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Persuasion is Jane Austen's last completed novel. It was first published posthumously, in 1818. Jane Austen began Persuasion soon after she had finished Emma, and completed it in August, 1816. Persuasion is connected with Northanger Abbey not only by the fact that the two books were originally bound up in one volume and published together two years later, but also because both stories are set partly in Bath, a health resort with which Jane Austen was well acquainted, as she lived there from 1801 till 1805.
Eight years ago, Anne Elliot fell in love with a poor but ambitious young naval officer, Captain Frederick Wentworth. The Elliot family was dissatisfied with Anne's choice, feeling he was not distinguished enough for an Elliot, and her older friend and mentor, Lady Russell, persuaded her to break off the match. Now 27 and on the verge of spinsterhood, Anne re-encounters Frederick Wentworth as he courts her spirited young neighbour, Louisa Musgrove. The self-interested machinations of Anne's older sister Elizabeth, Elizabeth's friend Mrs. Clay, and Anne's father's heir, William Elliot, constitute an important subplot.
Explanation of the novel's title
The title refers to the persuasion to which the heroine, Anne Elliot, has given in, to her later regret. Several other characters find themselves being persuaded or refusing to be persuaded, as well. The title of the novel was not chosen by Austen and some critics believe she had intended to name it "The Elliots", but she died before titling it.
Anne Elliot is the overlooked middle daughter of the vain and spendthift Sir Walter Elliot, a baronet who is all too conscious of his good looks and rank. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth, resembles her father in temperament and delights in the fact that as his eldest daughter she may take a leading social position in their rural neighborhood. The youngest daughter, Mary, made an unspectacular marriage to Charles Musgrove of Uppercross Hall, the heir to a bucolic but respected local squire. Anne, still unmarried at 27, seems destined for spinsterhood.
Eight years earlier, Anne had been persuaded by her mother's great friend and her own trusted confidante, the widow Lady Russell, to break her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth RN, though she loved him deeply in spite of their short acquaintance. Lady Russell had questioned the wisdom of Anne marrying a poor young naval officer without family or connections whose prospects were so uncertain.
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 (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 lower, socially and financially, than the Musgroves. Charles, Mary, and the Crofts continually speculate as to which one Wentworth might marry.
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 grows 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 fiancee. 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.
Anne herself distrusts her cousin, though she likes him in many aspects; she finds his character to be distressingly 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 the 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 her to understand more fully the dangers of persuasion (Lady Russell wished 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. 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.
Sir Walter Elliot, Bt. -- A vain and self-satisfied baronet, Sir Walter's profligacy since the death of his prudent wife 13 years before has put his family in financial straits. These are severe enough to force him to lease his estate, Kellynch Hall, to Admiral Croft and take a more economical but no less magnificent residence in Bath.
Elizabeth Elliot -- The eldest daughter of Sir Walter, who encourages her father's imprudent spending and extravagance. She and her father routinely put their interests ahead of Anne's, regarding her as inconsequential.
Anne Elliot -- The second daughter of Sir Walter is unmarried. Some years ago, she fell in love with Captain Wentworth, but was persuaded (the persuasion of the title) by Lady Russell to reject his proposal, because of his poverty and uncertain future.
Mary Musgrove -- The youngest daughter of Sir Walter, married to Charles Musgrove. She is attention-seeking, always looking for ways she might have been slighted or not given her full due, and often claims illness when she is upset. She greatly opposes sister-in-law Henrietta's interest in marrying Charles Hayter, who Mary feels is beneath them.
Charles Musgrove -- Husband of Mary and heir to the Musgrove estate. He had wanted to marry Anne and settled for Mary (much to the disappointment of the Musgrove family, and to his misfortune) when Anne refused him due to her continued love for Wentworth.
Lady Russell -- A friend of the Elliots, particularly Anne. She is instrumental in Sir Walter's descision to let Kellynch hall to avoid financial crisis. Years ago, she persuaded Anne to turn down Captain Wentworth's proposal of marriage. While far more sensible than Sir Walter Elliot, she shares his great concern with rank and does not think Wentworth is good enough for Anne because of his inferior birth.
Mrs. Clay -- A poor widow, daughter of Sir Walter's lawyer, and intimate 'friend' of Elizabeth Elliot. She aims to flatter Sir Walter into marriage, while her oblivious friend looks on.
Captain Frederick Wentworth - A naval officer who some years ago proposed to Anne. At the time, he had no fortune and uncertain prospects, but owing to much success in the Napoleonic Wars, his situation has greatly improved. One of two brothers of Sophia Croft.
Admiral Croft -- Good-natured, plainspoken tenant at Kellynch Hall and brother-in-law of Captain Wentworth.
Sophia Croft -- Sister of Captain Wentworth and wife of Admiral Croft. She offers Anne an example of a strong-minded woman who wed for love instead of money.
Louisa Musgrove -- Second sister of Charles Musgrove, aged about 19. Louisa is a high-spirited young lady who has recently returned with her sister from school. Captain Wentworth admires her for her resolve and determination, especially in contrast to Anne's prudence and what he sees as Anne's lack of conviction. She is ultimately engaged to Captain Benwick.
Henrietta Musgrove -- Eldest sister of Charles Musgrove, aged about 20. Henrietta is informally engaged to her cousin Charles Hayter, but is nevertheless tempted by the more dashing Captain Wentworth.
Capt. Harville -- A friend of Captain Wentworth. Severely wounded two years ago and discharged at half-pay, he and his family have settled in nearby Lyme.
Capt. James Benwick -- A friend of Captain Harville. Benwick had been engaged to marry Captain Harville's sister Fanny, but she died while Benwick was at sea. Benwick's loss has left him melancholic and a lover of poetry. His enjoyment of reading makes him one of the few characters in the story to find an intellectual connection with Anne, and it is implied that he might have an interest in Anne. Benwick ultimately becomes engaged to Louisa Musgrove.
Mr. William Elliot -- A relation and the heir-presumptive of Sir Walter, who became estranged from the family when he wed a woman of much lower social rank for her fortune. He had been expected to marry Elizabeth Elliot. He is now a widower. Now wanting very much to inherit the title, he mends the rupture in order to keep an eye on the ambitious Mrs. Clay. If Sir Walter married her, his inheritance would be endangered. When he meets Anne by accident, his interest is piqued.
Mrs. Smith - a friend of Anne Elliot who lives in Bath. She is a widow and has suffered ill health and financial difficulties. She keeps abreast of the doings of Bath society through news she gets from her nurse, Nurse Rooke, who also works for a friend of William Elliot's. Her financial problems could have been straightened out with some assistance from William Elliot, her husband's former friend, but Elliot would not exert himself, leaving her much impoverished.
Lady Dalrymple -- a Viscountess, cousin to Sir Walter. She occupies an exalted position in society by virtue of wealth and rank and Sir Walter and Elizabeth are eager to be seen at Bath in the company of this great relation.
Literary significance & criticism
Persuasion is widely appreciated as a moving love story despite what has been labelled as a simple plot, and exemplifies Austen's acclaimed wit and ironic narrative style. Austen wrote Persuasion in a hurry, during the onset of the illness from which she eventually died, and the novel is both shorter and less polished than Mansfield Park and Emma, which preceded it. Yet it is strikingly original in several ways. Persuasion is the first of Austen's novels to feature a woman who is no longer in her first youth; biographer Claire Tomalin characterizes the book as Austen's "present to herself, to Miss Sharp, to Cassandra, to Martha Lloyd . . . to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring." At the same time, the novel is also a paean to the self-made man; Captain Wentworth is just one of several naval officers in the story who has risen from humble beginnings to affluence and status on the strength of merit alone.
Allusions/references from other works
- The novel Persuasion is featured in the 2006 movie The Lake House, and provides a thematic background for the lovers.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Persuasion has been the subject of several adaptations :
- 2007: Persuasion, film, filmed in Bath in September 2006, with Sally Hawkins as Anne, Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth, and Anthony Stewart Head as Sir Walter Elliot, and Julia Davis  and  - IMDB entry.
- 1995: Persuasion, made-for-television film (which was released in US theatres by Sony Pictures Classics) starring Amanda Root as Anne and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth.
- 1971: Persuasion, BBC miniseries starring Anne Firbank as Anne and Bryan Marshall as Captain Wentworth.
- 1960: Persuasion, BBC miniseries starring Daphne Slater as Anne and Paul Daneman as Captain Wentworth.
Sources, references, external links, quotations
- Chronology/Calendar for Persuasion http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/persuasion.calendar.html
The text is now in the public domain.
- Persuasion, available freely at Project Gutenberg
Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Vintage, 1997.