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Virginia Woolf and Heritage$
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Jane deGay, Tom Breckin, and Anne Reus

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781942954422

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781942954422.001.0001

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Persuading Rachel: Woolf and Austen’s “little voyage of discovery”

Persuading Rachel: Woolf and Austen’s “little voyage of discovery”

(p.141) Persuading Rachel: Woolf and Austen’s “little voyage of discovery”
Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Kathryn Simpson

Liverpool University Press

In The Voyage Out, Clarissa Dalloway gives Rachel a copy of Persuasion as a gift and this seems to be an unusual choice given the disparity between Rachel, on the cusp of sexual awakening, and Anne Elliott, a mature woman given a second chance at happiness. But perhaps Austen’s novel, with its plot including a near fatal derailing of heterosexual romance, is an apt forerunner given Rachel’s own narrative arc. Indeed, there are several plot similarities, notably the ‘mother’ figures that play a role in persuading the young women in matters of the heart (see Froula and Schlack among others). Jane de Gay argues that the novel ‘probes the silence within a female tradition, represented by Jane Austen’, such as that about ‘female sexuality’. Towards the end of her essay, ‘Jane Austen’, Woolf speculates about the novels Austen may have written had she lived for longer, notably in the light of Woolf’s sense of ‘transition’ that she detects in Persuasion and the more ‘suggestive’ ways in which Austen may have examined what ‘people … leave unsaid’. She questions whether Austen may have been ready ‘in her own gay and brilliant manner, to contemplate a little voyage of discovery’ (Woolf 120, 118). In this paper I want to explore Woolf’s and Rachel’s ‘maiden voyages’ in the light of Austen’s final novel. How might the ‘tight plait’ of Persuasion be seen to unravel a little, to make room for a new plot – a mutiny, perhaps - hinging on the different avenues that persuasion might take us.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, gifts, sexuality, homoerotic desire, marriage, romance plot, literary past, The Voyage Out, Persuasion

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