Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

violence against the mother is a result of the ideological separation of the mental from the physical, that is, the consequence of splitting off the "realm of culture, history, politics from the realm of love and the body" (2). Her argument draws on the poststructuralist assumption that all the binary divisions of patriarchy--public/private, male/female, thought/emotion--must lead to aggression against the less empowered term in each pairing. The narrative perspective of Persuasion both demonstrates that aggression, in its tendency to subject the heroine's body to pain, and opens it up for inspection. Anne Elliot's access to power through the feminine language of looking lets her blur the oppositions of the textual world in which she is placed by making mind and body functions of the same act-- looking and reading looks--and by succeeding through that act in bringing together the interior and exterior significance of the people who come under her gaze. In her ultimate reconciliation with the life of the body, Anne triumphs over the text's violence against her, setting a pattern for the feminist heroine who no longer needs to fade and die or to provide a spectacle of sensibility. The text's sensations are the heroine's own; in the end, her gaze is represented as entirely integrated with the life of her body.


NOTES
1.
See Julia Prewitt Brown's critique of narrow feminist readings of Austen, and note the pitfalls in her own feminist-historicist criticism that treats characters as if they were "real people" whose marital fate depends on their situation in history ( 1990).
2.
However, see Kathy Mezei's discussion in this volume of free indirect discourse, "Who Is Speaking Here?"
3.
As Mary Lascelles noted (204-5) and Orange reminds us (66), the narrative does afford two brief glimpses into Wentworth's perspective on Anne. Whereas Lascelles regarded these moments as lapses, the narratologist might see them as reminders of how relatively consistent the focalization is in this text, as compared with Sense and Sensibility or Emma, for instance.
4.
I am using "sensational" in the sense recently introduced into critical discourse by D. A. Miller and Ann Cvetkovich, among others. Although their usage of the term applies to the late-Victorian genre of sensation novels, the term's focus on the link between text and body makes its appropriation here irresistible.
5.
I am using these terms in the sense originated by Gérard Genette; see Prince for brief and lucid definitions.
6.
John McGowan has argued that "passion is . . . the most difficult thing to know in Austen's novels. It remains hidden deep within the self, inaccessible to sight, and resistant to verbal or social expression" (6). While this holds true for Emma, the subject of McGowan's analysis, Persuasion suggests a move on Austen's part toward assigning more power to the heroine who can see and read the hero's passion.

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