Meaning of context:
1)Paragraphs surrounding a word or
sentence; overall situation, background
2) The part or parts of something written or
printed, as of Scripture, which precede or
follow a text or quoted sentence, or are so
intimately associated with it as to throw light
upon its meaning.
*Jane Austen drew from
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
early-nineteenth century
English middle-class society.
*George Austen, born of the gentleman-farmer class, appreciated
education and chose to study theology at Oxford. There he met
Cassandra Leigh, who would become his wife. Though personally
they had much in common, Cassandra's titled relations thought
she was of a higher social status than George. Nevertheless, in
1764, they chose to marry and had eight children in quick
succession: six boys and two girls.
*Both Jane and her sister Cassandra were mostly educated at home,
though they spent a short period of time at Abbey School. Jane's
relationship with her sister was perhaps the strongest connection
which existed in her life. Her numerous letters to and from
Cassandra provide the basis for much of the knowledge Austen
scholars have gleaned about Jane. And this close relationship may
have provided the basis for the many novels in which Austen
explores the connections among sisters.
Neither Jane nor Cassandra ever married, though they had
early offers. Yet this situation was not entirely uncommon for
the time. Perhaps due to the added burden of finding a
suitable mate within one's social class, between 10–35% of
people in Jane Austen's time remained single. Yet Jane's
status as a single woman did not upset her. The lack of a
husband allowed her the freedom to concentrate on her
writing, and the opportunity to be a keen observer of the
actions of those around her.
By the age of twenty-five, Austen had already written three
novels, though Sense and Sensibility, Austen's first novel to be
published, was not released until 1811. In the early nineteenth
century, publishing was one of the few ways middle-class women
could earn money, and Austen used her modest earnings to
supplement her income. Two years later, her second novel, Pride
and Prejudice (1813) was published and proved to be extremely
popular, ending Austen's anonymity. Her next novel, Mansfield
Park (1814), did not sell as well, and Austen followed it in 1816
with Emma, the last novel to be published before her early
Austen wrote her final
novel, Persuasion, in
under a year.
Persuasion and Northan
ger Abbey were
posthumously in 1818,
and together earned
little over 500 pounds,
a small amount by
today's standards, but
more money than
Austen herself ever saw
in her lifetime.
Persuasion represents the maturity of Austen's work, and more
than her other novels, evidences Austen's comic yet biting satire of
the titled upper classes. Austen's own social position, as the
daughter of a parish clergyman, placed her firmly in the respected
middle-class, but as an author she was free to step outside her
sphere and write about the personal flaws and mistakes of the
proud gentry. Such subtle criticism is especially apparent in her
descriptions of the ridiculous and vain Sir Walter Elliot, who is
forced to leave his family's house because of his lavish and
imprudent overspending.
Austen's final novel also stands out for the
nationalistic pride expressed by the
characters throughout the work. The
reverence which Persuasion's female
characters hold for the Naval officers
reflects the esteem in which the Navy was
held in Austen's day. At the height of the
British Empire, amidst wars with both
France and America, the Navy was admired
as the defender of British interests
throughout the world. Such Navy heroes in
the novel introduce a new, rougher ideal of
manliness into Austen's world, for which
the feminized Sir Walter serves as the
unfortunate foil.
Anne Elliot is the overlooked middle daughter of the vain Sir Walter Elliot, a
baronet who is all too conscious of his good looks and rank and spends excessive
amounts of money. Anne's mother, a fine, sensible woman, is long dead, and her
elder sister, Elizabeth, resembles her father in temperament and delights in the
fact that as the eldest daughter she can assume her mother's former position in
their rural neighborhood. Anne's younger sister, Mary, is a nervous, clinging
woman who has made an unspectacular
marriage to Charles Musgrove of
Uppercross Hall, the heir to a bucolic but respected local squire. None of her
surviving family can provide much companionship for the elegant-minded Anne,
who, still unmarried at 27, seems destined for spisterhood.
After she met and fell in love with Wentworth, at age nineteen, Anne had been
persuaded by her mother's great friend —and her own trusted confidante, the
widow Lady Russell— to break the engagement. Lady Russell had questioned the
wisdom of Anne marrying a penniless young naval officer without family or
connections and whose prospects were so uncertain. Wentworth is left bitter at
Lady Russell's interference and Anne's own want of fortitude.
Wentworth re-enters Anne's life when Sir Walter is forced by his own
profligacy to let the family estate to none other than Wentworth's
brother-in-law, Admiral Croft. Wentworth's successes in the
Napoleonic Wars resulted in his promotion and enabled him to amass
the then considerable fortune of £25,000 (around £2.5 million in
today's money) from prize money awarded for capturing enemy
vessels. The Musgroves, including Mary, Charles and Charles's younger
sisters, Henrietta and Louisa, are delighted to welcome the Crofts and
Wentworth to the neighborhood. Both Musgrove girls are attracted to
Wentworth, though Henrietta is informally engaged to clergyman
cousin Charles Hayter. Hayter is viewed as a merely respectable match,
being a bit beneath the Musgroves, socially and financially. Charles,
Mary, and the Crofts continually speculate as to which one Wentworth
might marry. All this is hard on Anne, due to her regret at breaking off
the engagement and Wentworth's constant attention to the Musgrove
girls. She tries to escape their company as often as she can, preferring
to spend time with her nephews
Captain Wentworth's visit to a close friend, Captain Harville, in nearby Lyme Regis results in
a day-long outing being organized by those eager to see the resort. While there, Louisa
Musgrove sustains a concussion in a fall brought about by her own impetuous behaviour.
This highlights the difference between the headstrong Louisa and the more sensible Anne.
While onlookers exclaim that Louisa is dead and her companions stand around
dumbfounded, Anne administers first aid and summons assistance. Wentworth's admiration
for Anne reawakens as a result.
Louisa's recovery is slow and her self-confidence is severely shaken. Her newfound timidity
elicits the kind attention and reassurance of Wentworth's friend Captain Benwick, who had
been mourning the recent death of his fiancée. The couple find their personalities to be
now more in sympathy and they become engaged.
Meanwhile, Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's scheming friend Mrs. Clay, the widowed
daughter of Sir Walter's agent, have relocated to Bath. There they hope to live in a manner
befitting a baronet and his family with the least possible expense until their finances are
restored to a firmer footing. Sir Walter's cousin and heir, William Elliot, who long ago
slighted the baronet, now seeks a reconciliation. Elizabeth assumes that he wishes to court
her, while Lady Russell more correctly suspects that he admires Anne.
Although William Elliot seems a perfect gentleman, Anne distrusts him; she finds his
character disturbingly opaque. She is enlightened by an unexpected source when she
discovers an old school friend, Mrs. Smith, living in Bath in straitened circumstances. Mrs.
Smith and her now-deceased husband had once been Mr. Elliot's closest friends. Having
encouraged them into financial extravagance, he had quickly dropped them when they
became impoverished. Anne learns, to her great distress, of his layers of deceit and
calculated self-interest. In addition, her friend speculates that Mr. Elliot wants to reestablish
his relationship with her family primarily to safeguard his inheritance of the title, fearing a
marriage between Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay. This helps Anne to understand more fully the
dangers of persuasion—in that Lady Russell pressed her to accept Mr. Elliot's likely offer of
marriage—and helps her to develop more confidence in her own judgment.
Ultimately, the Musgroves visit Bath to purchase wedding clothes for their daughters Louisa
and Henrietta (who has become engaged to Hayter). Captain Wentworth and his friend
Captain Harville accompany them. Anne and Harville discuss the relative faithfulness of men
and women in love, while Wentworth writes a note within earshot of the discussion. This
causes him to write a note to Anne detailing his feelings for her. In a tender scene, Anne and
Wentworth reconcile and renew their engagement. The match is now more palatable to
Anne's family — their waning fortunes and Wentworth's waxing ones have made a
considerable difference. Also, ever overvaluing good looks, Sir Walter is favorably impressed
with his future son-in-law's appearance. Lady Russell admits she has been completely
wrong about Captain Wentworth, and she and Anne remain friends.
The issues of class rigidity and social mobility are the most
important themes in Persuasion. Marriage and the naval
profession are two means by which individuals may improve
their social class. Austen is not a revolutionary; she defends the
values and traditions of respect for the social structure.
‘Walter Elliot, born March 1,1760, married, July 15,
1784, Elizabeth , daughter of James Stevenson, Esq.
Of South Park, in the county of Gloucester; by which
lady ( who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born
June 1,1785; Anne born August 9,1787; a still-born
son, Nov. 5, 1789; Mary, born 20,1791.(Austen,p:3)
Anne had not wanted
this visit to Uppercross to
learn that a removal from
one set of people to
another, though at a
distance of only three
miles, will often include a
total change of
conversation, opinion, and
idea. (Austen,p:32)
‘One day last spring, in town I
was in company with two me,
striking instances of what I am
talking of, Lord St Ives, whose
father we all know to have
been a country curate, without
bread to eat; I was to give
place to Lord St Ives and at a
certain Admiral Baldwin, the
most deplorable looking
personage you can imagine.’
( Sir Walter Elliot, 15)
‘Yes; it is in two points offensive to me; I have two
strong grounds of objection to it. First, as a means of
bringing persons of obscure birth into undue
distinction, and raising men to honours which their
fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of; and
secondly, as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most
horribly. ’(p:14)
Sir Walter Elliot is explaining to his family and friends why he
objects to the Navy and wishes that none of his relatives will
ever join it. Sir Walter highly values appearance and
attractiveness, and so naturally he dislikes the way the sun
and sea air can weather a face and "cut up a man's youth."
Sir Walter truly objects to the Navy because it functions as a
means of social ascension. The Navy allows men who are
dedicated and hard-working to build a fortune and to gain
social status. His objection is not only to the Navy, but to
increasing social mobility in society.
*Captain Wentworth had no fortune.
*Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching the
wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Anne;
but Lady Russel saw it differently.
* She deprecated the connexion in every light.
*Lady Russel as satisfied as ever with her own discretion, never
wished the past undone , she began now to have the anxiety
which borders on hopelesness for Anne’s being tempted, by some
man of talents and independence , to enter a state for which she
held her to be peculiarly fitted by her warm affections and
domestic habits. (p:22)
* If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember
that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of
risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty; but no duty
could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to
me, all risk would have been incurred and all duty
Anne explains to him the reason behind her initial decision, eight
years ago, to break their engagement. The various uses of
persuasion is one of the main themes of the novel, but in this
passage Anne rationally justifies its use. She concludes that it was
correct of her to yield to persuasion by Lady Russell because she
had a duty to her rank and to "safety." What is notable about this
passage is the cool rationality which Anne employs. Though
Austen writes about marriages, her novels are not entirely about
"romance." Passion must be tempered by reason and practicality if
a marriage is to be successful.
*His profession was all that could ever make her friends wish that
tenderness less; the dread of a future war all that could dim her
sunshine. She gloried in being a sailor's wife, but she must pay the
tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if
possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its
national importance.
In these final lines of the novel, Austen makes a broad observation
regarding the role of the Navy in society. She acknowledges that Anne's
future may not be entirely happy; being married to a Naval officer means
worrying constantly about the prospect of war and long-term separation.
In this period of English history, wars and Naval skirmishes occurred with
alarming frequency. Though Persuasion might include characters who are
officers in the Navy, it never describes them in their professional capacity.
Their rank is only important for the degree of esteem with which they are
regarded by civilians. Austen is conscious of this significant exclusion and
her final line serves as a recognition of it. The Navy, as an institution, does
many good things for England; it defends the country, maintains the
colonies, functions as a means of social mobility, and instructs its rank on
English values. This passage is Austen's way of paying respect to the Navy;
it is an honorable means to rise in society through hard work and good
Brown, Julia Prewitt. Jane Austen's Novels: Social Change and Literary Form. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1979.
Gard, Roger. Emma and Persuasion. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1989.
Laski, Marghanita. Jane Austen and Her World. London: Thames and
Hudson, 1969.
Lewis, C.S. 'A Note on Jane Austen', Essays in Criticism, four (Oct. 1954), 359–71;
reprinted in Ian Watt (ed.) Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1963.
McMaster, Juliet. Jane Austen on Love. Victoria, BC: University of Victoria Press, 1978.
Monaghan, David. Jane Austen, Structure and Social Vision. London: Macmillan Press,