Accident and Coincidence in Persuasion
September 4, 2007 § 1 Comment
It is during the significant turning point of Persuasion’s storyline, the visit to Lyme, that the accidents of Uppercross come to a head, and where the strands of the web holding Wentworth close to Louisa Musgrove and away from Anne shift and snap in their course. The visit to Lyme heralds the closing of the country setting and the opening of the Bath one, and the change from country accidents to town coincidences.
The climax of the bond between Louisa and Wentworth, a frenzy of school-girlish admiration on her side and careless enjoyment on his, comes in the form of the narrative’s most consequential accident, Louisa’s near tragic fall on the Cobb at Lyme. The intimacy between Wentworth and Louisa has childlike qualities and during their walks around Uppercross ‘he had had to jump her from the stiles’ as ‘the sensation was delightful to her’. From the steps on the Cobb Louisa insists Wentworth catches her, which he does, but a second, too precipitous jump leaves her seriously injured, concussed, unconscious for a period and bedridden during a long convalescence at Lyme. Louisa’s accident puts crucial developments into motion, realizations and reactions that pull Wentworth away from her and towards Anne:
…he had seen everything to exalt in his estimation the woman he had lost; and there begun to deplore the pride, the folly, the madness of resentment, which had kept him from trying to regain her when thrown in his way
Louisa’s obstinacy in jumping despite warnings of danger and Anne’s quick thinking and sensible reactions to the emergency, his feelings of guilt and responsibility and the group’s assuming there to be agreement between himself and Louisa force Wentworth to analyze his actions of the past few weeks, and to acknowledge his obligation to Louisa even while he confronts the reality that he is still very much in love with Anne, but honor bound to Louisa.
But as Louisa recovers she begins to fall in love with, and to be loved by, Captain Benwick. Benwick’s fiancé had died the previous summer while he was at sea, an accidental chance that left Benwick broken hearted and in need of healing himself. And though he could not be at the sickbed of Fanny Harville, he could be by Louisa Musgrove’s. The quiet, nervous girl that Louisa emerges as is the patient that Benwick can nurse, and the bookish, intelligent and kind Captain is exactly the man to now capture her heart. The news of their engagement frees Wentworth of any obligation and propels him to Bath in search of Anne, her love and her hand. But in Bath he also finds a man the narrative had introduced ever so teasingly, by coincidence of course, at Lyme: Anne’s estranged cousin Mr Elliot.
To be continued.