The aftermath of a traumatic brain injury thrusts family and friends into a whirlwind of different emotions and decisions regarding their loved one’s future. Experiencing an overwhelming sense of grief or loss, these family members may find it difficult to remain hopeful when viewing the immediate, drastic changes in the individual. The ambiguity surrounding brain trauma is directly portrayed through Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’, where Louisa falls down a flight of stairs and suffers from a head injury. Displayed through the extreme change in Austen’s writing style and the variation in reaction amongst the bystanders, Louisa’s accident sheds light on the ability of brain trauma to cause immense chaos directly within the individual as well as within the accompanying family setting.
While set in Lyme and leading up to Louisa’s fall, Austen provides extensive detail regarding the conversations amongst characters and the surrounding environment. Stating specifics about Anne and Captain Benwick’s conversation, Austen notes: “Anne found Captain Benwick getting near her, as soon as they were all fairly in the street” (66). She further relates timing to meals, stating, “Breakfast had not been long over…” (66). Austen noting details such as these is not unordinary for the progression of the plot according to her writing style thus far. The continuation of her harmonious diction is what allows for the intense juxtaposition between normal, everyday encounters and the “out of the blue” chaos experienced as a result of brain trauma. Austen’s writing style drastically changes once Louisa jumps down the steep flight of steps, utilizing cold, extreme words such as “lifeless,” “death,” and “horror” (67). This radical change in Austen’s tone symbolizes the radical change experienced by the injured individual as well as those at aid.
The nervous system is home to an essential organ that stimulates thoughts, feelings, memory, and personality: the brain. Louisa, experiencing “no injury but to the head”, is understood by the reader and her surrounding friends to be of utmost severity as a result of Austen’s switch in tone. Austen emphasizes the translation of the individual’s trauma to the outbreak of chaos within the family setting through the reaction of Henrietta, Louisa’s sister. After Louisa falls and is then carried to the Harvilles’ home, she appears “lifeless” (69) to all of the bystanders. Finally giving a sign of life, Louisa opened her eyes for a short period of time, lacking any sign of consciousness. Ironically, Louisa’s flicker of life heavily impacts Henrietta, who “perfectly incapable of being in the same room with Louisa, was kept by the agitation of hope and fear, from a return of her own insensibility” (69). Trauma is scary, regardless of what portion of the body experiences it. The specification of a brain injury causes thoughts to race through family members’ minds, asking questions like “Will he or she wake up?” or “If they wake up, will he or she know who I am?”. Brain injury causes individuals to view a stark difference between what used to be and the imagination of what will likely be in the future.
I have personally experienced the effects of brain trauma on a family dynamic. My grandmother suffered from a stroke at the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for her and my grandfather, where she lost consciousness and fell directly on her head. The proceeding hours, minutes, and even seconds before the accident were as normal as could be, just as portrayed in ‘Persuasion’. Known for shuffling her feet and not taking full strides, my grandmother began to fall out of the corner of my eye, and I was unable to catch her regardless of my close proximity. The following chaos was nothing short of overwhelming, with everyone concerned with my grandma’s immediate medical attention. A hospital visit turned into a hospital stay, and worry consumed me just as did Henrietta. Questions transitioned from asking ‘when” a milestone of regaining speech would occur to asking “if” the milestone would be reached at all. The drastic change in my grandmother’s independence took a toll on my grandfather, my mother, and me. Attempting to console others in their worries about the management of their new responsibilities proved to be immensely difficult while balancing personal, emotional struggles. Thanksgiving was always at my grandparents’ house, with no questions being asked about it. Diving into the holiday season caused the discussion and questioning of so many topics that had always been concrete for the family. This is the result of brain trauma: what once was known must be questioned. Austen uses the accidents of life, such as Louisa’s fall, to highlight how fate shatters carefully premeditated plans. In ‘Persuasion’, brain injury challenges the characters to cope just as people have to in real life.
A common theme in ‘Persuasion’ is the lack of certainty in the events that follow. Being the first sentence in the concluding Chapter 24, Austen questions, “Who can be in doubt of what followed?” (146). The answer is everyone; everyone should be in doubt of what followed. Brain trauma injuries serve as a reminder for how little control individuals really have over unexpected, unpreventable, life-altering accidents.