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A Nomadic Austen

A Nomadic Austen: Imagining Radical Malleability in Persuasion
By Michael Kramp

"History is always written from the sedentary point of view and in the name of a unitary State apparatus, at least a possible one, even when the topic is nomads. What is lacking is a Nomadology, the opposite of history" (Deleuze and Guattari A Thousand Plateaus 23).

"Revolutionaries often forget, or do not like to recognize, that one wants and makes revolution out of desire, not duty" (Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus 366).

"Let me begin with a map of very well-known novels: figure I, which shows the places where Jane Austen's plots (or more exactly, their central thread, the heroine's story) begin and end. Northanger Abbey, for instance, begins at Fullerton and ends at Woodston; Sense and Sensibility, at Norland Park and at Delaford; and so on for the others (except Persuasion, whose endpoint is left rather vague)." (Moretti 13).

"There is a new element in Persuasion. [Austen] is beginning to discover that the world is larger, more mysterious, and more romantic than she had supposed" (Woolf 147).

[1]Virginia Woolf's comment on the novelty of Persuasion invites us to consider exactly what is involved in the "larger, more mysterious, and more romantic" world that Austen discovers in her final completed work. Like all of Austen's tales, Persuasion is a well-controlled courtship story with the required conjugal end; and while Anne Elliot does represent a new kind of mature heroine, the complexity of Persuasionincorporates much more than an older female figure. In this novel, Austen dramatizes the collapse of one world and the burgeoning forth of a new. She shows the fall of a culture built upon social rank and inherited status, and the emergence of a more complicated social system in which individual identity is neither easily demarcated nor fixed. As a distinct heroine, Anne is a member of this new world, and she is joined by her lover, Captain Wentworth. Wentworth is likewise a distinct hero who successfully adapts many features of his naval experience to a domestic setting. He learns that the participants in this newly-emerging community must be flexible individuals willing to accept dynamic and constant change. As a sailor, Wentworth understands the significance of perpetual movement on the sea, and he also comes to appreciate the diversity and adaptability of Anne. Austen offers us the necessary marital conclusion to her plot, but in this marriage she imagines the potential of a new kind of social/sexual identity and a new kind of relationship. The hero and heroine eventually express and embrace their love for each other, revealing the latent multiplicity involved in themselves and promoting a union that is ductile. Austen allows Anne and Wentworth to audition a revolutionary nomadic life: they refuse to remain rooted to a single domain, and this "nautical" existence provides them with the opportunity to explore the possibility of new desires and becomings.

[2]This prospect of such radical malleability is especially potent because of the social transformation that Austen documents in novel. Nina Auerbach's groundbreaking essay, "O Brave New World: Evolution and Revolution in Persuasion," announced that the novelist's final completed tale offered a new world "guided by emotion and vision . . . . governed by nature and by human desire"(116).1 Auerbach adds that those "who cannot accommodate themselves to these laws . . . are threatened and deprived of power" (117). Austen reveals the emergence of desiring subjects and the collapse of traditional authority; the revolutionary emotion of Anne and Wentworth overwhelms the atrophying world of Sir Walter. Tony Tanner explains that Persuasion "shows that English society is . . . 'in between': in between an old social order in a state of decline and desuetude, and some now 'modern' society of as yet uncertain values" (249). Anne and Wentworth represent this new and unfinished modern culture, and their nautical existence offers a clear juxtaposition to the deteriorating social structure of the aristocracy. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and their cadre attempt to uphold established statuses, while Anne and Wentworth's union offers us a vision of new world of pliability still in the process of becoming. This developing society values the possibility of new relationships between diverse people. Auerbach concludes that "the navy is Jane Austen's vision of a brave new world" (123). While the navy is extremely important both to the plot of Persuasion and the historical context of the narrative, Austen's novelistic "new world" is more inclusive. Anne and Wentworth's malleable lifestyles certainly show the influence of the naval community, but they also demonstrate how a variety of individuals can experience a maritime way of life on land.


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