Jane Austen - Carroll County Schools

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Emily Lewis
Mahoney
AP English 12
3/30/10
Persuasion
By Jane Austen
Jane Austen novels are the kinds that have been treasured throughout their publication in
the early 19th century, and well into current day society. Many women across the globe claim
Jane Austen to be their favorite author, whether for the well-deserved happy endings or the
deeper, underlying truth that hides between the lines of every page, and investigates the nature of
human relationships.
Persuasion is a novel that is very different from Jane Austen’s other five works. It is the
last completed novel before her death, and is often considered her most mature. Unlike Pride and
Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility, it begins about eight years after the major love story and
heart break has already occurred. The heroine, Anne Elliot, is now twenty-seven years old and
considered almost out of the marriageable range of seventeen to thirty. There is no flowery,
sappy, “true love prevails all” attitude, seeing as how the (previously) happy couple has long
been separated, and have not been in contact for the entirety of that period. Where one has faded,
the other has flourished in life and in wealth. Using this situation, it subtly explores themes of
vanity, family, change of heart, and as the title implies; persuasion.
Anne’s age is such a significant factor in the story; although Anne is still seemingly
pursued by both Captain Benwick and Mr. Elliot, her peers already see her as an old maid, and
often gossip about her disappearing youth. Yet she is described as being perfectly independent,
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level-headed, and generally happy with whom she is, regardless of the way she is taken
advantage of. This is perhaps the author’s stance against the clingy, materialistic women of the
time period, as well as oppression of opinion by men.
The dynamics of the Elliot family are rather unique; Mrs. Elliot has died, leaving Sir
William Elliot with Mary, Elizabeth and Anne. Mr. Elliot is exceedingly vain, and likes to keep
up physical and social appearances. He keeps unnecessary mirrors in his room, and does not
willingly rent his house to another aristocratic family, even when his family is in debt.
“Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character: vanity of person
and of situation…He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of
baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his
warmest respect and devotion” (Austen 2)
Elizabeth and Mary are likewise vain, but in differing ways, Elizabeth’s takes pride in
physical appearances, and Mary craves attention. She is the only married daughter; however, she
still seeks attention and comfort from others (usually Anne), and “fancies herself ill” when she is
not the focus of attention, much like that of a young adolescent.
Although it’s obvious Anne loves her family, there is the typical veiled stress that any
household deals with. Family matters often creep into other areas of Anne’s life, as her father
and Godmother, Mrs. Russell, are the ones who persuaded Anne not to marry Captain
Wentworth. He was previously a penniless sailor, and she could not taint the upstanding family
name of Elliot by marrying under her rank, signifying the limits of a woman’s freedom by her
family, no matter how capable she may be.
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On the other hand, Anne seems has a more practical, rational, and reserved personality
than her family members. We can assume that she is more like her deceased mother in these
aspects, since she has no living relative with similar qualities. This may have its downside,
though. It is implied that she is easily persuaded, and this ultimately leads to her separation from
Captain Wentworth.
If Anne is the “unreachable princess” figure, then we must give recognition to Captain
Wentworth, who would then be cast as the strong underdog archetype. He worked his way from
a low-ranking, penniless sailor to one of the most-honored titles of a British naval officer in the
Napoleonic Wars. Although he uses cold civility and mannerisms to display his bitter emotions
towards Anne and Lady Russell, his actions seems justifiable in the end; like Anne’s family, his
pride was damaged by being rejected eight years before. He makes amends towards the last
chapters by sending a letter to Anne, apologizing for his behavior, and proposing marriage for
the second time.
The Elliot women, and women of this era as whole, are frequently portrayed as buds and
blooms of flowers. While Elizabeth is depicted as an everlasting bloom, Anne is left to be the
quickly fading flower, already withered by time and sorrow. When Captain Wentworth meets her
again, he describes her as unrecognizable, and not for the better.
“A few years before, Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished
early; and as even in her height, her father had found little to admire in her…” (Austen 3)
Moreover, the more time Anne spends with Captain Wentworth, her beauty seems to
have its “second wind”, creating a pattern. Captain Wentworth is good for her; she is healthiest
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in his presence, as if he is water for her soul. People often complement her on her rejuvenated
appearance, but accuse her of using cosmetic products, or simply healthy air.
As Anne gains confidence to pursue Captain Wentworth again, she is reacquainted with a
former schoolmate, Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith has been crippled by age and injury, and similar to
the illusion The Ghost of Christmas Yet to come creates in A Christmas Carol; Mrs. Smith is the
physical embodiment of what Anne’s future is if she does not seize the moment.
In all of her novels, Jane Austen likes to work in opposites, especially in Persuasion.
There are three main sets of opposing characters; Captain Wentworth and Mr. Elliot, Anne Elliot
and Louisa Musgrove and Lady Russell and Sir Elliot. These pairs cover a diverse range of
relationships throughout one’s life; parent, cousin, spouse, and friend. Through theses
interrelationships, the author weaves a plot of daily truths about humanity by using Anne as a
representation of women everywhere, and all the possibilities that may occur.
Louisa Musgrove is the exact opposite of Anne. Although both Louisa and her sister
Henrietta were both initially attracted to Captain Wentworth, Louisa is the girl he decided to
court. She is headstrong, determined, and free-spirited, where he thinks Anne is too easily
persuaded, weak-minded, and irresolute. All of these “flaws” which he believes Anne to have are
the reasons he seeks attention from Louisa, although he may simply be bitter that Anne “sided”
with Lady Russell, instead of him.
““Yes, here I am Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match. Anybody between fifteen
and thirty may have me for asking. A little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few
compliments to the navy and I am a lost man. Should not this be enough for a sailor, who
has no society among women to make him nice?” He said it, she knew, to be
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contradicted. His bright, proud eye spoke the happy conviction that he was nice; and
Anne Elliot was not out of his thoughts, when he more seriously described the woman he
should wish to meet with. “A strong mind, with a sweetness of manner,” made the first
and the last of the description.” (Austen 53)
Louisa eagerly seeks to show her resoluteness in front of Captain Wentworth. In Chapter
12, when she attempts to jump from stone steps into Captain Wentworth arms, her unyielding
spirit becomes her downfall. Despite warnings, she exclaims “I am determined, I will”, and
jumps, but not into Captain Wentworth’s arms. He was a fraction of a second too late, and
Louisa cracks her skull on the stones of the Cobb.
This is the most pivotal point of the story. Louisa is now homebound for several weeks,
and Captain Wentworth is not able to frequently visit her, severing any attachment to her, as she
becomes engaged to his friend Captain Benwick during this period. This is a surprise to all
friends and family who were expecting Captain Wentworth to propose soon after Louisa’s
recovery, resulting in Captain Wentworth’s shock. He had not considered that his flirtations
would be taken so seriously, and he is somewhat relieved by her engagement to his friend. It also
goes back to the author’s original theme, and gives some encouragement not to be so closedmined to persuasion; the repercussions could be disastrous.
When Captain Wentworth is free from any obligation of marriage to Louisa Musgrove,
and regrets his cold behavior, he changes his mind, his heart and his life. Once explained, he now
sees the reasoning behind Anne rejection of his first proposal. Where he saw only timidity and
feebleness, there were many complex thoughts and reasoning behind the choice. Lady Russell
also experiences a similar change of heart. She did not approve of Captain Wentworth, but
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slowly learns to accept that he will always be a part of Anne’s life, learning that whatever and
whoever made Anne so happy would make her happy as well. Both of these dynamic alterations
of character suggest that a change of heart will always lead to a change of life, likely for the
better.
Mr. William Elliot, cousin to the Elliot sisters, reappears in their lives by coincidence. He
had been alienated from the Elliots for several years, due to his marriage to a woman not
approved of by the family. If he was placed in today’s society he would likely be considered a
“moocher”. Mr. Elliot only seems to appear when it’s convenient, thriving off the success of
family and friends; whenever they happen to be wealthy. His marriage was for convenience;
wealth. His friendship to Mrs. Smith’s late husband was for convenience; wealth. The reader
cannot help but wonder what other reason he may have for reacquainting himself with his
estranged family and seeking Anne’s attention. Mr. Elliot may be the symbol of the scheming,
sneaking, albeit indolent part of every human’s personality.
Fickleness of character is a quality that the reader may attribute to Anne, although this
may not necessarily true. Is it better to be persuaded by others for a sense of propriety and duty,
and wait for a more opportune chance that may not occur, or to shut out the opinions of others
and risk harm? As in the case of Ms. Louisa Musgrove, a little indecisiveness may have proven
useful, but on the other hand, Anne’s rationality of the situation was probably for the better. If
she had allowed herself to be persuaded by Captain Wentworth, it is likely that she would have
been ostracized from her family, and poor, for either a short period of time, or the rest of her life,
waiting for Captain Wentworth to make his fortune in the navy.
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This is a similar conflict as in Hamlet, although not quite as severe. Where Anne must
internally battle reason, and think to herself “is it better to be swayed, or not to be swayed, even
if means loneliness?” Hamlet must internally battle courage, and think to himself “is it nobler to
live or die, with death coming at any possible moment?”
Both characters also seem to experience social isolation. Although they have an
abundance of friends and relatives, because of their internal struggle, they seem to always be
alone. Anne is under appreciated by her own family, and is pressured to stay at home to take care
of her nephews while their parents are out at dinner. Her friends seem to take pity on her, they
don’t see her as pretty or intelligent of talented, and hasn’t danced at a party since the first time
she met Captain Wentworth. Hamlet is under a much more extreme burden, although quite
similar. His own Uncle who killed Hamlet’s father schemes to kill him next, and he is abandoned
by his friends and his love, as they think his is going insane, although insanity may just be an
outward display of internal conflict.
Keeping up appearances is another difficulty for Anne and Hamlet. They both come from
prestigious backgrounds, with arrogant, aristocratic (or monarchic) parental figures, but want to
live their own lives. Anne wants to be married to Captain Wentworth but would receive
opposition from her friends and family, and Hamlet struggles with avenging his father’s death
without appearing insane, and appearing unworthy to rule the kingdom in the future.
Anne herself may be what the most basic form of the plot is; the kind, undervalued,
seemingly invisible soul. In short, your “average Joe” type person. She represents not only
women, but all hard-working people who are just waiting for their chance to be seen. Anne wants
to display her talents, but is often overshadowed by the dancing, instrumental Musgrove sisters.
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She is not wildly emotional or materialistic, yet this self-control is never mentioned by
any of the characters, although she has had a much more complicated life than her peers. She is
not ashamed at the thought of living in the country, much to Elizabeth’s and Sir Walter’s dismay.
She is the “glue” that holds all of the characters and the plot together; if she had eloped with
Captain Wentworth she would have been missed greatly, if not just for her services that her
family assumes she will do.
The progression of the plot and the development of other characters slowly make Anne
seem less indecisive, and more level-headed. It brings out the rationality and common sense
which most people have, but often makes them seem plain and boring.
Persuasion is not about being influenced to make poor decisions, (as many people assume
from the title) it is a novel about the justification of decisions, and how they may influence a
person throughout their lifetime, whether they are intentional or not.
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Works Cited
Austen, Jane. Persuasion. London, John Murray. 1818. Print.
Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility. London, Whitehall. 1811. Print.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. London, Whitehall. 1813. Print.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. London, Chapman & Hall. 1843. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. London, Nicholas Ling and John Trundell. 1605. Print.
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