Jane Austen has fun with figures of speech from her juvenilia onwards. Excessively sentimental similes are satirized and differences between characters are humorously illustrated by clashes between literal and figurative styles of speaking. In addition, close attention to her final, unfinished fragment suggests that Austen is also very aware of the underlying creative potential of figurative language. Metaphor and metonymy in particular are crucial in representing the tensions at the heart of Sanditon. While the metaphor of social life as a circle captures something of the quiet desperation in which characters in the resort find themselves, the optimism of its developer Mr. Parker is highlighted by Sanditon’s skillful exploration of metonymy, specifically the metonymic power of names. In highlighting how Mr. Parker’s confidence in names is called into question and how their references and associations can be more complex than he assumes, Austen experiments towards the end of her career with the pervasive figure of metonymy and with the disruption and confusion that it can generate.
Austen’s juvenilia evinces a playfulness with figures of speech that was to persist throughout her career. In the epistolary Lesley Castle, for example, Charlotte Lutterell describes to her correspondent Margaret Lesley an unexpected interruption to her preparations for her sister’s wedding: “‘Indeed my dear Friend, I never remember suffering any vexation equal to what I experienced on last Monday when my Sister came running to me in the Store-room with her face as White as a Whipt syllabub, and told me that Hervey had been thrown from his Horse, had fractured his Scull and was pronounced by his Surgeon to be in the most emminent Danger’” (Juvenilia 146). “White as a Whipt syllabub” is not the only food-based simile used by Charlotte in her correspondence with Margaret; a later letter recalls that “‘I was as cool as a Cream-cheese’” (165) at her sister’s standoffish behavior. Similes of a more sentimental kind are the target elsewhere in the juvenilia, for example in Love and Freindship as Laura tries to take Sophia’s mind off her imprisoned husband Augustus by desiring her “‘to admire the Noble Grandeur of the Elms which Sheltered us from the Eastern Zephyr,’” only to earn this rebuke: “‘Do not again wound my Sensibility by Observations on those elms—. They remind me of Augustus—. He was like them, tall, magestic—he possessed that noble grandeur which you admire in them’” (128).
Such sentimental clichés are frequently a target of satire in the novels too. Mary Lascelles observes that Austen “was sharply aware of the aptitude of the most languid figurative expressions for persisting as a mere habit of speech, after they have lost even the feeble life they had for the imagination” (112). She gives as users of the “ready made” expression the examples of Mrs. Elton and General Tilney, noting that the “use of stale, unmeaning figures of speech is a common mark of insincerity in her disagreeable people” (111–12), and singles out the rhetorical question and figurative understatement of Mrs. Norris’s “‘Is not she a sister’s child? and could I bear to see her want, while I had a bit of bread to give her?’” (Mansfield Park 8) for particular criticism (112). To this group can of course be added Sanditon’s Sir Edward Denham, whose encomiums on Scott and Burns are similarly stale and suggestive of insincerity: “‘But Burns is always on fire.—His soul was the altar in which lovely woman sat enshrined, his spirit truly breathed the immortal incense which is her due.—’” (Later Manuscripts 175). His auditor Charlotte Heywood is left baffled: “why he should talk so much nonsense, unless he could do no better, was unintelligible.—He seemed very sentimental, very full of some feelings or other, and very much addicted to all the newest-fashioned hard words—had not a very clear brain she presumed, and talked a good deal by rote” (176–77).
Yet it may be going too far from such examples to claim, as Lascelles does, that Austen has an “apparent distrust of all figures of speech” (112). In her discussion of how the eloquence of Austen’s heroines is indebted to Shakespearean models, Penny Gay has shown how Fanny Price and Anne Elliot in particular use a rich variety of rhetorical figures of speech, inspired by, among others, Portia and Isabella in The Merchant of Venice and Paulina and Hermione in The Winter’s Tale (470–74). For example, Anne’s famous defense of the constancy of female love in the rewritten penultimate chapter of Persuasion moves, as Gay points out, from apostrophe to alliteration to hypozeugma, the joining of several subjects to a closing, single verb (“‘when existence or when hope is gone’” [P 256]), in a “passionate outburst of repressed feelings” that recalls Paulina’s speech at the end of the play (472–73). More broadly, much of the humor as well as the dramatic tension in Mansfield Park revolves around the clash between the literal-minded, plain-speaking Bertrams and the sophisticated, figurative-speaking Crawfords, whose playful use of language is designed to tease and shock, especially in the case of Mary’s notorious joke on the “‘Rears, and Vices’” she has seen at her uncle’s house, which does not amuse Edmund (71). Henry’s punning on Maria’s “‘prospects’” on the trip to Sotherton is similarly disquieting, prompting her to ask, “‘Do you mean literally or figuratively? Literally, I conclude’” (115). His language continues to be riddled with double meanings as he persuades Maria to circumvent with him the locked iron gate, in an exchange that causes the heroine much anxiety.
Aside from such clearly-foregrounded moments throughout her writing, figurative language can also play a more subtle role in Austen’s stylistic practice. Detailed attention to Sanditon suggests that she was exploring new forms of figurative expression in her last, unfinished work. Two particular figures of speech, metaphor and metonymy, are central to the ways in which both character and place are evoked in the fragment.
The repeated metaphor of social life as a circle captures the sense of confinement and limitation which many characters experience in Sanditon. The fashionable new arrivals, the Miss Beauforts, are initially put off by the limited social opportunities of the developing resort, though their fears are partially assuaged by their introduction to the Parkers and the Denhams: “the Miss Beauforts were soon satisfied with ‘the circle in which they moved in Sanditon’ to use a proper phrase, for every body must now ‘move in a circle,’—to the prevalence of which rotatory motion, is perhaps to be attributed the giddiness and false steps of many” (202–03).
That “move in a circle” is not in fact a “proper” phrase in Austen’s view is suggested by the fact that, as Janet Todd and Linda Bree note, it is used by Mrs. Elton when advising Jane on her employment prospects (LM 674). Yet while there is no doubt that the phrase comes in, like those who use it, for mockery, the metaphor of social life as a circle is a recurring trope, even a structural principle in Austen’s last work, frequently suggesting a kind of restriction that undercuts the more apparent, surface themes of progress and improvement. A variation appears when the conservative habits of Charlotte’s parents at Willingden are described: “Mr. and Mrs. Heywood never left home. Marrying early and having a very numerous family, their movements had been long limited to one small circle; and they were older in habits than in age” (149). Lady Denham’s movements have been circular too; on the death of her second husband, Sir Henry, “she returned again to her own house at Sanditon,” with her inheritance from her first husband, Mr. Hollis, seemingly intact: “she was said to have made this boast to a friend, ‘that though she had got nothing but her title from the family, still she had given nothing for it’” (151). Along with this circularity of movement, there is at times a circularity in her language as, for example, when she discusses a visit from Sir Edward and Miss Denham: “‘My young folks, as I call them sometimes, for I take them very much by the hand. I had them with me last summer about this time, for a week; from Monday to Monday; and very delighted and thankful they were’” (177). The fact that their stay with her ran from “Monday to Monday” captures something of the stagnation in which all three find themselves. In spite of his denials, Sir Edward has imbibed much of his outlook on life from Mrs. Whilby’s circulating library: “The truth was that Sir Edward, whom circumstances had confined very much to one spot, had read more sentimental novels than agreed with him” (183).
The recurring, extended metaphor of social life as a circle captures something then of the stultifying restriction, even desperation, afflicting some of those at Sanditon, especially its longest-term resident, Lady Denham. (For further discussion of how circles function in Sanditon see Davis.) Yet this is of course not the only perspective on life at Sanditon. In an opposition that would surely have been central to the novel had Austen been able to continue it, circular motions and attitudes are at odds with the seemingly boundless optimism and forward-thinking of the resort’s most vigorous developer, Mr. Parker. As the rest of this essay will demonstrate, a second figure of speech, traditionally thought to be the opposite of metaphor, is a key means of representing his somewhat erratic dynamism and his confidence in his venture, however misplaced. Metonymy, centering particularly on the associations evoked by names, is if anything even more pervasive than metaphor throughout Sanditon.
On the journey to his resort Mr. Parker can hardly contain his excitement as he describes its attractions to Charlotte:
“One other hill brings us to Sanditon—modern Sanditon—a beautiful spot. Our ancestors, you know, always built in a hole.—Here were we, pent down in this little contracted nook, without air or view, only one mile and three quarters from the noblest expanse of ocean between the South Foreland and the Land’s End, and without the smallest advantage from it. You will not think I have made a bad exchange, when we reach Trafalgar House—which, by the bye, I almost wish I had not named Trafalgar—for Waterloo is more the thing now. However, Waterloo is in reserve—and if we have encouragement enough this year for a little Crescent to be ventured on—(as I trust we shall) then we shall be able to call it Waterloo Crescent—and the name joined to the form of the building, which always takes, will give us the command of lodgers—.” (156)
Mr. Parker’s immense pride in his new development and its situation is apparent here, as well as his shrewdness in marketing it. As Janet Todd and Linda Bree note, the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815 was responsible for the “shift in fashion” from Trafalgar to Waterloo, and for the latter being “more the thing now” (LM 645). Mr. Parker’s confidence that “the name joined to the form of the building, which always takes, will give us the command of lodgers” is characteristic of Sanditon’s interest in the connection between names and what they designate, although the fragment frequently suggests that Mr. Parker’s confidence is not fully warranted and that the signification of names can be harder to control than he assumes.
Names can be considered as an example of a figure of speech that some cognitive linguists have recently claimed is more pervasive even than metaphor. Much literary-critical work on metonymy takes its cue from Roman Jakobson’s distinction, in a 1956 essay, between the “paradigmatic” axis of language, which involves the relationship of substitutable entities, and the “syntagmatic” axis, which involves successive or contiguous relationships. For him metaphor is associated with the paradigmatic axis and metonymy with the syntagmatic one: “One topic may lead to another either through their similarity [belonging to the same paradigm] or their contiguity [belonging to the same syntagm]. The metaphorical way would be more appropriate for the first case and the metonymic for the second, since they find their most condensed expression in metaphor and metonymy respectively” (63). This distinction was picked up by literary critics, especially those working in the structuralist tradition. David Lodge, for example, relying heavily on Jakobson, sets up a continuum between metaphoric and metonymic kinds of literature, associating poetry with “the metaphoric pole” and prose, especially the realist novel, with the metonymic end of the scale. Lodge argues that writers such as Austen and Arnold Bennett aim to represent reality as it is, rather than via metaphorical analogy: “human life ‘is like’ Emma, ‘is like’ The Old Wives’ Tale, these authors seem to be saying—the phrase ‘is like’ denoting, here, a relationship of contiguity rather than similarity, for the writers create the illusion that their stories are or were part of real history, from which they have been cut out and of which they are representative” (109).
Tony Tanner also attempted to apply Jakobson’s broad distinction between metaphor and metonymy to literature, similarly observing that “Jane Austen’s works do seem to aim at establishing a ‘single world of discourse’ (though there are many fragmented and imperfect—even nonsensical—partial discourses contained within her ‘single discourse’).” This attempt to capture a single reality again aligns Austen, for Tanner, with the metonymic end of Jakobson’s continuum. He claims that she is not at all concerned to join together the “plurality of worlds” which he associates with metaphor (64). Noting that “such a ‘plurality’ could lead to a potentially uncontrollable proliferation of ambiguities and possible meanings,” he argues that “the drive of her writing seems to aim at a ‘single’ sense, with the defaulters, perverters or incompetent users of the one true discourse either finally extruded or corrected, educated and assimilated” (64). While “metaphor may blur and confuse by its overabundance and excess of possible references and other ‘worlds,’” Austen’s writing, he claims, “aims at a total transparency,” with “the authorial discourse invit[ing] us to repose confidence in its absolute clarity and openness” (64).
Yet the constant presence of alternate points of view in Austen’s fiction makes this insistence on the clarity and transparency of a single “authorial discourse” in her writing hard to uphold (see Bray). In addition, the absolute distinction between metaphor and metonymy, with the latter relegated to “a single world of discourse,” has come under increasing challenge in recent years, especially from those approaching figurative language from a cognitive perspective. Boguslaw Bierwiaczonek notes that as a result of the cognitive turn in linguistics following the publication of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By, “it soon became clear that metonymy deserves at least as much attention as its more renowned sister” (1). Raymond Gibbs claims that “metonymy is not simply a figure of language requiring special processes to be understood. Instead, metonymy constitutes one of the primary ways people refer to people, events, and situations and thus reflects a particular mode of thought” (321). It is indeed for him “a fundamental aspect of ordinary conceptual thought” (327; see also Dancygier and Sweetser 4–5).
Recent approaches have been keen to move away from the traditional “part-whole” or “substitution theory of metonymy” (Panther and Thornburg 237–38). For Gibbs, “metonymy is a widely used figure of thought whereby we take one well-understood or easily perceived aspect of something to represent or stand for the thing as a whole” (358). Like other cognitive linguists, he makes use of the concept of the “domain,” claiming that “our conceptual ability to use one well-understood aspect of some domain to stand for the domain as a whole, or to use the mention of a whole domain to refer to one salient subpart, motivates our speaking so frequently in metonymic terms” (358). A typical example frequently cited in the cognitive-linguistic approach is “The ham sandwich is waiting for his cheque,” in the context of two waiters referring to a customer in a restaurant (Ruiz de Mendoza 118). Here the ham sandwich is not a part of the customer, though the two are clearly connected. In Gibbs’s terms, they exist within the same domain. As Dancygier and Sweetser put it, in current cognitive-linguistic theory metonymy “is about relationships or correlation—things that occur together in experience, so that we associate them and can use the word for one to evoke the other” (5).
Within this broader framework, metonymy becomes almost ever-present in language and thought. As cognitive linguists have pointed out, names in particular are metonymic in this sense, since they evoke the object or place they refer to and carry specific associations (Kövecses and Radden 42–43). In the context of advertising discourse, for example, Friedrich Ungerer observes, “Another all-pervasive metonymy is THE NAME STANDS FOR THE PRODUCT. In a competitive society, where the majority of products are not monopolized by a single producer, it is, of course, crucial to focus the consumer’s desire and action on one’s own products and to identify them by using a name” (335). Ungerer observes that this “NAME-FOR-PRODUCT” metonymy has “developed into a powerful advertising tool” (335) that can be put to sophisticated uses, especially in the case of brand names. One of his examples is the perfume name Obsession, which, he says, helps, in combination with other advertising strategies, to create the attractiveness and desirability of the product.
Mr. Parker fully recognizes and seeks to exploit this “NAME-FOR-PRODUCT” metonymy. The Heywoods’ first impressions on taking in him and his wife after their carriage accident are of a man who has a singular, clearly identifiable passion:
Mr. Parker’s character and history were soon unfolded. All that he understood of himself, he readily told, for he was very open-hearted;—and where he might be himself in the dark, his conversation was still giving information, to such of the Heywoods as could observe.—By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast;—on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast.—Sanditon,—the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place was the object, for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago, and it had been a quiet village of no pretensions; but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself, and the other principal land holder, the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to a something of young renown—and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides—. (146–47)
There are several possible models for this enthusiastic, energetic speculator (the word “speculation” appears six times in the fragment). These include the developer Edward Ogle, who had transformed Worthing from 1801 onwards, and whom the Austens had met in 1805 (Edmonds), and perhaps Jane’s own brother Henry, who, as Emma Clery notes, reportedly possessed a similar “irrepressible optimism and irresistible geniality” (296–97). Whether or not Mr. Parker was based on a source close to home, the passage gives a clear indication of his advertising strategy, as filtered through the Heywoods. His conversation is dominated by his desire to give them information on the “natural advantages” of Sanditon and its suitability as “a small, fashionable bathing place,” and his enthusiasm appears infectious. As a marketing man, he knows he must develop techniques for building up the “renown” of his product and making it stand out from the competition. Eileen Sutherland observes that amid the “frenzy of building [that] took place in all the seaside resorts in the last decades of the eighteenth century,” competition was rife: “the seaside resorts vied with each other to capture the touring public, each advertising its own amenities and disparaging those of the others” (62, 68).
Mr. Parker’s direct speech in the fragment confirms that he repeats the name “Sanditon” at every opportunity. Earlier, after accepting Mr. Heywood’s offer of hospitality on behalf of his wife, he proceeds to tell him “who we are”:
“My name is Parker.—Mr. Parker of Sanditon;—this lady, my wife Mrs. Parker.—We are on our road home from London.—My name perhaps—though I am by no means the first of my family, holding landed property in the parish of Sanditon, may be unknown at this distance from the coast—but Sanditon itself—everybody has heard of Sanditon,—the favourite—for a young and rising bathing-place, certainly the favourite spot of all that are to be found along the coast of Sussex;—the most favoured by Nature, and promising to be the most chosen by man.”— (142)
The passage demonstrates Mr. Parker’s recognition of the power of the name, as he refers to himself as “Mr. Parker of Sanditon” (in contrast to his wife, who remains “Mrs. Parker”). The enthusiasm of his style of speaking is captured here by the parenthetical dashes, as well as by the four-fold repetition of “Sanditon,” which appears to generate other repetition in “favourite,” “favourite” and “favoured.” His uncontrollable irrepressibility is also suggested by a slight confusion in the syntax; it is not quite clear whether “for” in “for a young and rising bathing-place” is a preposition, equivalent in meaning to “as,” following from “everybody has heard of Sanditon,” or a conjunction, in which case the clause it introduces is incomplete.
Mr. Parker’s repetition of “Sanditon” suggests a confidence in the power of the name that is, however, not always borne out elsewhere in the fragment. A letter from his sister Diana reports that she has been attempting to bring “‘two large families’” to Sanditon, “‘one a rich West Indian from Surry, the other a most respectable girls boarding school, or academy, from Camberwell,’” concluding: “‘I will not tell you how many people I have employed in the business—Wheel within wheel.—But success more than repays’” (164). After her arrival in Sanditon, she details these efforts to him in person, exhaustively, causing the words “‘Unaccountable officiousness!—Activity run mad!’” to pass through Charlotte’s mind (189).
The “circuitous train of intelligence” (194) that Diana sets up turns out to have its flaws. When a letter from one of those she has enlisted in her schemes reveals that the lady leading the Camberwell group has the same name as the head of the West Indian family, she is astonished: “‘Well, this is very extraordinary! Very extraordinary indeed!—That both should have the same name.—Two Mrs. Griffiths!—This is a letter of recommendation and introduction to me, of the lady from Camberwell—and her name happens to be Griffiths too’” (199). The rest of the family similarly at first believe it must be an amazing coincidence: “‘It was very strange!—very remarkable!—very extraordinary,’ but they were all agreed in determining it to be impossible that there should not be two families; such a totally distinct set of people as were concerned in the reports of each made that matter quite certain. There must be two families. Impossible to be otherwise” (200).
The start of the next chapter reveals, however, that, as the reader has probably surmised by now, it is indeed a mix-up:
It would not do.—Not all that the whole Parker race could say among themselves, could produce a happier catastrophe than that the family from Surry and the family from Camberwell were one and the same.—The rich West Indians, and the young ladies’ seminary had all entered Sanditon in those two hack chaises. The Mrs. Griffiths who, in her friend Mrs. Darling’s hands, had wavered as to coming and been unequal to the journey, was the very same Mrs. Griffiths whose plans were at the same period (under another representation) perfectly decided, and who was without fears or difficulties.—All that had the appearance of incongruity in the reports of the two, might very fairly be placed to the account of the vanity, the ignorance, or the blunders of the many engaged in the cause by the vigilance and caution of Miss Diana Parker. (200–01)
Apart from demonstrating the perils of “Activity run mad!” in Charlotte’s words, the mix-up over the apparently two “Mrs. Griffiths” illustrates that names in Sanditon can often be confusing, and their references and associations far from fixed. While it turns out that there is in fact just one Mrs. Griffiths rather than two, the novel opens with disagreement caused by the fact that there are two Willingdens rather than one, despite Mr. Parker’s insistence: “‘Stay—can I be mistaken in the place?—Am I not in Willingden?—Is not this Willingden?’” (139). He has to be corrected by Mr. Heywood: “‘I believe I can explain it Sir.—Your mistake is in the place.—There are two Willingdens in this country—and your advertisements refer to the other—which is Great Willingden, or Willingden Abbots, and lies seven miles off, on the other side of Battle—quite down in the Weald. And we Sir—(speaking rather proudly) are not in the Weald’” (140). The doubling of names suggests their ability to create potential confusion and a plurality rather than singularity of meaning. There are also of course two Sanditons, as suggested by Mr. Parker’s declaration to Charlotte quoted above that “‘[o]ne other hill brings us to Sanditon—modern Sanditon—a beautiful spot’” (156). They pass on the way the “real village of Sanditon, which stood at the foot of the hill they were afterwards to ascend” (159).
There is a further way in which names can signify more than at first might appear and lead to a doubling of perspective. The above-quoted passage that opens “Mr. Parker’s character and history were soon unfolded” begins as the narrative’s perspective for the first two sentences, before the appearance of the name of Sanditon in the third sentence signals the emergence of Mr. Parker’s voice: “—By such he was perceived to be an enthusiast;—on the subject of Sanditon, a complete enthusiast.” In the next sentence “Sanditon,—the success of Sanditon as a small, fashionable bathing place was the object, for which he seemed to live” appears to be a version of his actual words: “small, fashionable bathing place” is his description, while the dashes and repetition recall the earlier passage of direct speech in which he asserts his identity as “Mr. Parker of Sanditon.”
The final sentence of the passage also seems to be a version of Mr. Parker’s words, with “himself” rather than “him” again a sign of his point of view:
A very few years ago, and it had been a quiet village of no pretensions; but some natural advantages in its position and some accidental circumstances having suggested to himself, and the other principal land holder, the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to a something of young renown—and Mr. Parker could now think of very little besides.— (146–47)
Yet while Mr. Parker’s perspective is clearly present to some degree here, the third person and past tense are retained throughout this passage. This then is free indirect speech, the variety of free indirect discourse in which a character’s spoken words are introduced, without explicit attribution, within a third-person narratorial frame (Leech and Short 260–70). It is the name “Sanditon” itself that appears to cause disruption, introducing another perspective into the narrative. Rather than a “single authorial discourse,” in Tanner’s terms, there is here, as so often in Austen’s writing, a complex mixture of perspectives that is hard to untangle. The subtly ambiguous combination of narrator and character in this passage, as well as the rapid switching between them, is also suggested in “planned and built, and praised and puffed,” with the first pair indicating Mr. Parker and his partner’s (Lady Denham’s) perspective and the second signaling an alternative, more distanced point of view on their activity.
A few pages later Sanditon’s importance to Mr. Parker is foregrounded even further:
Sanditon was a second wife and four children to him—hardly less dear—and certainly more engrossing.—He could talk of it for ever.—It had indeed the highest claims;—not only those of birth place, property, and home,—it was his mine, his lottery, his speculation and his hobby horse; his occupation, his hope and his futurity. (148)
Again as Mr. Parker’s obsession with Sanditon and the fact that he could “talk of it for ever” is asserted, there is an echo of his own voice in the narrative, suggested by the dashes. As his enthusiasm takes over again, there appears to be a switch from the narrator’s perspective in “He could talk of it for ever” to free indirect speech in the following sentence, as Mr. Parker’s actual words are represented. His perspective is hinted at in particular by the parallelism in “birth place, property, and home” and then in “his mine, his lottery, his speculation and his hobby horse; his occupation, his hope and his futurity.” The three-fold repetition in the first case is built on by two further sets of three, separated by the semi-colon. Mr. Parker’s enthusiasm and irrepressibility again enter into the narrative, yet still within the third-person narratorial frame. For him it is clearly not just the place that conjures up such extensive, wide-ranging associations but also, perhaps more crucially, the figurative, metonymic power of the name.
Both metaphor and metonymy feature prominently then in Austen’s final, unfinished work. The repeated metaphor of social life as a circle captures the stultifying circumstances in which many characters in Sanditon find themselves and the frustration and desperation that result. Running alongside and in some ways counter to this sense of restriction, though, are a forward-thinking energy and optimism typified by the speculator Mr. Parker. The ambition of his plans for the resort is indicated partly by subtle explorations of the figure of metonymy, centering in particular on the signifying potential of names as well as the confusion they can create. As the relationship between the name and what it stands for becomes less stable and more uncertain, so the reader’s role in determining meaning becomes more complex, as well as more crucial. Rather than simply “taking to the form,” names in Austen’s last work are highly figurative and involve the reader in a bewildering “plurality of worlds” in Tanner’s terms. The notion of a single dominating point of view in Austen’s work, the claim of an “authorial discourse” that invites the reader to “repose confidence in its absolute clarity and openness,” proves in her unfinished fragment finally and fittingly elusive.