“That quarter of the mind”: The Psychodynamics of the Female Will In Jane Austen’s Persuasion

By: Gerald C. Wood

Abstract: Near the end of Persuasion Anne Elliot informs Captain Wentworth that despite Lady Russell’s opposition to the couple, Anne will continue to be connected to, even influenced by, her mother figure. This scene is indicative of Austen’s dramatic shift from the Cinderella stories in her earlier novels to a psychological study of how women make choices. In the process the novelist anticipates the seminal work in developmental psychology by Nancy Chodorow, Carol Gilligan, and others, who demonstrate that women choose in relation to others, especially other women, not in isolation as do most men. More remarkably, when Anne reproduces her attachment to Lady Russell in her connections with marginalized people, including nurses and servants, Persuasion imagines political solidarity among women and the disadvantaged. In league with these others, Austen’s heroine finds a shared path to truth, choice, and satisfying action.