Analysing a passage

The question

Discuss the effects of the writing in the following passage, showing how far its concerns and methods are characteristic of the novel as a whole.

Persuasion, Ch.7

A very few days more, and Captain Wentworth was known to be at Kellynch, and Mr. Musgrove had called on him, and come back warm in his praise, and he was engaged with the Crofts to dine at Uppercross, by the end of another week. It had been a great disappointment to Mr. Musgrove to find that no earlier day could be fixed, so impatient was he to shew his gratitude, by seeing Captain Wentworth under his own roof, and welcoming him to all that was strongest and best in his cellars. But a week must pass; only a week, in Anne's reckoning, and then, she supposed, they must meet; and soon she began to wish that she could feel secure even for a week.

Captain Wentworth made a very early return to Mr. Musgrove's civility, and she was all but calling there in the same half hour! She and Mary were actually setting forward for the great house, where, as she afterwards learnt, they must inevitably have found him, when they were stopped by the eldest boy's being at that moment brought home in consequence of a bad fall. The child's situation put the visit entirely aside; but she could not hear of her escape with indifference, even in the midst of the serious anxiety which they afterwards felt on his account.

His collar-bone was found to be dislocated, and such injury received in the back, as roused the most alarming ideas. It was an afternoon of distress, and Anne had everything to do at once; the apothecary to send for, the father to have pursued and informed, the mother to support and keep from hysterics, the servants to control, the youngest child to banish, and the poor suffering one to attend and soothe, besides sending, as soon as she recollected it, proper notice to the other house, which brought her an accession rather of frightened, enquiring companions, than of very useful assistants.

Before you begin writing, you should read the passage at least twice:

  • In the first reading, you should try to gain a sense of what is happening in the passage and recall its context in the novel
  • On the second reading, you should begin to underline or otherwise mark significant words and phrases and begin to jot down some of the headings under which you will organise your answer, always referring back to the question
  • By this time you should be ready to plan your answer
  • You may now wish to read the passage once more to make sure that you have not missed anything important.

The analysis – and what it achieves

1.    The passage occurs in the middle of Volume 1. Having adjusted to her new surroundings at Uppercross, Anne has been apprehensive about the arrival of Captain Wentworth at Kellynch Hall. Now the Captain has met Mr. Musgrove and been invited to dine at Uppercross, the prospect of seeing him is very real to her. However, because Anne narrowly misses seeing him at the Great House (having been detained in order to look after her injured nephew), her apprehension is prolonged. It will also be intensified later on in the chapter when her sister and brother-in-law return from the dinner singing the Captain's praises. The delay of their meeting will heighten her nervousness when the meeting eventually takes place.
This paragraph places the passage in its context in the novel. Without recounting ‘the story so far', it gives some idea of Anne's feelings leading up to the scene. Also, it explains how her state of mind is affected by the delay and by the reports that her sister and brother-in-law will later give her on their meeting with Captain Wentworth.

2.    We already feel that the Musgroves are respectable, reasonable people, so Mr. Musgrove's approval of Captain Wentworth in the opening paragraph of this excerpt confirms that he is likeable. It also demonstrates that Mr. Musgrove is an open man who, unlike Sir Walter, does not show prejudice towards the Captain because he is a naval officer. Both Mr. Musgrove and the Captain demonstrate their sincere acceptance of one another through the conventions of the time, in the reciprocation of visits and dinner invitations. This contrasts with Mary's empty ‘style of intercourse' that was criticised by Anne in Chapter 5 and to which she will later refer as ‘give and take invitations' of ‘formality and display'. 
This part of the answer shows how Jane Austen sometimes leads us to identify her characters as broadly ‘good' or ‘bad' through their associations with characters who have already been classed as sympathetic. It also shows the subtle development of the theme of manners without substance. Characters who demonstrate an easy, genuine hospitality represent the openness which Anne is later shown to prize very highly.

3.    In this passage, we anticipate the arrival of Captain Wentworth along with Anne. Her anxiety at the prospect of the meeting is palpable, as is her relief at avoiding the meeting. Nevertheless, we sense that the experience is anticlimactic for her. We are struck by her efficiency as she kicks into action to take charge of little Charles' care.
Here, the writer highlights the narrative technique of telling the story from Anne's point of view. We sympathise with her feelings, along with learning more about who she is and how she thinks. We feel the shift in her from passive reflection to action.

4.    Anne's acute awareness of how closely she came to bumping into Captain Wentworth is heightened by Austen's use of free indirect speech. It is Anne, not the narrator who thinks she ‘was all but calling there in the same half hour!' The narrative moves so seamlessly into this direct telling of Anne's thoughts that we experience the force of her shock with her, rather than with the detachment of hearing this through the narrator. This impression of Anne's response is confirmed by the narrator later on in the paragraph when we are told that Anne is not indifferent to her narrow escape.
The commentary here provides an example of Austen's use of the narrative technique of free indirect discourse. It shows how free indirect discourse is a powerful tool for representing a character's thoughts and responses because it gives the impression of doing away with the narrator as the intermediary and giving us more immediate access to Anne's interior state.

5.    Without actually giving a description of Anne's character to us, this passage tells us quite a bit about her. We witness her compassion, through her anxiety over little Charles, and discover that her compassion leads to action. We see through her actions of sending for the doctor, keeping the onlookers under control and informing the other house of the accident, that Anne is a very capable person who is able to keep a clear head in the face of crisis and assume a leadership role. Her capability is accentuated by a comparison with her sister Mary. Mary was walking by her side and learned the news at the same time as Anne, yet she does nothing to help, despite the fact that Charles is her son. In fact, we learn that she becomes hysterical in the face of crisis and selfishly deflects attention away from the one in need in order to get support herself.
This paragraph gives us insight into how Jane Austen develops character through interactions with others, side by side comparisons, and by detailing their responses to events.

6.    In the third paragraph of this excerpt, we notice how Jane Austen uses a string of short phrases to list the many things that Anne had to do to bring the situation under control. This technique gives us an impression of the intensity of demand that Anne is experiencing, as well as the quickness and efficiency of her response.
Comments here show us how Jane Austen structures her sentences to convey the mood of the action as well as tell us something about character. This is an example of Jane Austen's economy of style because she can convey information on several levels and on several subjects simultaneously.

7.    This passage is important to the novel as a whole because it foreshadows the pivotal event of Louisa's fall in Chapter 12. While the second fall is in every way more serious than the first, there are several important similarities between the two:

  • Structurally, Charles' fall is at the centre of Volume 1, while Louisa's fall is at the centre of the novel as a whole
  • Both falls initially seem more injurious than they eventually prove to be
  • Anne is equally helpful and compassionate on both occasions, as she efficiently cares for the victim and soothes or organises everyone else
  • Both events function as a way of pushing Anne into the foreground and demonstrate her ability to remain calm in a crisis
  • The final sentence of the passage is mildly ironic in tone as it describes the uselessness of those about Anne. This ironic tone is stepped up at the second fall, when the onlookers are described as relishing the sight of a ‘dead lady'.

The final paragraph points to the significance of the passage in the novel as a whole, how it functions in the structure of the novel and prepares us for the second emergency Anne will have to face that will have a far more dramatic impact on her life.


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