Daniel Gunn, professor of English at UMF gave a talk last Wednesday December 5, 2018 in the Emery Community Arts Center on Some Sentences From ‘Persuasion’, a Jane Austen novel. This talk took the form of an academic reading journal of the profound intricacies that fascinate professor Gunn in Austen’s Persuasion. This talk was part of the Jane Austen series put on by the New Commons Project.
Kristen Case, associate professor of English and colleague to professor Gunn, prefaced the audience for what they were about to experience. Professor Case described professor Gunn’s investigatory research as slow, quiet, and “attentive to really understand the meaning of another’s words and sentences.” It is not every day that one pays such meticulous attention to the functionality of another’s writing. Professor Gunn is truly “Austen’s ideal reader,” affirmed professor Case.
It is the language at the sentence level in Persuasion that fascinates professor Gunn. His unusual, experimental readings of individual sentences captivated the audience in the Emery last Wednesday as professor Gunn took us all on a journey through his mind of the inner workings of Austen’s language. Gunn spoke with such passion and excitement as he shared his discoveries with us. “The narrator’s voice is not always the narrator’s” and “the withholding of the last phrase of the sentence is powerful” in select sentences throughout the Austen novel.
If there is a heaven, Austen would have been smiling down upon professor Gunn last Wednesday. Among linguistic and grammatical investigation, there was also immense praise of Austen’s genius on Gunn’s behalf. He claims that her “arrangement [of syntactical elements] as brilliant” and the “sequences of phrases as ironic.” One such example: … a dead young lady, nay, two dead ladies, for it proved twice as fine as the first report, gives the notion that Persuasion is “Austen’s saddest novel,” claimed Gunn. He also believes that the work is “a reminder of how precise Austen is to the natural world.”
Gunn delivered his discoveries with passionate understanding and appreciation of Austen’s technique. He continues to dissect her sentences, looking for more meaning, that Gunn knows is there, awaiting to be unpacked. At the conclusion of his presentation, professor Gunn called “the novel itself a ‘tender sonnet’ with a sense of loss.”
Upon hearing the enthusiasm in professor Gunn’s talk and learning about the profound inner workings of Austen, I felt a deep need to acquire a copy of Persuasion and save it for the day when I can read and experience for myself the inner workings of Austen’s genius.
Professor Gunn’s deciphering of thirteen select sentences from Jane Austen’s Persuasion can’t help but excite the mind of the listener. We discovered, with and through professor Gunn, the relevance and significance of Austen’s inner workings, truly a rare event.
For more information on upcoming New Commons Project events, please click here.