploited it; and the same can be said of Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park (each with an even total number of chapters including a final chapter as long as, or longer than, the chapter average).  Examination of the more complex plots in Austen’s other novels revealed no comparably close, horizontal linkage of chapters based on key content pertaining to heroine (and/or hero) and no sustained, systematic occurrences of vertical matching in paired chapters (or trios) from successive Parts.


The fact that the original ending left Austen with a novel of 23 (22+1) chapters when there were already 12 carefully unified chapters intended for Part I suggests that this ending, and perhaps also Chapter II,9, may indeed have been written in haste at a time when she felt so unwell that any ending seemed better than none.


The Importance of Chapter Sequences in Unifying the Novel


Running through the novel from start to finish, parallel to the two chapter sequences recording relationships between Wentworth and Anne, is a third sequence pertaining to Anne alone, telling her own story independent of her relations with Wentworth.  Spanning every chapter with no break between parts,

this sequence records Anne’s gradual self-transformation from someone unwanted and ignored by father and elder sister to someone welcomed and admired by many—ready for leadership, if called on; prepared to return love from another if it can never come from Wentworth; resolute in securing her story’s happy outcome in the face of crises (posed by Wentworth’s jealousy of Mr. Elliot and resentment of her family).  Embedded in each chapter is some sort of crucial information descriptive of her past history, present situation, emotions, or character that reveal her hidden potential for change (beginning with comments on her appearance in the opening Chapters I,1 and II,1).


The revised ending (published as Chapters 10 and 11 in Part II) is such a success compared to the original because its greater length assures continuation and/or satisfying completion of all three chapter sequences developed in the novel—the mutual trust recovered by Anne and Wentworth in the course of Part I; the restoration of their mutual love, achieved in Part II; and Anne’s progress from silent, unnoticed observer to active agent determining her own fate and that of others, unifying all the chapters in the novel.  In addition, note how this consistent treatment of sequences is achieved by bringing back into the story members of all three families from the three locales important in Part I, further unifying the novel.  The Musgroves at the White Hart bring Anne and Wentworth together just as they did at Uppercross; Captain Harville proves a kindred spirit as interested (and eloquent) as Anne in speaking of loss and fidelity; and the dramatic appearance of Sir Walter and Elizabeth (end II,10), threatening to destroy the second love affair just as they had the first, relates the denouement to the sad events before the novel opens.


The Role of Chapter Pairs in Unifying the Novel


Austen began to structure Persuasion during the writing of Part I by carefully allotting key content in small increments of increasing significance to separate chapters, closely linking them in the order in which they are read.  She had only to continue this procedure when writing Part II to obtain the same pacing of developments throughout the novel in all three chapter sequences.  But she did more, using Part I not just as a model for controlling the rate at which heroine and hero progress toward their goals but also as a source of ideas for content—settings, characters present, their emotions and behavior.  What is remarkable is that she did this by linking chapters in a wholly new way, in an order in which they are NOT read, by matching significant details in each chapter of Part II to its counterpart in Part I with the same chapter number—unifying the novel in a second dimension and adding depth to her story by recalling earlier scenes and interactions in the later chapter of each chapter pair.


But in addition to this contribution to the novel’s structure, chapter pairs embody the dominant theme unifying its content: the process of remembering upon which the thoughts and actions of so many characters depend.


The Special Function of Chapter Pairs: Making Memories Visible


Subtly and pervasively, references to the past are important at every level in the novel, whether supplied in the author’s voice or remembered by Anne.  Memories of her former love affair govern her life during the eight years before the story opens and continue to do so throughout Parts I and II.  After Wentworth’s departure at the end of Part I, recollections of their renewed acquaintance fill Anne’s mind with nostalgia in the opening pages of Part II (Chapters 1 and 2), setting the tone for all that follows.


In addition, early chapters in Part I are used by Austen to provide essential information about the past: the published history of the Elliot family (I,1); Elizabeth’s long-established dislike of Anne (and Anne’s dislike of Bath) (I,2); the earlier residence of Wentworth’s brother in a village near Kellynch (I,3); Anne’s secret “little history of sorrowful interest” (28) known to almost no one else (I,4); her long intimacy with the Musgroves (I,5) so that “she knew the ways of Uppercross as well as those of Kellynch” (36).  Early chapters in Part II are used in a similar way, with references especially to Mr.Elliot’s past: his youthful behavior (II,2), first marriage (II,3), and possible interest in Elizabeth (II,3-5); and the introduction of characters from the past: Mr.Elliot himself (II,3), Sir Walter’s aristocratic relatives, the Dalrymples (II,4), and Anne’s girlhood mentor, Mrs.Smith (II,5).


And finally, chapter pairs depict or imply the process of remembering and evoke memories from the recent, or distant, past: Anne’s favorable opinion of the Crofts as tenants based on long observation of her father (Chapters I,1 and II,1); Lady Russell’s concern for Anne’s marriage prospects (I,2 and II,2); the vanity of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, if anything heightened by the move to Bath (I,3 and II,3); Anne’s evaluations of Captain Wentworth and Mr.Elliot (I,4 and II,4, respectively) (including the bright looks she received from both on the steps at Lyme); Mrs. Smith’s warm gratitude for Anne’s visits (II,5) calling to mind, by its very contrast, her reception by Mary at Uppercross (I,5) (while Mr.Elliot’s warm approval of these visits to her friend leads Anne, ironically, to vivid remembrance of a more distant past and a vision not of herself but of her mother as gracious Lady Elliot).  And though Austen doesn’t tell us what is in Anne’s mind as she looks up from Mary’s letter (II,6), it surely might include a fleeting memory of Mrs. Croft a few months before (I,6), leaning forward confidingly to give her equally welcome news.  Similarly, in II,7 when Anne sees that Wentworth, newly arrived in Bath, is indeed approaching the store and about to enter, she feels a nervous tension and dread so great they suggest she must at the same time actually be seeing again his earlier, formidable entrance into Mary’s cottage (I,7) and his frigid glance and bow.  And at the concert in II,8 when Wentworth refuses the seat she offers him and turns away from her in anger, how could she help recalling the matching scene of her nadir (I,8) just as she feels again the same chagrin?  And so it goes: in each encounter with Wentworth in Part II, Austen tells us Anne’s feelings in words but her thoughts—what she could be seeing when she is remembering—are shown to us in chapter pairs.


There cannot be many novels in which the memories of leading characters are so important in all aspects of the plot, and there may be no other where readers themselves, consciously or unconsciously, can so easily come to share in the process of remembering—for the same earlier scenes influencing Anne’s emotions in her later interactions with Wentworth (Chapter Pairs 6-12) will be familiar to readers as well, deepening their response to the drama just as it does hers. (And the same may be true for viewers of film: see final sections of essay.)


Summary: A Compact Description of the Novel


It’s fair to ask that a “new view” (or any view) of a novel be capable of easy visualization.  The charts illustrating this essay are cybernetically useful because they lead to a simple, easily memorable summary of Persuasion:

as a novel in 25 chapters (instead of 24), in 2 Parts of 12 chapters each (followed by a short finale), distinguished by the presence of the hero only in the second half of each Part; with 2 closely linked chapter sequences (pacing the action) plus a third describing the personal transformation of the heroine (linking every chapter in the novel without a break); and with 12 chapter pairs in which key content in each chapter in Part II matches that of the chapter in Part I with the same chapter number—including the unpublished original “Chapter 10” in Part II that Austen first wrote for the novel’s ending and soon discarded. But is this really a NEW view?


The Value of Visualization: Comparing Different Views


Persuasion differs from Austen’s previous novels not only in the highly functional use made of chapters but in its short length, accounting for only a tenth of the pages she wrote in her six novels.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that chapter-level subdivision in her novels has received little attention in previous studies of their structure—defined (through usage) as the organization of a novel’s content.  In these studies, chapters are seldom referred to except as locators used like page numbers simply to specify physical position within a printed text.  This can easily be seen by scanning the pages of articles and books with keywords such as structure, form, and/or method in their titles or abstracts—for example, Wright’s Jane Austen’s Novels: a Study in Structure (1953) or Lodge’s “Jane Austen’s Novels: Form and Structure” (1986)—and noting that below the level of the volume, almost no use is made of chapters as meaningful units for the description of a plot.  Similar rapid scanning of many of the large number of edited volumes of Austen criticism—for example, the four volumes edited by Littlewood (1998) and the two recent Austen “Companions” (Copeland and McMaster, 1997, and Lambdin and Lambdin, 2000)—confirms the unimportance of chapter relationships in both older and recent interpretations.


The only graphic representation of chapter relationships that resembles any of those illustrated in this essay is found in the chart near the beginning of Kilroy’s (1978) article “Ironic Balance in Persuasion.”  He, too, starts with a view of the novel in two separate volumes, each with chapters numbered 1 through 12 (including the short finale published as II,12).  And he, too, presents a particular grouping of chapters as the basis of the novel’s organization.  The plot component chosen as the criterion for grouping is the contrast in human values and relationships seen in Parts I and II, termed by Kilroy, respectively, “Romance” (to refer to the flirtation between Wentworth and Louisa) and “Prudence” (to refer to the possible marriage of Anne to Mr. Elliot).  This leads to a visualization (306) comparable to the ones at the start of this essay, but with a 3/9/9/3 symmetrical grouping of chapters, with no links between groups and a sharp break between Parts:

in which the first 3 chapters, set apart as Introductory, are balanced by the last 3 containing the Resolution.


This concept of balance appears frequently in Austen criticism, and in the present case refers also to the equality in number of chapters allotted to the two groups of 9 each, the first dealing with characteristics associated with Romance (youth, spontaneity, and self-willed assertiveness) and the second with opposite characteristics associated with Prudence (maturity, constancy, and the will, and ability, to wait).  The rest of the article explores these themes, but only in words, with locations specified solely by page.


In contrast, the choice in the present essay of a different, hitherto unused criterion for grouping (the presence or absence of the hero) leads further (and faster)—from the initial 6/6/6/6 subdivision into quarters to two 12-chapter sequences and then to twelve 2-chapter, vertically matched pairs.  The only point of resemblance with Kilroy’s work comes at the level of the initial subdivision—his into blocks of 9 chapters, mine into quarters of 6.  There is no subdivision of his blocks into individual chapters because his goal is strictly verbal interpretation of fixed thematic subject matter (in this case, the moral implications of two contrasting subplots) with little or no attention to progressive action or psychological change.  His search for the novel’s moral messages from the point of view of the modern reader is typical of much of the Austen criticism of the past.


In contrast to such earlier studies, Wiltshire’s recent contributions to two edited volumes published in 1997 make little reference to subplots in blocks of chapters but focus instead on the gradualness and continuousness of developments in Anne’s and Wentworth’s story interpreted from their own point of view; and on Anne’s private story of progressive self-renewal revealed in her thoughts and emotions in response to “the carefully graduated sequence of incidents” (1997a:79) recording her slowly changing relations with Wentworth.  Although Wiltshire’s description of the novel’s sequential action refers to few specific chapters (see chart below) and the close linkages spanning all chapters are not made explicit (hence my use of dashed instead of solid lines for arrows), his interpretations can be represented on the same three chapter-sequence charts used in this essay:

to summarize, respectively, the progress of Anne and Wentworth toward physical nearness (in Part I) and intimate conversation (in Part II); and Anne’s physical and psychological transformation, continuous throughout the novel (with no break between Parts).


The same blocks and sequences can of course be used to hunt for, and visualize, fixed themes and progressive change in other novels, including Austen’s.  For example, the first subplot in Emma spans 12 of Part I’s 18 chapters, perfectly balanced (in Kilroy’s sense) by sets of 3 chapters before and after:

but if there is any progressive psychological change it occurs not in the heroine but in Harriet—who deserves and would reward the kind of sympathetic close attention Wiltshire gives Anne.  Nor is there any repetition of the simple 3/12/3 subdivision so obvious in Part I in the complex, braided subplots in the other two Parts of this novel.


In summary, neither in the Austen criticism known to me nor in any of Austen’s other novels as I have surveyed them have individual chapters been systematically related one-to-one to stages in the progress of heroine and hero.  And with the exception of Persuasion, no use ever seems to have been made by either Austen or her critics of matched chapter pairs to enhance appreciation of a plot.  For reasons hard to imagine, the same can be said of film-makers, despite the fact that matched chapter pairs stand ready to help them in their most awkward task: the aesthetically attractive presentation of background information essential for the comprehension of the novel.


Remaining True to the Novel: Filming Chapter Pairs


Just as chapter sequences in Parts I and II supply successive scenes for a film as beautifully paced as the novel, so chapter pairs represent the process of remembering so central to its story of old love restored.  To be true to the novel, a film should pay equal attention to both kinds of chapter relationships, to chapter sequences for people’s words and actions and to chapter pairs for what they think and remember—doubling the meaning of scenes in Part II by means of flashbacks to scenes in Part I, completing representation on the screen of the complex two-way linkages Austen built into the novel.


But the whole of the love story told in the novel (spanning both Parts) is itself totally dependent on the earlier love story painfully ended eight years before.  Though told in so few words by Austen, references to it abound in the written text and are ever present in every detail as memories in the mind of Anne.  These memories, too, deserve to be filmed, just like the memories implicit in Austen’s paired chapters, for the two love stories are in fact paired to each other—spanning the same length of time, taking place in the same area, built of the same components, waiting to be brought to life by the same cinematic techniques.


Going Beyond the Novel: Filming the First Love Story


What could be both easier and more creative than telling the first love story in pictures without words, as an opening narrative consisting of essential scenes from the past which Austen herself supplies?  As the remembered story on which the second depends, these scenes—softened and distanced in color, focus, music, and pace—are then available for later use as flashbacks making visible the wordless memories that influence so much of the novel’s action.  The scenes suggested below are all (1) deduced from Austen’s own words; (2) indispensable for the reader’s or viewer’s comprehension of the second love story told in the novel; and (3) far preferable to stilted invented dialogue forcing into awkward speech subjects that exist only in the memories of the characters involved.


Scenes from Anne’s Childhood and Youth

  • Anne, age 6, at the piano while her mother sits near holding two-year-old Mary on her lap.  Anne’s resemblance to her mother is striking.  Elizabeth, age 8 (the image of their father) is soon bored and exits the room.  When Anne makes a mistake, her mother nods encouragement, and Anne plays the passage again—anticipating the central theme of the novel.

  • Anne, age 13, playing with skill and feeling, is clad in mourning.  The scene ends when she looks up at her mother’s portrait through tears.

  • Lady Russell in her carriage arrives in Bath to deliver Anne to boarding school.  They are shown into the building and Anne is soon turned over to the loving attention of a charming older girl—the “Miss Hamilton” who re-enters the story as Mrs. Smith in Part II.

  • A pantomime at the school: Anne and Miss Hamilton, now firm friends, dress the latter as Falstaff—whose pillows slowly give way during the performance.  (Anne, of course, helps provide the pantomime’s musical accompaniment.)

  • At Kellynch, Anne (now in her late teens) greets her father and Elizabeth as they arrive in their elaborate carriage from their annual trip to London.  A humbly wrapped small package is thrust into Anne’s hands as Elizabeth heads for the stairs, arms overflowing with hat boxes and fancy gowns.  (Her resemblance to their father is stronger than ever.)

  • The jeweled hands of Sir Walter move slowly through the pages of The Baronetage to the reference to his heir apparent.  The scene then shifts to a London hotel where a young Mr. Elliot is courteous (barely) but unresponsive to Elizabeth’s flirtations.  In the carriage returning to Kellynch, both father and daughter are sullen.

Scenes from the First Love Story

  • The Elliots are seen leaving a country church as Sir Walter and Elizabeth each ignore the friendly hand of the clergyman (Wentworth’s brother) and brush past Wentworth (age 23) without looking at him.  Anne, followed by Mary still in the dress of a school girl, accepts the hands of each in turn with a nod and smile.  It is early summer.

  • Wentworth approaches the main entrance at Kellynch and is admitted as the sound of Anne at the piano becomes clearer.  He remains seated in the hall listening as the scene slowly shifts to the interior of the room on another day, with Wentworth seated near the piano completely absorbed in the music.

  • Sir Walter glowers over something Anne has said or done—possibly at the hospitality she has been showing Wentworth, who soon turns to her protectively and escorts her from the presence of her dominant male relative (into a waiting garden).

  • Strolling on a later day (and at a later hour), they pass through a gate into a rough meadow, giving Wentworth several opportunities of coming to Anne’s side and offering her his hand.  Autumn adds rich color to the surrounding grasses and shrubs.

  • Anne and Wentworth stroll across a terrace as an evening card party proceeds within.  She wears his coat over her shoulders, trees are leafless, the moon bright. They draw closer together and then embrace.  Around her neck he fastens a ring on a chain.

  • Sir Walter is seen enraged, Anne withdraws in tears as the camera follows her to her own room where she is soon joined by Lady Russell looking extremely solemn.  The scene shifts to Anne and Wentworth, both greatly distressed, arguing in the room where he listened to her play.  He becomes angry but eventually, with reluctance, takes back the ring and chain.  From the window, Anne watches his figure receding down the drive.  It is nearly dark and snow is falling.

Short Finale.


In the same gray light, Anne is seen repeatedly (at work in various rooms, clad in clothes suited to different seasons) reading and clipping the naval news from newspapers dated 1806, 1807, . . . 1814.


Though this was not essential, these imagined scenes have been matched in number to the 12 chapters in each of the novel’s 2 Parts, followed by their own short finale (telling us “what happened” after the sad climax of the first love story) corresponding to the short finale in the novel.  Using the same criterion for grouping Austen used, the 12 scenes suggested consist of two sets of 6 scenes each, the first set covering the years when Anne and Wentworth were apart and the second the months when they were together for the first time.  All scenes in the second set (except the sad climax) are matched to highlights in Chapters 7-12 in one or both Parts of the novel—as Austen might have wished.


Conclusion: The Need for a New Film Version


A detailed answer can now be given to the question with which this study began: What is it in the plot that fails to appear on the screen?  (1) Missing in existing films of the novel is the careful pacing used in Parts I and II to tell its unique love story: in Part I, the pacing of the gradual recovery of friendship built on trust, shown in increasing physical intimacy between heroine and hero; in Part II, the pacing of their gradual recovery of love, shown in their increasing ability to express in words their deepest feelings—both achieved by Austen’s careful allotment of each stage in their progress to a separate chapter in the two chapter sequences spanning Parts I and II.  (2) Even more important is the surprising lack of cinematic attention to the role played by memories: inescapable in this story of remembered love; implicit in Austen’s matching of chapter pairs, crying out for visualization hitherto denied them; and necessary for any real understanding of the first love story—left almost untold by the author but influencing every action and thought of heroine and hero.


From unexamined dissatisfaction with existing films we thus come full circle to eager anticipation of a new film telling the second love story as it should be told:


properly paced, in all three sequences—not just those in Parts I and II but also in the third sequence pertaining only to Anne;


enriched by memories told in flashbacks using every cinematic technique available for blending past and present, including the visualization of


scenes from the first love story so real and full that readers and viewers alike have, perhaps for the first time, a rich new view of


the deep affinity between Anne and Wentworth: “no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved”—left to our imagination in the novel (I,8:63-64) but morally and psychologically compelling.


For it is from this affinity that anyone can gain a new view of friendship and love: the courage it takes to go on without them when they are lost, the strengths gained as we learn to find them again, and to deserve them.  This is the message of hope in Persuasion—universal, global, immortal.





The following people made invaluable contributions to this study: David Allen, Mark Barsamian, Carolyn Emerson, Jo-Ann Goldwasser, Barbara Hellering, Jerry Horn, Alan Schelp, Sinnifer Sim, Carey Snyder, and Una Tse.  Above all, thanks are due to Rick Macomber for unfailing support in all phases of the work.



Works Cited


Austen, Jane.  The Novels of Jane Austen.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1988 [1933].  See also his facsimile edition of Persuasion’s manuscript chapters (London: Athlone Press, 1985 [1926]).

Copeland, Edward, and Juliet McMaster, eds.  The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen.  Cambridge: CUP. 1997.

Kilroy, G.J.F. “Ironic Balance in Persuasion.”  Downside Review, 96 (1978): 305-313.

Lambdin, Laura, and Robert Lambdin, eds.  A Companion to Jane Austen Studies.  Westport, Conn., and London: Greenwood Press. 2000.

Littlewood, Ian, ed.  Jane Austen: Critical Assessments, 4 vols.  Mountfield nr. Robertsbridge, England: Helm Information, Ltd. 1998.

Lodge, David.  “Jane Austen’s Novels: Form and Structure.” The Jane Austen Handbook.  Ed. J. David Gray.  London: Athlone Press. 1986.  168-178.

Wiltshire, John.  “Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion” in Copeland and McMaster, 58-83 (ref.“a”).

_____.  “Persuasion; The Pathology of Everyday Life.” Mansfield Park and Persuasion [New Case Books].  Ed. Judy Simons.  New York: St. Martin's Press.  1997.  183-204 (ref.“b”).

Wright, Andrew.  Jane Austen’s Novels: A Study in Structure.  London: Chatto and Windus.  1953.


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