Structure by volume

A two-volume novel

The two-volume structure of Persuasion is fundamental to the shape of the novel. Both volumes are of equal length and comprise twelve chapters each. The balance of this structure helps emphasise various contrasts and parallels in the book:

Volume 1 Volume 2
  • Focuses our attention on Anne's isolation
  • Shows Anne's increasingly outgoing in her interactions with those around her
  • Emphasises the painful state of Anne's inner consciousness
  • Traces the movement of Anne's consciousness toward greater fulfilment
  • Shows Anne and Wentworth avoiding communication with one another
  • Shows Anne and Wentworth's increasing communication with one another
  • Anne observes Captain Wentworth conversing with the Musgroves and the Crofts about his naval experiences, indirectly referring to his past relationship with her throughout (Ch.8)
  • Captain Wentworth overhears Anne's discussion with Captain Harville on women's constancy, through which she obliquely reveals that she has continued to love him despite the absence of hope (Ch. 23 / Vol. 2, Ch. 11)

The positioning of Louisa's fall

Situated at the end of Volume 1, Louisa's fall from the Cobb sits at the very centre of the novel. It functions as an axis, dividing what happens before the fall from what happens afterwards. It is a reference point and we can measure its effects on various aspects of the novel. One of the most striking effects of this structure is the overtone of death and rebirth attributed to Louisa's fall:

  • The death of Anne's misery and the birth of hope
  • The death of any interest Captain Wentworth has shown in Louisa and the rebirth of his love for Anne
  • The death of Louisa's infatuation with Captain Wentworth and the birth of her love for Captain Benwick
  • The death of the old restricting social order and the birth of new social freedoms.

The image of death is emphasised by Austen's use of language at the scene of the fall

  • ‘She…was taken up lifeless'
  • ‘her face was like death'
  • ‘She is dead! She is dead!'
  • ‘the poor corpse-like figure'
  • ‘a dead young lady.'
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