‘Out of Season’: The Narrative Ecology of Persuasion
Seasonal variation has long been acknowledged as thematically and narratologically central to Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Persuasion’s narrative offers a multiplicity of possible outcomes, undermines teleological relations between beginnings and endings and includes passages where time seems to fold back in on itself. This chapter situates the narratorial folds of Austen’s Persuasion in the context of the dramatic variations of climate that shaped its production. Completed in 1816, and thus written in the wake of the eruption of Mount Tambora, and during the ‘Year Without a Summer,’ Persuasion is set in 1814, anticipating not only Waterloo, but the climate irregularities of 1816. Persuasion’s seasonal temporal markers thus potentially denote radical instability: for instance, ‘thirteen winters’ revolving frosts’ was written and read with the immediate awareness of how ‘frosts’ could be subject to multitudinous variations in length, moment of appearance and severity. This chapter, then, offers a new reading of Persuasion, connecting the novel’s concern with the rhythm of the seasons with its fractal narrative poetics. Persuasion’s engagement with climate irregularities on the level of narrative design suggests how Austen responded to the ‘Year Without a Summer’ with what could be characterized as a poetics of chaos, anticipating contemporary chaotic and fractal ecological models.