The Use of Poetry in Persuasion

>> Friday, July 11, 2008

Jane Austens novels are used to focus on the importance of reading as well as the dangers and strengths of specific genres. In “Persuasion” her targeted genre is poetry, and throughout the novel we see how specific the affect of poetry is on the plot. “Persuasion” uses poetry to exploit the characters with “a mind destroyed by wretchedness”(p 85). Poetry has a direct affect upon the emotions of characters in “Persuasion” as they grow and develop. When Anne judges the affects of poetry on Captain Benwick she realizes the danger to oneself if one only reads one genre; by exploiting one genre so severely the text shows us the danger of being focused too much on one type of reading as it becomes too large apart of the character’s identity.
There are two character’s that “Persuasion” chooses to show the danger of only reading poetry. They are Captain Benwick and Anne Elliot, as Captain Benwick is recovering from the loss of his deceased fiancé and as Anne tries to forget about Captain Wentworth. Anne is at a distinct disadvantage as she cannot forget someone with whom she is constantly around as she is at Uppercross. Captain Benwick is very comfortable with all of the dismal emotions of all of the poets as they reflect upon the sad state he is currently in. As we compare Anne to Captain Benwick we see how his enjoyment of poetry is truly hindering his recovery. Anne contrastingly is not so ill affected by poetry and is a good character to show how diversity in ones hobbies is a very amiable quality.
When Anne is in Lyme the affect of poetry on the plot becomes a lot more apparent. Captain Benwick meets Anne and as he is educated, she is quickly drawn into conversation with him. Upon their continued conversation Anne becomes aware of the ill affect of poetry to his recovery as he:
...shewed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other, he repeated with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry; and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.
(p 85)
Anne realizes that those who truly enjoy poetry are doing a great evil to themselves, as they seem to understand the poetry all too well. She reflects that those who are safe in reading the genre are typically those who cannot understand the verse very well. It is through Benwicks sole focus on poetry that the reader can feel what the text means by having the genre of poetry being the only genre read. The text shows the misfortune of people who are only focused upon poetry, as it has become a large part of who Captain Benwick’s character is, and as we see how Anne does not need to read poetry to maintain her identity.
As poetry relates to identity, we see how it contrasts Captain Benwick against Anne Elliot by how Anne re-evaluates her conversation with Captain Benwick. Anne is pondering upon her validity in judging the affect of poetry on Captain Benwick so harshly. She recognizes her own failures and is concerned as she reflects that she:
…could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme, to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.
(p 85).
When she realizes that she is perhaps the wrong person to be so critical to the severe affect of poetry on Captain Benwick. Her concern with her unqualified judgment shows a new growth in Anne as she realizes what her sermon on patience and resignation would mean to someone who she knew very little and what his own judgment could be of her if he would know her better. This is a point where Anne is able to see failings in herself.
“Persuasion” is able to show the reader how severe the monopoly of one genre is upon the characters. By showing us this we are able to see how we are affected by our own monopoly of genres. The text allows the reader to be severe upon the characters and then unconsciously upon theirselves. When the text is able to point out the evils of its own genre we are able to broaden our own reading horizons and diversify, and then safely take the bad and the good of the genre.


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