-The last novel from Jane Austen
Published in 1818 by John Murray Jane Austen’s Persuasion revolves around Anne Elliot, a young Englishwoman of 27 years, whose family is moving to lower their expenses and get out of debt, at the same time as the wars come to an end. They rent their home to an Admiral and his wife. The wife’s brother, Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth, had been engaged to Anne in 1806, and now they meet again, both single and unattached, after no contact in more than seven years. This sets the scene for many humorous encounters as well as a second, well-considered chance at love and marriage for Anne Elliot in her second “bloom”.
The novel asks whether it is better to be firm in one’s convictions or to be open to the suggestions of others. After being dismissed by Anne eight years ago, Captain Wentworth believes strongly that any woman he marries will have a strong character and independent mind. While Anne believes that these are good qualities, she is also receptive to a sense of obligation and duty. She concludes that it was right for her to allow herself to be persuaded because “a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.” In the end, Austen gives reader, the freedom to judge whether persuasion is a positive or negative force in the novel.
Silly parents play an important role in Persuasion, and are a recurring theme in many of Jane Austen’s novels. Here, Sir Walter’s imprudence and insensible extravagance cause the initial conflict that forces the Elliots’ to leave their homes and “retrench” in Bath. Sir Walter is not a source of guidance for his daughters; he is so vain and self-involved that he is unable to make good decisions for the family. He has transmitted his ‘silliness’ to both Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth shares his self-importance; Mary is so filled with self-pity that she thinks everything a personal slight. Her children are uncontrollable because she takes little interest in teaching them. Although Anne has the good sense and strength of character to avoid the silliness, she is nevertheless inconvenienced by it. Children who must put up with irresponsible or ridiculous parents are a consistent theme in the novel.
This novel presents two very different versions of the English gentleman. On one hand is Sir Walter, the traditional, land-owning, titled man who avoids work and seeks comfort. On the other hand are Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft. Both naval officers are working men who have made their own fortunes. Though their manners are impeccable, they are not of the same high social rank as Sir Walter. In this period of English history, the definition of a ‘gentleman’ was growing increasingly more flexible; this novel reflects that change.
Another striking feature of the novel is that when the characters go for walks in the novel, it often signifies the development of character. Walking entails conversing with others, commenting on one’s surroundings, and reacting to the world outside.. In Persuasion, walks are essential for the progression of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s relationship. Anne learns of his feelings regarding female constancy on one of their initial walks, and at the end they reveal their feelings to each other on a walk home through the park. Walking is a frequent and essential motif.
Marriage is another motif which plays a strong role in Austen’s novels. It is not only the consummation of a love affair; marriage directly compares social ranks in society. Individuals, classes, titles, and accomplishments are measured and weighed in the consideration of a marriage. The courting and engagement which precede the ceremony allows friends and family to offer their opinions as to the appropriateness of the match. Marriage thus serves as a kind of social yardstick to measure and compare the characters in the novel.
This type of novel is not about the education or growth of one particular individual, but is instead a story of how a few central characters interact within society, navigating the rules and structures which govern their lives.
Through her piercing social observation and subtly subversive style, Jane Austen drew from ordinary circumstances to produce extraordinary works of English literature. Known by many as a novelist who focuses on marriage plots and happy endings, Austen’s works can more deeply be understood to be a study of the complex class and gender relations which underscored early-nineteenth century English middle-class society.
The novel was well received in the early 19th century. Anne Elliot is noteworthy among Jane Austen’s heroines for her relative maturity. As Persuasion is Austen’s last completed novel, it is accepted as her most maturely written novel showing a refinement of literary conception indicative of a woman approaching forty years of age. Unlike Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, the novel Persuasion was not rewritten from earlier drafts of novels which Austen had originally started before 1800. Her use of free indirect course in narrative was by 1816 fully developed and in full evidence.
Popular acceptance of the novel was reflected by two notable made-for-television filmed adaptations released first in Britain: Amanda Root starred in the lead role in the 1995 version co-starring Ciaran Hinds, and was followed by Sally Hawkins in the 2007 version made for ITV1 co-starring Rupert Penry-Jones.
(1ST YEAR, ENG.HONS. ROLL-15)