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Persuasion Jane Austen

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English Literature

Social climbing, rekindled romance, and self-motivation are elements that make for a stirring and gripping story, regardless of the era it is published in. You can find all of these themes in Persuasion (1817), one of two novels published posthumously by Jane Austen (1775-1817).

Below you will find a summary of the novel and an exploration of themes and historical context integral to the text, followed by an investigation of the key characters in Persuasion.

Persuasion: Jane Austen

Released alongside Austen's other novel Northanger Abbey, Persuasion was the first novel by Austen that credited her as its author, lifting her out of anonymity. To this day, Austen is known for her relatable and realistic portrayals of society and the human character. Let's delve into Austen's last novel, and arguably her most mature work, to see the elements which have made this novel stand the test of time.

Persuasion by Jane Austen: summary

The story opens with Sir Walter Elliot reading a genealogy that details the Elliot family's aristocratic heritage. Sir Walter is a proud man, obsessed with his looks and his social standing. He has three daughters, Anne Elliot (our protagonist), her elder sister Elizabeth, and her younger sister Mary. Like their father, Elizabeth and Mary are vapid and materialistic. They are very concerned with maintaining appearances in society.

Anne Elliot is the black sheep of the family. She doesn't care as much as her father and sisters about these things. Because of this, they are not very close – Anne Elliot got on better with her mother. Sir Walter is a widower; the late Lady Elliot was more prudent and curbed his spending habit. However, since her death, Sir Walter's love for extravagance has bankrupted the family. Sir Walter invites friends to advise him on his financial situation.

Among these friends is Lady Russell. She was Lady Elliot's best friend and as such is something of a mother figure to Anne Elliot. Seven years before the novel starts, she persuades Anne not to marry Frederick Wentworth, and though she loves him, Anne listens. Wentworth was a poor sailor and of a lower social class than the Elliots. Now Anne is twenty-seven and unmarried at a time when her financial future is uncertain due to her father's lavishness.

Mr. Shephard, Sir Walter's lawyer, is also there. He and Lady Russell advise Sir Walter to rent his house, Kellynch Hall, in order to pay his debts. They discuss potential renters. The name Wentworth is mentioned in reference to Frederick Wentworth's brother. This causes Anne to reminisce on her past love.

The property is eventually not let to Wentworth's brother, but to Admiral Croft and his wife. Admiral Croft is married to Sophie Croft, Frederick Wentworth's sister. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Anne go to live in Bath. Mrs Clay, Mr Shephard's daughter, goes with them as they have become close over this time. Mrs Clay is a widow with two children, whom we see very little of. Anne suspects that Mrs Clay has the ulterior motive of marrying Sir Walter Elliot. Admiral Croft invites his brother-in-law, Captain Frederick Wentworth, to visit him at Kellynch Hall.

Anne goes to the countryside to visit her younger sister Mary, who has married and moved away from home. Mary is married to Charles Musgrove. Charles Musgrove had first proposed to Anne but she declined and so he opted for her sister. Charles Musgrove is the eldest son of Uppercross Hall, where his parents Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove live. Mary and Charles live in Uppercross Cottage, in the same village.

Charles Musgrove has many siblings, including Henrietta, Lousia, and Richard. Their cousin, Charles Hayter, stands to inherit his family's estate of Winthrop. He becomes Henrietta's love interest. Even though the Hayters are lower than the Musgroves in social standing, the families are very friendly with each other. Mary, however, dislikes this. She shares her father and her sister Elizabeth's shallowness.

Kellynch Hall is not very far from Uppercross Cottage, so the families meet. Anne and Captain Wentworth are reunited with each other after many years apart. Mary and Charles hope that either Henrietta or Louisa will marry Captain Wentworth, as he is now of high social standing. Captain Wentworth already has a connection to the Uppercross family because he met Richard while away at war.

Since Richard is now dead, this endears the family further to him. Lousia ends up falling for Captain Wentworth and the feeling is mutual. Anne still has feelings for Captain Wentworth, but he wants to move on, so Anne has to sit on the sidelines and watch the romance between Louisa and Wentworth grow.

The story now moves to the town of Lyme Regis, where Captain Wentworth has close friends from his time in the navy, Captain Harville and Captain Benwick. Charles, Mary, Anne, Henrietta, and Louisa accompany him on a visit. Captain Benwick used to be engaged to Captain Harville's sister, Fanny Harville, who is now deceased.

Captain Benwick is heartbroken over Fanny's death when we meet him. As time goes on, however, he seemingly develops romantic feelings for Anne. The visit to Lyme Regis is cut short when Louisa falls and hits her head on the sea wall. She falls into a coma and it is unclear when or if she will wake up. The Harvilles take her in to nurse her.

Anne goes to Bath to see her father and sister, who are staying at Camden Place. Here we meet the heir to Kellynch Hall, Mr. William Elliot. Anne had seen him briefly at Lyme Regis. William Elliot, a widower, has long been estranged from the family. Now, he is in Bath to make amends. William Elliot successfully charms both Sir Walter and Elizabeth here. They hope as heir to Kellynch Hall, he will marry Elizabeth. Anne is much less sure of him.

William Elliot introduces Sir Walter and Elizabeth to his friends Colonel Wallace and his pregnant wife. Lady Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Carteret also arrive in Bath. We do not see much of them, but given their significantly higher social standing than the Elliots, Sir Walter is eager to be in their good graces.

Anne's old school friend, Mrs. Smith, a widow, also lives in Bath, on the poorer side of town. Against Sir Walter's wishes, Anne goes to visit her. Mrs. Smith's husband died, leaving her many debts. She is also very sickly, but her friend Nurse Rooke supports her. They also gossip together a lot.

While Anne is in Bath, a new romance has bloomed in Lyme Regis. Lousia is recovering from her fall at the Harville's. She falls for Captain Benwick and they get engaged. Anne is surprised to learn this because when she left, there was clearly a romance between Captain Wentworth and Louisa.

All of the major characters cross paths in Bath, which had a very vibrant social scene at the time. Mrs. Musgrove arrives with Charles, Henrietta, Mary, and Captain Harville. Admiral Croft, and Mrs. Croft also come; Admiral Croft has gout so they hope the fresh air and water will help his health. Captain Wentworth is there too.

With Louisa now taken by Captain Benwick, it seems that Captain Wentworth is once again interested in Anne Elliot. He has overheard a conversation in which Anne spoke about the constancy of her love. This has endeared her to him once again. However, William Elliot is also interested in Anne. Lady Russell approves of the match between William and Anne but Anne still has her reservations about him.

Mrs. Smith knows a lot about William Elliot's unsavoury past. She reveals to Anne that her husband was very close friends with William Elliot in the past. It was this friendship that led him to financial ruin. William had encouraged him to spend excessively and accumulate debts. He had also treated his first wife badly and used her for her money, all the while mocking Sir Walter and his family.

Nurse Rooke, Mrs. Smith's friend also has information on William Elliot. This is because she waits on the pregnant Mrs Wallace and hears gossip from her. Anne complains to Mrs. Smith that second-hand gossip is not to be trusted.

Having collected the money from his first marriage, William Elliot now also wants the title and prestige that would come with inheriting from Sir Walter. He feels threatened by Mrs. Clay's growing involvement with Sir Walter as they may marry and conceive an heir, who would displace him.

William Elliot is determined to get back in Sir Walter's good graces. Despite this, it seems that he really does love Anne. Once Anne finds out the information from Mrs. Smith, she is deterred from having any interest in him.

Realising that Anne is not in love with William Elliot and may still love him instead, Captain Wentworth proposes to her in a lengthy letter. With the fortune and the prestige he has earnt in the war, Wentworth is no longer an unworthy match for Anne. Nobody objects to the union this time around. Anne accepts his proposal and the two become engaged.

Louisa marries Captain Benwick and Henrietta marries Charles Hayter. William Elliot leaves and Mrs. Clay follows him; she has fallen for him. Austen speculates that Mrs. Clay and William Elliot may marry in the future.

Persuasion: themes

Class

Class is clearly key in Austen's Persuasion. It drives most characters' decisions throughout the story. Lady Russell advises Anne to break off her engagement with Frederick because he is of a low social class. This separates the two lovers for seven years. Sir Walter spends so much money trying to keep up an upper-class lifestyle that he bankrupts his family. He, Elizabeth, and Mary care desperately about class. They base most of their decisions on what they believe people of a higher class should do.

In Persuasion, Austen shows that perhaps class is not as immovable as it seems. Captain Wentworth builds himself up from a lower-class man to an upper-class one. He does not change who he is in making this change. Austen's protagonist, Anne, does not care much for class boundaries.

Anne visits and cares for her friend Mrs. Smith. This is despite the fact she is of a lower class and Anne's family advises her not to. Anne's positive portrayal in the novel shows which set of values Austen is privileging in her novel.

and who is Miss Anne Elliot to be visiting in Westgate Buildings? A Mrs Smith...Upon my word, Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you. But surely you may put off this old lady till to-morrow: she is not so near her end, I presume, but that she may hope to see another day. - Sir Walter (Ch. 17)

Persuasion: historical context

The cultural context that Jane Austen was writing in is also important to remember. Austen wrote Persuasion in the mid-1810s. At this time, the marriage market was a key feature of society. As shown in the novel, many women cared about marrying into wealthy and upper class families. This was partly because of the marriage market. Middle- and upper-class women did not work and had to solely rely on their husbands for financial support. Therefore, many of them tried to get wealthy husbands so they could have a good life.

The context of the Napoleonic wars is also important. These were conflicts between France and various other nations. Frederick Wentworth fought in the French-British conflict. The Napoleonic wars had just ended when Austen wrote Persuasion. Frederick managed to make his money and climb the social ladder because of the war. Austen is reflecting reality, as this was possible for many men after these conflicts.

Persuasion by Jane Austen: characters

Persuasion is a complex story with many interlinking characters. Let's take a quick look at the most important ones.

Anne Elliot

The story's protagonist, Anne is the middle child of the Elliot family. She is the black sheep of her family and was close to her late mother. At 27, she is unmarried, which was unusual for women in the 1800s. Anne has profound feelings for Captain Frederick Wentworth. Seven years previously, Anne broke off her engagement with Frederick. She did this because her mentor, Lady Russell, advised it due to Frederick's low social status.

Anne is intelligent and sharp. She is also very capable in moments of crisis. This is evident in her ability to organise everyone when Louisa injures her head. Unlike the rest of her family, Anne cares little for social status and her family's attempts to climb the social ladder. She cares much more for being genuine and values people for their characters, not their social standing.

Throughout Persuasion, Anne gradually distances herself more and more from her family's values and gains independence. After Anne and Frederick's reunion, it becomes clear that Anne has never lost her feelings for Frederick. However, she keeps these private as she believes him ready to move on with someone else. Her constancy in love is rewarded by Frederick's eventual proposal.

Captain Frederick Wentworth

A poor sailor who 'made good', Frederick Wentworth was engaged to Anne Elliot seven years previous to the novel. Their engagement was broken off by Anne because of Frederick's lack of money and status. Seven years later, Frederick is a naval Captain and very successful. He is now a highly eligible bachelor in this society.

Wentworth does not try to reignite his relationship with Anne after his return. This is because his opinion of her changed after she was persuaded to break off their engagement. Frederick judges people on actions. He sees Anne as someone inconsistent who does not stick to her values or promises.

His choice of Louisa Musgrove to romantically pursue is partly because she is upfront and does what she says. However, Louisa is also reckless. Frederick Wentworth eventually realises that he was perhaps wrong to judge Anne without seeing the bigger picture. After being taught this lesson and realising Anne's love for him, Frederick once again proposes.

The Elliot family

This is the central family in Persuasion, consisting of Sir Walter and his three daughters, Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary. Sir Walter's wife passed away thirteen years before this story begins.

Sir Walter is quite a self-interested man. He is also irresponsible. He has run his family into debt trying to maintain a wealthy lifestyle. This reckless spending used to be curbed by his more frugal late wife before her passing. Sir Walter also has an obsession with social status. He cares deeply about how he is viewed by society and judges those lower on the social scale.

Elizabeth and Mary are Sir Walter's other two daughters. Elizabeth is the eldest and still unmarried. This concerns her greatly. She has learned and believes in all of her father's views. The two are very similar. Elizabeth is also snobby and judges those with less wealth or status. Mary, the youngest of the family, shares the values of Elizabeth and their father. Mary is married to Charles Musgrove and lives away from the family home.

William Elliot

William Elliot is the cousin of Anne, Elizabeth, and Mary. As the closest surviving male relative, he is the heir to everything Sir Walter owns, including the family home, Kellynch Hall. William became estranged from the family after he married a woman with low social status but a great deal of wealth. He now wants to become closer to the family as he wants high social status too.

William Elliot is charming and manages to endear all the Elliot family to him. This is apart from Anne, who sees through his ruse and does not trust William. It is unclear whether William's romantic interest in Anne is genuine or for his own ulterior motives. He also has an affair with Mrs. Clay that eventually turns into a full-blown romance. William Elliot initially began this affair because he was worried that she may marry Sir Walter and give him a male heir.

This fact, coupled with what Mrs. Smith has told Anne about her experiences with William Elliot, exposes his real character. He is cunning, selfish, and manipulative.

Persuasion Jane Austen - Key takeaways

  • Persuasion was published in 1817, after Jane Austen's death.
  • The story is about the rekindled love between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth and the many events leading up to it.
  • Class is a key theme in the novel.
  • The marriage market and the Napoleonic wars are two key elements of historical context to remember.
  • The other characters in Persuasion stand opposed to Anne in their views on class and status.

Persuasion Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen is about the rekindled romance between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. It is a satire of social status and classism in 18th Century England.

Jane Austen wrote Persuasion in 1815-1816. 

There are 24 chapters in Persuasion by Jane Austen. The novel is divided into 2 volumes, so the story ends on Chapter 12 of Volume 2. Cancelled chapters from Persuasion have also been found, but are not included in the final text.

The overall themes of Jane Austen's Persuasion are rekindled love, self-motivation, and deception.

Persuasion by Jane Austen was published in 1817, after Austen died.

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