Persuasion: Novel by Jane Austen Summary & Analysis

Also Read


      Of the Elliot family who occupied the fine old country house, Kellnych Hall, only Anne was of an attractive character, and she was exceptionally sweet and good. Her life had been saddened by misfortune in love, when eight years before she had bowed to the persuasion of her dead mother’s (and her own) friend, Lady Russell, and to her father’s influence, and broken off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth.

      Sir Walter, her father, and Elizabeth, her sister, had a pride in their social standing which had led them to live beyond their means. They were obliged to let Kellynch Hall to a naval man, Admiral Croft, and his wife, and to go to less pretentious quarters at Camden Place, in Bath. They took with them Mrs. Clay, daughter of Sir Walter’s agent, who skilfully flattered them and appealed to their vanity.

      Anne did not accompany them at first, but went to stay at the village of Uppercross with her sister Mary, who felt herself to be in need of attentive company. Mary had married Charles Musgrove, son of the local squire. At the manor house of the Musgrove parents there were Charles’s two cheerful, pretty sisters, Louisa and Henrietta. Anne was soon caught up in the social life maintained by the Musgroves, and was liked by them all.

      In the late summer the Crofts moved into Kellynch Hall and when calls were paid, it was learnt that Captain Frederick Wentworth, of the navy, was expected on a visit, for he was the brother of Mrs. Croft. As soon as he arrived the Musgrove parents sought him out, owing to his kindness to their midshipman son, now dead.

      It was inevitable that he and Anne should meet again and when this occurred, at Uppercross Cottage, Anne found him aloof and formally polite. They met again at an evening of music and dancing, and it soon became apparent that the Musgrove girls were enchanted with him, and that Henrietta was no longer so interested in her cousin, Charles Hayter — a young clergyman who lived on a neighbouring farm. This estrangement was later corrected during an autumn country walk taken by all the young people, and the impression then gained ground that Wentworth would marry Louisa. At the same time, two small incidents (the removal of Mary’s troublesome son, and the arranging of the ride in Admiral Croft’s carriage), made Anne realize, gratefully, that Wentworth could still be considerate and friendly to her.

      Towards the end of Anne’s Uppercross visit, the young people went on an expedition to Lyme Regis, led by Captain Wentworth, who had a friend and fellow-officer staying there, a Captain Harville. There Anne attracted the admiration of her father’s heir, Mr. William Elliot, then a stranger to her, and of Captain Benwick, friend to both Harville and Wentworth and formerly Gance of Harville’s dead sister, Fanny.

      The visit to Lyme ended abruptly and tragically, with the severe fall of Louisa on the steps of Cobb. Louisa was left behind at the Harville’s home, to be nursed by kind Mr. Harville. Mary and Charles stayed too, and after taking Henrietta and Anne back to Uppercross, Captain Wentworth returned to Lyme.

      In November, Anne was taken by Lady Russell in her carriage to her home, Kellynch Lodge, and after a short stay there, they proceeded to Bath. Lady Russell had her own lodgings there, and Anne went to her father’s home. Anne found that Mr. William Elliot was a constant and welcome visitor, and both she and Lady Russell soon found his company pleasant. In reality, Mr. Elliot was manoeuvring to prevent a match between Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay, and the consequent loss of his title. Sir Walter and Elizabeth were pleased by the arrival of noble cousins from Ireland, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, and pushed the acquaintance. Anne had a humbler friend whom Sir Walter scorned; a Mrs. Smith, a former school friend and widow, whose fortune had waned. Lady Russell began to try to influence Anne to a match with Mr. Elliot, but Anne had an intuitive mistrust of him.

      A letter from Mary brought the sudden news of a prospective engagement between Louisa and Captain Benwick, and of a visit of the Crofts to Bath. Anne’s joy was great, especially when she found that Captain Wentworth had suffered no disappointment. Immediately after, Captain Wentworth arrived in Bath, and he and Anne met briefly. Anne felt his attitude to her had changed. He was, in fact, deeply in love with her, and jealous of Mr. Elliot, who on this occasion, escorted Anne home. Shortly afterwards, Anne attended a concert in the Bath Assembly Rooms, with a family party, and her meeting there with Captain Wentworth made it clear that “he had a heart returning to her at last”, but jealousy of Mr. Elliot, and Mr. Elliot’s assertive ways, prevented easy conversation.

      The next day she called on Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith had hoped for a match between Anne and Mr. Elliot, which would help her in her misfortunes, but when she knew this was not to be she disclosed all she knew of his scoundrelly character.

      Very soon after this visit, Charles and Mary Musgrove arrived unexpectedly at Camden Place. They were part of a larger party, staying at the White Hart Inn, and Anne returned with them to visit the Musgroves. They had come to buy clothes for Henrietta’s marriage to Charles Hayter. The party was joined by Captain Wentworth, and later Elizabeth and Sir Walter arrived to give out invitation cards for a social evening at Camden Place. Wentworth was included.

      Next morning Anne visited the Musgroves again and found there Captain Harville and Mrs. Croft, and Captain Wentworth busy writing a letter for Captain Harville. During a conversation between Anne and Captain Harville about enduring and unrewarded love, Captain Wentworth wrote Anne a declaration of passionate and devoted love, which he hurriedly handed her and left the room, with his sister and Captain Harville. Anne was overcome by it, and on her way home to Camden Place was joined by Wentworth. Explanations and total reconciliation followed. Wentworth attended the social evening as a welcome guest and a happy marriage followed shortly afterwards.

      Mrs. Clay followed Mr. William Elliot to London and seemed to be in a fair way to secure him in marriage, and Mrs. Smith’s fortunes were restored by Captain Wentworth’s aid.

Critical Analysis

      The Title: Lady Russell is the person who gives the book its title. She persuades Anne not to marry Captain Wentworth on the ground that it would be imprudent. She is unwise and underestimates his character and the strength and feeling of both Anne and Wentworth which finally triumphs over this and other obstacles.

      The Theme: The central theme is one of constant love. Anne has lost her first bloom, has been persuaded to give up her love and yet with no outward show apart from rejecting two proposals, she is constant in her love for Wentworth and is finally given a second chance at happiness. The setting of the novel is autumnal, but the promise of spring underlines the theme. Another theme in the novel is pride and vanity, pride in one’s sodal position and vanity in one’s personal appearance. The Elliots — Walter Elliot, his eldest daughter Elizabeth, Mary Elliot and Mr. Elliot his heir all exhibit a pride based on social distinctions and empty show. It is this pride which prevents Sir Walter from economizing and forces him to rent out his home, Kellynch Hall and take a house in Bath. Lady Russell too is a part of this pride and Anne is forced to give up her engagement on the grounds that it is a degrading alliance. While the Elliot pride had driven the lovers apart, when Anne and Wentworth meet again, it is Wentworth’s angry pride which prevents them from coming together.

      Structure: The novel has a simple structure concerned only to bring Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth together. It is divided into two sections, like Mansfield Park. In the first section, Anne is in the background always. She has been persuaded to give up her engagement with Captain Wentworth. She was ‘only Anne’ to her father and sister who did not hold her in high regard. She is forced to witness Wentworth’s courtship of Louisa Musgrove. The climax of the first part comes with Louisa Musgrove’s accident on the Cobb at Lyme, where Anne takes charge very efficiently. It is this which makes Wentworth realise that he still loves her. In the second section the situation is reversed and Wentworth is witness to Mr. Elliot’s courtship of Anne. The climax of the second part comes with his overhearing Anne’s spirited defence of woman’s constancy in love, which persuades him that she might still love him.

      The Heroine: Anne is the heroine, the centre of action and the point of view of Persuasion. This is unlike any of Jane Austen’s novels. Catherine and Fanny, in Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park are the central characters but the point of view is that of the author and while Elizabeth Bennet and Emma offer their point of view it is only shown to be prejudiced, deluded or wholly false in the end. Anne is unusual too in being much older and more mature than the other heroines. She is a Cinderella, like Fanny Price, rejected ignored, pushed into the background. She has the right judgement always like Fanny but she is not self-righteous and we do not dislike her. This is because her correct judgements are the outcome of earlier experience which have involved her in personal suffering. Anne has no arrogance, she is not a snob, she has no vanity either of intellect or social position or virtue. Her fault, if it can be so called is her timidity, and in allowing herself to be persuaded to give up Captain Wentworth, she may seem to lack a strong mind. But it is not so, she yields to the persuasion because of her sense of duty and prudence and she can take charge in a crisis. Anne has only one thing to learn - to have more confidence in herself and in her ability to yet arouse love. Except for this she does not go through the educative process of the other heroines. Anne is not the misguided heroine treated ironically by fate. She is the heroine who judges rightly though she lacks the vitality of a heroine like Emma.

      Minor Characters: In Persuasion naval officers play a considerable part in the plot, and even though they are not put in their true setting they are most convincing in their vitality, good nature, friendship and loyalty. This group is, a contrast to the Elliots who exhibit snobbishness, pride, vanity, flattery and deceit. Among the sea-faring group, there are no flatterers or sycophants.

      Conclusion: Inspite of its comedy and irony Persuasion is essentially a serious novel with a message. The setting is autumnal, a major concern in the novel is ageing and Anne the heroine is herself older, sadder and more experienced than other heroines. There is a hint of tragedy in this novel which ends happily. However, in celebrating Anne’s second chance at happiness, there is the promise of spring and this underlines the theme of the novel.

Previous Post Next Post