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Unformatted text preview: The Mother’s Unnarratable Pleasure and the Submerged Plot of Persuasion Kelly A. Marsh Narrative, Volume 17, Number 1, January 2009, pp. 76-94 (Article) Published by The Ohio State University Press DOI: 10.1353/nar.0.0017 For additional information about this article Access Provided by Brigham Young University at 03/11/11 8:13PM GMT http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/nar/summary/v017/17.1.marsh.html Kelly Marsh is Associate Professor of English at Mississippi State University. Her essays on nine- teenth- and twentieth-century novels have appeared in journals including Philological Quarterly , Studies in the Novel , and Critique , and she is currently working on a book-length study of submerged plots in nov- els of motherless daughters. NARRATIVE, Vol. 17, No. 1 (January 2009) Copyright 2009 by The Ohio State University The Mother’s Unnarratable Pleasure and the Submerged Plot of Persuasion What do we know about Anne Elliot’s mother? The narrator’s extremely brief account seems to leave little room for speculation, as she appears never to have devi- ated far from the norms associated with the time, place, and circumstances in which she lived. Yet even before Anne is introduced to us as a woman disappointed in love, a woman who, “forced into prudence in her youth . . . learned romance as she grew older” (29), she is introduced to us as a motherless daughter, one in whom Lady Elliot’s closest friend “could fancy the mother to revive again” (7). In fact, the mar- riage plot of Persuasion is constantly influenced by a submerged plot in which Anne seeks her absent mother’s story and finds it by repeating her mother’s experience. The little we are told about Lady Elliot gives a glimpse into this crucial submerged plot, crucial because it significantly affects our understanding of the family situation Anne must negotiate and of her own reactions to and decisions regarding Mr. Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Tracing the submerged plot reveals that Anne’s quest is to discover that which, in the world of this novel, cannot be narrated: her mother’s ex- perience of pleasure. Indeed, one way of understanding why the pleasure Anne ulti- mately experiences must be delayed is to recognize that, before pleasure can be hers, she must find validation for it in her mother’s unnarratable story. In this essay, I shall offer a theoretical account of this concept of a submerged plot and how it relates to other work in narrative theory on plot and progression, relate the submerged plot of the mother’s pleasure to previous work on the unnarratable, and build on these theo- retical accounts to trace the submerged plot’s substantial effects on the surface plot of Persuasion ....
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