PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.30, NO.1 (Winter 2009)

Queer Temporality, Spatiality, and Memory in Jane Austen’s Persuasion



Edward Kozaczka


Edward Kozaczka (email: is a graduate student in English at the University of Southern California and is interested in eighteenth-century women writers, performance studies, and queer theory.

[S]he learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.  (Persuasion 32)


It is difficult to overstate how important memory, and therefore notions of time and space, became during the eighteenth century.  The general shift away from the collective and toward the individual—and toward an individual consciousness—demanded that people begin to build a new relationship with the past, one that, as Margaret Anne Doody points out, corresponded with and upheld the new economic and legal structures of the Enlightenment (68).  Ian Watt, too, in his classic study of the rise of the novel, articulates the correlative relationship between philosophical realism and the new tendency for authors to try to create individual characters that bond with real times and places (9-34).  The intimate relationship between memory and notions of time and space becomes crystallized in works such as Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders—a narrative, told from the perspective of a woman who is writing years after the events she unfolds for us—that support the eighteenth-century’s confidence in and reliance upon the personal memory of the individual.  In fact, as Doody points out, forgetfulness becomes reprehensible not only because it puts individual consciousness at risk but also because it threatens the economic and legal systems of the Enlightenment and Whiggish culture (73). 

Jocelyn Harris, in her impressive study of the relationship between Jane Austen’s memory and craft, demonstrates the degree to which this Lockean worldview continued to dominate and evolve into the early nineteenth century.  Austen’s allusions, Harris argues, were not merely accidental.  On the contrary, Austen consciously relied on her memory to engage with authors of the past—Milton, Locke, Richardson, Shakespeare, and Chaucer—and in the process offered her readers a glimpse into her unconventional views on gender and sexuality.  In the case of Persuasion, for example, Harris claims that Austen invoked, via allusions, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath and Samuel Richardson’s Harriet Byron from Sir Charles Grandison in order to expose and redefine the imbalanced power relations between men and women.  In the scene that seems to interest Harris the most—the final scene that Austen revised—Captain Frederick Wentworth, like the knight in the Wife’s tale, realizes that “what women love best is ‘maistrie’” and that in order to win “a wife miraculously restored to youth,” he must renounce some of his agency and hand it over to his wife (205).  “Such equality,” Harris astutely points out, “is what Anne and Wentworth seek.  Not sovereignty, not weakness, but a sense that both are ‘more equal to act’” (207-08).1

Building from Harris’s argument—specifically her claim that Anne and Wentworth become sexual equals at the end of the novel—I would like to put more pressure on how this demand for sexual equality plays out in Persuasion.  To do this, it seems appropriate to investigate how Austen would have conceived of sex and sexuality and how she would have envisioned categories of sexual identity as she was writing in 1815 and 1816.  Indeed, this undertaking is overwhelming and sensitive, but it has recently been made less daunting by the critical vocabulary and methodologies of current scholarship in queer theory.  In general, queer theory can help us begin to make sense of the slippages between categories of sexual difference, and thereby help us better characterize the erotic identities of Austen’s characters.  More specifically, though, and more pertinent to this paper, recent queer scholarship on time and space makes it very clear the degree to which the designation of “queer” can and should be applied to subjects that do not identify as “gay” or “lesbian.”  In short, we can examine the degree to which Anne Elliot is queer without even remotely suggesting that she has a repressed desire to sleep with women.

Although it is true that the “homosexual” and the “heterosexual” did not exist as identity categories in Austen’s time, sexual practices were understood and judged as normative and non-normative—natural and unnatural, procreative and indulgent—and these categories of sexual practice existed in anxious tension with each other.  Not only was Austen aware of the tension between normative and non-normative sexual practices, she used the word “queer” to label the latter.  In Mansfield Park, for example, the frustrated Henry Crawford uses the term to question Fanny Price’s sexual inclinations:  “‘What is her character?—Is she solemn?—Is she queer?—Is she prudish?’” (268).  Austen’s use of the term is ambiguous, but because Henry Crawford is specifically questioning Fanny’s lack of sexual interest in him, and because the term “prudish” was itself a reference to sexual proclivities rather than just an attitude, it seems fair at least to speculate that Austen may have been using the term “queer” to connote non-normative sexual behavior.2  What makes Henry Crawford’s series of questions significant is the fact that he questions Fanny’s sexuality while also asking whether she is “solemn,” a word associated with ceremony and even religious observance.  As Mary Wollstonecraft suggests in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, women were expected to focus exclusively on the present moment:  “For though moralists have agreed that the tenor of life seems to prove that man is prepared by various circumstances for a future state,” writes Wollstonecraft, “they constantly concur in advising woman only to provide for the present. . . . [I]t is masculine for a woman to be melancholy” (52).  Henry Crawford’s accusation of Fanny’s being “solemn”—alongside being queer and prudish—is an indication of her undesirability, a manifestation of the social expectation to which Wollstonecraft refers.  Solemnity—or melancholy—is relegated to the masculine sphere and, when embodied and displayed by women, considered transgressive both in terms of the definition of sexual roles and the relationship those roles have to time.

If we are to understand the nuances of Anne and Wentworth’s sexual equality, this significant and complex relationship between sexuality and time and space needs to be interrogated further in the context of Persuasion.  First, I would like to argue that Anne is a queer figure who, rather than exclusively reveling in heteroerotic pleasure, slips into a sexual identity category that Eve Sedgwick identifies as the masturbator or “onanist” (825), an identity suggested, for instance, by the sexually-charged language that characterizes the pleasure Anne feels while playing the piano.  Furthermore, Anne’s erotic identity informs her employment of time and space throughout the novel.  While playing the piano—while giving herself pleasure—Anne has involuntary body memories3 that allow her to reflect on but also embody past and present simultaneously.  To use Heather Love’s phrase, Anne beings to “feel backward”—a non-normative way of remembering that differs from traditional memory in its preoccupation with loss and failure and in its concern with mobilizing that loss and failure for strategic purposes.  In short, feeling backward allows a subject like Anne—a character who is barely noticed when she enters a room and who is manipulated into abandoning her relationship with her first love—to transform her abject marginalization into opportunity.  Love writes, “Rather than disavowing the history of marginalization and abjection, I suggest that we embrace it, exploring the ways it continues to structure queer experience in the present. . . . [P]aying attention to what was difficult in the past may tell us how far we have come, but that is not all it will tell us; it also makes visible the damage that we live with in the present” (29).  Nearly two hundred years before Love theorizes the transformative and redemptive potential of feeling backward, Anne uses her indulgences in melancholic despair to reassert her own agency and reignite the passion between herself and Wentworth.

Anne “feels backward” during her moments of playing the piano, a practice that, in her case, I label as a masturbatory self-indulgence that troubles heteronormative expectations of an individual’s relationship to conventions of time and space.  Articulating this relationship between masturbation and time and space, Sedgwick writes,

[T]here are senses in which autoeroticism seems almost uniquely—or, at least, distinctively—to challenge the historicizing impulse. . . . Because it escapes both the narrative of reproduction and (when practiced solo) even the creation of any interpersonal trace, it seems to have an affinity with amnesia, repetition or the repetition-compulsion, and ahistorical or history-rupturing rhetorics of sublimity.  (820)

In other words, because masturbation is non-procreative and therefore works outside of heterosexual reproduction, and because it involves and affects no other person and therefore is an untraceable act (we can never be sure when or where it happens), it resists being historicized.  Like the involuntary body memories that Anne has while playing the piano, masturbation has an “affinity with amnesia” and “repetition-compulsion”:  these are acts of solitary and self-indulgent experience and, as such, exist outside of historical recordability.

Since Anne Elliot’s erotic identity cannot be severed from her body memories and therefore from her uses of time and space, it is not surprising that she dwells within what Judith Halberstam refers to as “queer time and space.”  Halberstam defines queer time as “a term for those specific models of temporality that emerge . . . once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family, longevity, risk/safety, and inheritance” (6).  She argues that queer subjects “use space and time in ways that challenge conventional logics of development, maturity, adulthood, and responsibility” (13).  In other words, the pleasure Anne gives to herself while playing the piano and traveling back and forth between past and present not only challenges the normative sexual practices of the early nineteenth century.  It also, if we accept Wollstonecraft’s rendering of the relationship between gender and temporality, poses a threat to heteronormative temporality and spatiality—particular notions of time and space that are intimately connected to sex between a man and a woman and, therefore, structured around reproduction and family.  In short, Anne is not queer in the sense that she experiences same-sex desire but rather because she gives pleasure to herself and refuses to relegate her mind and body to the present moment.  Furthermore, as I will argue, she manages to convince Wentworth to abandon heteronormative notions of time and space and join her on her queer, backward journey.  If Anne and Wentworth do become sexual equals by the end of the novel—an ideal assumption that might need to be looked at more critically—it is because they trust the queer turn backward by embracing their involuntary body memories.  Thus, despite forming a heterosexual union, Anne and Wentworth challenge the sexual politics prevalent in England during the early nineteenth century.



Austen’s characters overwhelmingly exemplify heteronormative notions of time and space, preoccupied with reproductive futurity and estate legacies.  Right at the beginning of the novel, we learn that the late Lady Elliot has been dead since 1800 and that Sir Walter Elliot must rent Kellynch-hall out to the Crofts and move to Bath to get out of debt.  Rather than indulging in nostalgia for the past, these characters steer straight ahead into the future.  After all, “Kellynch-hall has a respectability in itself” (13), and the Elliots must concentrate on protecting their patriarchal estate and elite reputations.  Also within the first few chapters, readers are introduced to a set of heteronormative families that Austen will continue to satirize throughout the novel:  Sir Walter Elliot and his deceased wife; Admiral Croft and the wife who sticks by his side at sea; and, perhaps the most entertaining family, the Musgroves.

Considering the heteronormative values that pervade the novel, Austen’s early characterization of Anne Elliot as unique is the basis for my claim that she can be viewed as a queer character preoccupied with a past love rather than the future of the Kellynch-hall estate.  Anne, less glamorous than her sister Elizabeth and less needy than her sister Mary, is presented as a perceptive outsider who reads people around her with a critical eye and who understands how and to what degree she stands in stark contrast to her friends and relatives.  Anne, the engaged but passive voyeur—“a most attentive listener to the whole” (21)—decides to herself while Lady Russell, Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth, Mr. Shepherd, and Mrs. Clay discuss the imminent move to Bath that she “disliked Bath, and did not think it agreed with her—and Bath was to be her home” (15).  Rather than concentrating on what kind of future she will have in Bath, Anne, unlike the others, loses herself in memories of past experiences.  Before Anne leaves for Uppercross to take care of her hypochondriac sister Mary, and immediately after Frederick Wentworth’s brother’s name is mentioned, we learn that Lady Russell had forced Anne to end her engagement to her only lover and that “No one had ever come within the Kellynch circle, who could bear a comparison with Frederick Wentworth, as he stood in her memory” (30).  Rather than focusing on the family’s debt or the move to Bath, Anne directs her attention to what has come before, or, to use Heather Love’s terminology, she “feels backward.”  This feeling backward is what makes Anne stand out as one of Austen’s most queer characters, and it also illustrates, on a smaller scale, the way Austen will interpenetrate movement and memory throughout the rest of the novel.  In many ways, the novel is about a melancholic but brave woman who travels back into her past so that she can understand and critique her current moment and anticipate a queer futurity that is not dependent on the linear, heteronormative sequences of time and space.

Surprisingly, despite the theme of forward movement sustained throughout most of the novel, Anne reanimates a past that is laden with enforced chastity, but she does so in an erotically-charged fashion, replaying moments of past desire in her mind, as she plays the piano.  Her performances are masturbatory in Sedgwick’s sense as they are self pleasuring, “practiced solo,” and compulsively repetitious.  The body memories that these performances evoke rupture heteronormative modes of time and space because they preclude the “creation of any interpersonal trace.”  During her first autoerotic piano performance,

She knew that when she played she was giving pleasure only to herself; but this was no new sensation: excepting one short period of her life, she had never, since the age of fourteen, never since the loss of her dear mother, known the happiness of being listened to, or encouraged by any just appreciation or real taste.  (50, my emphasis)

This “one short period” of Anne’s life, the only time after the death of her mother she has known happiness, is that of her engagement to Wentworth.  Dwelling on this brief romantic period, she attempts repetitiously to relive those moments, although now alone.  Thus, this solitary act of reliving the memory through tactile stimulation—fingering the piano—elicits a pleasurable response that she alone experiences.  In essence, Anne pleasures herself by invoking her own memory—drawing on a past and lost love—that she can now attempt again to experience, although imaginarily, resulting in a relationship with time that is erotic, distinct from the normative time elsewhere portrayed in the novel, and therefore decidedly queer.

If we can accept Sedgwick’s claim that masturbation has an “affinity with amnesia, repetition or the repetition-compulsion,” then Anne’s masturbatory response is also self-perpetuating:  her fulfillment of desire, through this kind of self-pleasuring, also builds into itself a kind of constant desire.  Paradoxically, then, because this desire is self-perpetuating, while she is playing the piano, Anne finds herself unable to escape a queer time and space; however, her piano performance, the pleasure she gets from this masturbatory experience, and the body memory that pulls her into the past are all fleeting at the same time that they materialize.  Anne’s habitation of queer time and space while she is playing the piano to pleasure herself is itself ephemeral and transient; however, because of this same ephemeral quality of those moments, she finds herself forced repetitiously to recreate these moments in a futile attempt to fulfill her desirous memories.  Quoting Stephen M. Barber and David L. Clark, Halberstam characterizes queer temporality as a moment that is “‘at once indefinite and virtual but also forceful, resilient, and undeniable’” (11).4  In other words, Anne’s erotic body memories are simultaneously ephemeral and persistent.

In contrast to Anne’s body memories, which evoke in Anne an erotic, melancholic charge, the memories of the other characters only evoke what Jocelyn Harris calls “a melancholy artificially invoked” (Art of Memory 193).5  While a party is discussing Frederick Wentworth’s first ship, the Asp, Mrs. Musgrove begins to recall a dismal event from her past:  the death of her son Richard, who had earlier on the Laconia been under Wentworth’s command.  Rather than allowing this memory to take the company back to this melancholic point in the past, Richard is acknowledged briefly—laconically—and as Anne feels, disingenuously, by Wentworth before the conversation shifts back to his success as a naval captain. Anne teaches us how to read Wentworth’s feigned condolences:

There was a momentary expression in Captain Wentworth’s face at this speech, a certain glance of his bright eye, and curl of his handsome mouth, which convinced Anne, that instead of sharing in Mrs. Musgrove’s kind wishes, as to her son, he had probably been at some pains to get rid of him; but it was too transient an indulgence of self-amusement to be detected by any who understood him less than herself. . . .  (73)

Like Anne’s piano performance, Wentworth’s expression is momentary, ephemeral.  Within two more paragraphs, everyone stops talking about the late Richard Musgrove and redirects the conversation to a debate about whether women should be allowed aboard ships.  Unlike the company that surrounds her at Uppercross, Anne is comfortable vacillating back and forth among the past, present, and future.  Unlike the people around her, she uses her historical, emotional, and bodily past to analyze the present moment and anticipate a future that she has yet to make sense of.  For Anne, the temporal sequence is not linear; she can use her queer body memories as a way to embrace her dismal past and bring that past into the present moment to analyze it—remember it—in new ways.

Wentworth eventually joins Anne in her resistance to conform to linear and progressive notions of time and space, thus embracing this queer step outside of normativity.  When he and Anne, in the company of four others, go on a long walk, Anne recites—performs to herself—poetry from the distant past, using it to reflect on and act within the present moment, and Wentworth makes his first gesture toward a queer time and space, placing Anne in a carriage.  For the first time in the novel, Anne and Wentworth walk forward together on a journey in which both Anne and Wentworth move backward and forward at the same time.  When the Crofts pull up and offer to carry one person on the journey back to Uppercross in their carriage, Wentworth, just as he pulls the Musgrove child from Anne’s neck earlier in the novel (86-87), automatically places Anne in the carriage.  Austen’s third-person narrator interprets the gesture for us, perhaps so we do not miss the point that Wentworth and Anne are not only on the same page, but that they are both flipping through and performing the chapters that have come before:

Yes,—he had done it.  She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it. . . . He could not forgive her,—but he could not be unfeeling.  Though condemning her for the past, and considering it with high and unjust resentment, though perfectly careless of her, and though becoming attached to another, still he could not see her suffer, without the desire of giving her relief.  It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed.  (98)

Within the matter of two short sentences, Anne is placed in the carriage, not by Wentworth himself but by his “will and his hands,” as if to suggest that he is acting outside of the body—outside of that specific time and space.  The narrator tells us that his gesture seemed to be the “completion of all that had gone before,” a summation that asks us to (dis)place Wentworth’s motivation outside of the carriage scene and within a previous chapter of his intimate history with Anne.  Reflecting the ways in which a body memory works, the narrator offers us fragments, separated only by semicolons, of ways to interpret Wentworth’s action:  it was the remainder of a “former sentiment,” an “impulse” of friendship,” a “proof” of his “amiable heart.”  Obviously, these three explanations collapse past and present:  was he motivated by the feelings he associates with the past, or did his will and hands place Anne in the carriage because of his present impulse and amiable heart?

Although Wentworth gestures toward Anne’s queer uses of time and space on their walk, the time they spend in Lyme marks his significant transition away from the heteronormative temporal and spatial logic that pervades the novel.  When Mr. Elliot arrives in Lyme and takes an interest in Anne, Wentworth’s body memory recalls the old Anne Elliot again (112).  Wentworth’s memory, appropriately placed in the middle of the novel, also happens right before the event that steers the movement of the novel in an entirely new direction:  Louisa Musgrove’s accident.  In many ways, Louisa’s accident is a result of poor timing—Wentworth is not ready to catch her when she jumps, just as Anne was not ready, because of influence from Lady Russell, to move forward with Wentworth.  Only after Louisa’s accident—only after Wentworth is put in a position in which “it could scarcely escape him to feel” (126)—can he begin to negotiate temporality in queer ways.  Only then, Austen’s narrator tells us, can he begin, like Anne, to feel backward, to allow the past to make him more aware and critical in the present.

Lyme becomes a transformative space for both Anne and Wentworth; it is a queer, liminal space—between a here and a there, a now and a then—that fosters a more dialectic, personal relationship between past and present.  It also marks the climax of Austen’s novel, in which meaning and action are briefly suspended and readers are left with more questions than answers:  Will Louisa Musgrove recover?  What will happen when Anne leaves Uppercross to join her family in Bath?  How will Anne and Wentworth reconcile?

This last question is answered in such a way that substantiates Love’s case for the empowering potential of melancholic memory, and Anne realizes that potential in her interaction with Lady Russell.  The latter, in an attempt to persuade Anne to marry Mr. Elliot, invokes the late Lady Elliot as a rhetorical appeal, attempting to turn Anne’s queer relationship with the past against her.  Lady Russell, however, underestimates Anne’s bond with her melancholic past and the degree to which it influences her in the present.  Lady Russell says to Anne, “‘I own that to be able to regard you as the future mistress of Kellynch, the future Lady Elliot—to look forward and see you occupying your dear mother’s place, succeeding to all her rights, and all her popularity, as well as to all her virtues, would be the highest possible gratification to me’” (173, my emphasis).  At first, it appears as if Lady Russell’s appeal will work; for Anne, taking the place of her mother at Kellynch-hall—a heteronormative appeal—has a “charm which she could not immediately resist” (174).  Fortunately, the time Anne has spent confronting and embracing her dismal past throughout the novel finally pays off in this scene in which Austen reverses Anne and Lady Russell’s roles.  Rather than allowing Lady Russell to once again persuade her into abandoning her love for Wentworth, the narrator writes, “The charm of Kellynch and of ‘Lady Elliot’ all faded away.  She never could accept [Mr. Elliot].  And it was not only that her feelings were still adverse to any man save one; her judgment, on a serious consideration of the possibilities of such a case, was against Mr. Elliot” (174).  As Heather Love would put it, not only does Anne’s erotic relationship with the past help her to see how far she has come since Lady Russell first persuaded her to end her engagement with Wentworth, her relationship to the melancholic past, maintained through body memories, allows her to become more aware of her current marginal position—and escape it.

Anne herself acknowledges in the concert scene that her relationship to the past is characterized by both pain and pleasure, a virtually masochistic dynamic.  Wentworth follows her in this embrace of pain and pleasure only to a certain extent; he is comfortable doing so only through the lens of remembering and discussing a relationship that partly mirrors his with Anne, the new relationship between Benwick and Louisa Musgrove.  Recalling Louisa’s accident, Wentworth says, “‘It was a frightful hour, . . . a frightful day!’”  He “passe[s] his hand across his eyes, as if the remembrance were still too painful” (198).  Continuing to talk about Louisa and Benwick, he starts a sentence that he cannot finish:  “‘All this is much, very much in favour of their happiness; more than perhaps—’” (198).  When discussing how Benwick could recover from the loss of his fiancé so quickly, Wentworth makes a bold statement that leaves Anne and readers assuming that he is drawing important parallels between Benwick and Fanny Harville and the one he has/had with Anne:  “‘A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman!—He ought not—he does not’” (199).  Anne knows that Wentworth is finally coming to terms with his painful past, and responds accordingly in language that describes both the time at Lyme and their deeper past:

The last few hours were certainly very painful, . . . but when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure.  One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering—which was by no means the case at Lyme.  We were only in anxiety and distress during the last two hours; and, previously, there had been a great deal of enjoyment.”  (200)

For the first time, Anne clearly articulates, for both Wentworth and readers, her queer understanding of temporality and spatiality—her erotic, borderline masochistic relationship with the past.

Although we could probably interpret Wentworth’s averted eyes and unfinished sentences as proof that he is—in that moment—embracing the past with Anne, we don’t have to.  Anne does the work for us:

all, all declared that he had a heart returning to her at least; that anger, resentment, avoidance, were no more; and that they were succeeded, not merely by friendship and regard, but by the tenderness of the past; yes, some share of the tenderness of the past.  She could not contemplate the change as implying less.—He must love her.  (202)

At last, Anne and Wentworth join hands in and embrace the melancholic past; they allow it to consume them in the present moment and, as a result, are transformed in that same moment.  Whether this transformation represents an inclination toward sexual equality between Anne and Wentworth becomes clearer at the conclusion of the novel when Anne and Wentworth realize that their love for each other has never faded.

Anne articulates the value she places upon sustaining love and desire through body memories that are not predicated upon the physical presence of the object of desire.  While Anne and Harville debate whether men or women are more constant in love, the latter, quite predictably, argues that because men have stronger bodies, they are obviously able to love longer than women—to maintain their love even during even the “‘most rough’” and “‘heaviest’” times (253).  Anne, on the contrary, defends her ability as a woman to love forever without a physical object against a man’s need for such an object:

so long as—if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you.  All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.”  (256)

Although she defends her whole sex, Anne is, more accurately, defending her ability to navigate time and space in queer ways.  Her ability to love “when existence” and “hope” are gone parallels her ability throughout the entire novel to redirect her attention to her bitter past—and embrace it.

When he writes her a letter telling her how much he loves her and that men are just as constant in their love as women, Wentworth finally joins Anne completely on her venture into the nostalgic past and professes his commitment to remaining with her on this backward journey.  When Anne sits down to read the letter in the same chair Wentworth sat in to write it—“succeeding to the very spot where he had leaned and written” (257)—the two of them metaphorically embody the same space and travel back in time as one.  Anne, as she has allowed the past to consume her throughout the novel, here “devour[s]” Wentworth’s words and, of course, learns that he is devoutly in love with her.

Amidst the backdrop of heteronormative families, reminiscent of the beginning of the novel, Austen brings past, present, and future together in Anne and Wentworth’s final, reconciliatory scene:  “There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment” (261).  As Austen’s Anne Elliot demonstrates, living exclusively within and relying upon a heteronormative logic of temporality and spatiality is both too limiting and can never open up the possibility for sexual equality.  Occupying a queer time and space not only opens up alternatives to how we remember the past, but it also allows us to strategically make that past act on the present moment and to negotiate dynamics of power within our intimate relationships with others.  Rather than dismissing or repressing involuntary body memories, we need to embrace them, perhaps erotically, so that we can empower ourselves in relationships that came before, that are becoming, and those that will become.





I would like to thank Professors Marilyn Gaddis Rose (SUNY Binghamton) and Emily Anderson (USC), both of whom read initial drafts of this essay and helped me throughout the revision process.


1. See Harris’s more recent book, A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s Persuasion, in which she expands and complicates her argument that Austen is advocating for sexual equality.


2. Claudia L. Johnson also cites this passage as evidence that Austen may have been using the term queer to connote non-normative sexuality.  She cleverly points out that Henry Crawford’s application of “‘queer’ or ‘prudish’ to Fanny describes two traditions of Austenian reception” (28)—one that places “Austen before the advent of such ills as industrialization, dubiety, feminism, homosexuality, masturbation, the unconscious” (26), and another that is interested in exploring the degree to which Austen’s texts can be read from a queer perspective.  As Johnson argues, earlier readers of Austen, such as Charlotte Bronte, also doubted Austen’s assumed normative sexuality; it is largely modern scholarship that suppresses concerns of queer sexuality as they pertain to Austen’s oeuvre (27-29).


3. “Involuntary memory” or “body memory” is memory stored in the body and triggered by the senses originally involved, a type of memory that Marcel Proust explores more fully a century later in À la recherche du temps perdu.


4. See also Barber and Clark’s “Queer Moments: The Performative Temporalities of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.”


5. Juliet McMaster also distinguishes between the real and imagined melancholy in Persuasion.



Works Cited


Austen, Jane.  The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen.  Ed. Janet Todd.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Barber, Stephen M., and David L. Clark.  “Queer Moments: The Performative Temporalities of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.”  Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory.  Ed. Stephen M. Barber and David L. Clark.  New York: Routledge, 2002.  1-54.

Doody, Margaret Anne.  “‘A Good Memory is Unpardonable’: Self Love, and the Irrational Irritation of Memory.”  Eighteenth-Century Fiction 14 (2001): 67-94.

Halberstam, Judith.  In a Queer Time & Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives.  New York: NYUP, 2005.

Harris, Jocelyn.  Jane Austen’s Art of Memory.  Cambridge: CUP, 1989.

_____.  A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  Newark: Delaware UP, 2007.

Johnson, Claudia L.  “The Divine Miss Jane: Jane Austen, Janeites, and the Discipline of Novel Studies.”  Janeites: Austen’s Disciples and Devotees.  Ed. Deidre Lynch.  Princeton: PUP, 2000.  25-44.

Love, Heather.  Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2007.

McMaster, Juliet.  Jane Austen on Love.  Victoria: U of Victoria P, 1978.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky.  “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl.”  Critical Inquiry 17.4 (1991): 818-37.

Watt, Ian.  The Rise of the Novel.  1957.  Berkeley: U of California P, 2001.

Wollstonecraft, Mary.  A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and The Wrong of Woman, or Maria.  Ed. Anne K. Mellor and Noelle Chao.  San Francisco: Pearson, 2007.

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