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Persuasion, Jane Austen’s evocation of a lost romance

PERSUASION: THE EVOCATION OF A LOST ROMANCE

Abstract submitted for JASNA AGM 2018

I would like to present to the Kansas AGM my contention, explored in Jane and D’Arcy, that Jane Austen’s Persuasion is an allegory based on her own life experience. It is the sad and lamentable story of a lost love that eventually ends in happiness when the long absent hero returns. Following a series of embarrassing romances and encounters, he eventually reciprocates with a declaration that he has always loved her, giving the story a fairy-tale, happy-ever-after ending.

There is another ending to Jane Austen’s story that was too painful for her to explore. It is her own real-life story in which the hero, forced from her life by the Austen family, never returned. At the very early age of fourteen, Jane fell in love with D’Arcy Wentworth, with whom she had an exciting and eventful love affair. The Austen family, to protect their good name, enforced their separation. Jane was persuaded to abandon her lover and their affair was never to be mentioned again.

Two weeks after they parted D’Arcy sailed for Australia; heartbroken, Jane remained confined within the family circle and waited for him to return to her. D’Arcy remained the fixed star in her firmament, the great love of her life.

Jane was forbidden from ever telling the story of her youthful romance, but it was the story she most wanted to explore and record. She included many events from this early period of her life in her three books of Juvenilia. Recognising the potential damage these might do to their reputation, the Austen family withheld her Juvenilia from publication for more than a hundred years, the third and final volume was not released until 1951, 134 years after Jane’s death.

Jane Austen was more circumspect in her late thirties and forties when she published four novels anonymously. She included in each shards of the emotions and events from her romance with D’Arcy Wentworth. In Pride & Prejudice she named him Mr Darcy, and revealed he was a cousin of Earl Fitzwilliam, in Persuasion she named him Captain Wentworth.

After Jane died her family destroyed much of her correspondence, none of her letters from D’Arcy remain. Cassandra took the scissors to her letters from Jane, cutting out almost all mentions of him.

Jane’s letters at the time Pride & Prejudice was published reveal her fear of angry criticism from her family. She kept Persuasion to herself, she did not invite members of her family to read the manuscript. It revealed her ongoing relationship with D’Arcy, it celebrated them being reunited, married. Her imagined happy ending declared that she had never stopped loving D’Arcy despite all the Austen’s efforts and opposition.

Her brother Henry published Persuasion after Jane’s death, he gave it the name Persuasion. He knew the great burden of guilt and sadness Jane had carried since she was a teenager for being persuaded by her father and family to turn D’Arcy away.

The secret of her romance with D’Arcy remained hidden until the Wentworth family decided to set the record straight, it was published for the first time in 2017 in Australia, in Jane & D’Arcy.

My presentation will describe parallels between the true story of Jane and D’Arcy and that of Persuasion, the themes of distance and the passing of the years, of opportunities lost, of a young girl being persuaded by someone she trusts to give ground against her own desire, of the “loss of bloom” that follows heartbreak, of resignation and confinement, of constancy and inconstancy, and the powerful emotions Persuasion reveals of Jane’s despair, frustration and anger.