‘All histories are against you?’: Family history, domestic history and the feminine past in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion

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Reading Historical Fiction: The Revenant and Remembered Past, 2012, pp. 50 - 66
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2013. The famous exchange between Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion, and Captain Harville, where he asserts that ‘all histories are against you’, has become for many the key to understanding Jane Austen’s particular view of history. Most critics contend that Anne Elliot is voicing the view of the mature Austen, an author at the height of her powers, well placed to defend feminine modes of narration. Reading Anne Elliot’s statements as Austen’s views usually involves comparing Anne’s opinions with those of Austen’s ‘first’ heroine, Catherine Morland, who decried ‘real solemn history’ in Northanger Abbey. While certain critics have identified in Catherine Morland a refusal on the young Austen’s part to take history seriously, the words of Anne Elliot have been read as a passionate refusal of masculinist history. As Stuart Curran has astutely observed, Anne’s ‘sharp observation […] has often been taken as a characteristically oblique expression’ of Austen’s ‘feminism as well as a defense of her singular craft’ (1993, 177).
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