Possibly the best of Jane Austen's novels, though Emma may be considered more polished, and Pride and Prejudice is often preferred by people who have only ever read Pride and Prejudice.
It is the tale of Anne Elliot, who when young was persuaded to renounce the love of the dashing but penniless sailor Frederick Wentworth. After many trials they... well, read it.

...That was how I wrote it on Everything 1. Now here's some more (written 10th April 2001) for Everything 2...

The love story between Anne and Captain Wentworth is slow and painful, but when it comes into the open once more the renewal is so natural: I think this is in part due to the character of Anne, whose heart is delineated so well, better than any other character I know in fiction. She is someone to whom one can and would be faithful: her regard rewards one who wins it. And although she and Wentworth were very young when they formed their first attachment, they recognised the sound qualities in each other, and kept the memory of them alive through the years of separation.

Anne's father is Sir Walter Elliot, an exceedingly vain man, whose sole delight is the dignity of his house and baronetcy. Her mother lived long enough to embue good sense into Anne, but not enough to see her affections for the young sailor who arrived in their neighbourhood. Lady Russell was a friend of the family who was part mother and part friend to Anne, but she too valued the dignity, and persuaded Anne to break off the match. Anne thought it right to submit, at that age. Frederick Wentworth was hurt and angry.

Years later, Anne has lost her bloom, and turned down a comfortable offer of marriage, and tries to keep her father's and elder sister's extravagances in check. They need money, and the vain Sir Walter is eventually persuaded that he can keep his dignity while moving to a cheaper house in Bath, while letting his ancestral estate, Kellynch Hall. The tenants they acquire are an Admiral and Mrs Croft. It turns out (to Anne's shock) that Mrs Croft is the sister of Frederick Wentworth, who is now (she has been following the newspapers during the war against Napoleon) a rich and successful captain. She strolls outside to cool her fevered cheeks and sigh that perhaps soon he will be walking here.

The first meeting is awkward, but they are soon in each other's company enough that they can be at ease. The past is never alluded to. He seems to be taken an interest in on or both of her cousins, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove. A party is organised to Lyme, a seaside resort, and here they fall in with two fellow captains. They day trip is going swimmingly and they're about to go hom, when, in the dramatic central scene of the novel, the light-hearted Louisa Musgrove, teasing Captain Wentworth by jumping from the sea wall (the Cobb) into his arms, misjudges, and dashes herself unconscious on the stones.

The crisis turns all their relations upside-down. Captain Wentworth, momentarily stunned and helpless with horror, appeals to Anne as the most sensible and proper person to do something. Louisa is carried to Captain Harville's house and attended by a surgeon. The rest try to decide who should go and tell her parents, and by ill luck, for neither of them would have wished to be forced to go in company like this, Anne and Frederick are deputed. This is beginning of renewed intimacy between them; and Frederick has to reconsider his dalliance with Louisa.

Anne eventually joins her family at Bath. Here she is sought after, and almost wooed, by her father's cousin and eventual heir, Mr Elliot. When Captain Wentworth appears on the scene in Bath, he sees this. By now his feelings for Anne have opened up again. But now he thinks he may be about to lose her a second time. This pains him. He cannot know that Anne, though at first admiring Mr Elliot, cannot find in him those truest virtues by which she was bound to Frederick Wentworth. And her old school companion, Mrs Smith, now fallen on very hard times, is emboldened to tell Anne certain secrets about Mr Elliot's past that confirm that she could never respect him. Anne and Frederick want each other, they are available, their love has been tried in their own hearts for long enough now.

All someone has to do is speak. Finally, in one of two alternative endings for the novel - for it was not quite complete at Jane Austen's death, and she had not completely polished it all and finished revising -, Captain Wentworth overhears Anne debating with another over the constancy of men's and women's hearts. She avers that a woman has the power to love forever, even if the object is lost. Frederick knows he has a chance. He scribbles a note to her and thrusts it imploringly at her in passing.

And she catches up with him, and makes him happy.

This is the deepest picture of affections in any of Jane Austen's novels. Some commentators have said it must reflect her own feelings at her own broken engagement - in the early 1800s, in the period where her sister destroyed all the letters mentioning it. But of course she was a novelist; all her work draws on her own feelings and her knowledge of human nature. She said of Anne Elliot (somewhere in her letters) that she was going to write a heroine a little too good. And she makes gentle mockery of Anne from time to time.

This has always been my favourite, and I drew so much comfort from it every time I read it. It teaches that love can last, and that people can be true.

One day I was in history class. My history teacher came in looking obviously perturbed and a more than a little anxious. Instead of starting class normally, he told us that it was his last day in class. He had been told by the school board that the way in which he was teaching us was unacceptable, that he would have to change the curriculum. The guy was really worked up- his face was especially red that day and he almost looked as though he was going to cry at some points. He was going to in essence, lose everything he had worked hard for, and we felt bad for him.

He himself had designed a new curriculum that he would be teaching to one class and one class only- he had chosen the students that he wanted, a few from each of his classes, and he called a few students, five or so in number, out in the hall to speak with him.

When he came back, he said he wanted to know if anyone else would be interested in joining his new class. All of the remaining students raised their hands. He thanked us all, and brought the students who had been waiting in the hall back in to talk with us...

Then he told us: "I MADE UP EVERYTHING I JUST SAID, there is no problem with the school board, there is no new class, I did this just to show you that people can control you"

Background: At the time we had been studying pre-WWII era fascism, and this was our teacher's way of illustrating how people can be swayed by some heroically-spoken garbage from a charismatic leader. He was a good teacher, but I didn't trust him for a long time after that...

In Persuasion, Jane Austen expresses her last and most critical evaluation of society. She exposes the prejudices and injustices of her time largely through the use of irony, an element in the narrative exemplified by the characters of Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Clay, two widows whose similar positions and opposite characteristics have landed them in different but equally undeserved circumstances. Though they have no direct contact in the novel, they create between them a framework of irony that strongly catechizes the social constructions supported and represented by Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot.

Austen creates a fierce contrast between these characters, though both are widows lacking sufficient means of independence, and both require others’ assistance to improve their condition. The contrast, as well as the criticism rendered on the class represented by Sir Walter, is created by the different methodologies enacted by the two and the levels of acceptance they meet with in society. As unattached women, they run against the grain of society’s expectations, in that a woman belongs in the home, raising her children. Neither of these widows have children, and Mrs. Clay even seems to lack a home, making her deliberate (though invited) leeching of Sir Walter’s hospitality that much more incriminating.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth are the only two to miss that point, partly because of their own installed prejudices, and partly because Mrs. Clay knows precisely how to play upon them. Her strategy consists of doing as little as possible while subtly attempting to attract Sir Walter’s affections. She seldom lifts a finger, and says comparatively little. Of the two medium-length speeches she has, one is given entirely for the purpose of delivering Sir Walter a compliment. Following his commentary on the weather-beaten visages of naval men, Mrs. Clay says every man who has a profession generally withers away into unattractiveness. "It is only the lot of those who are not obliged to follow any, who can live in a regular way, in the country, choosing their own hours, following their own pursuits, and living on their own property. . .to hold the blessings of health and a good appearance to the utmost" (Austen, 50). She devotes a half-page to complimenting her keeper not only on the condition of his looks, but his entire lifestyle, which consists largely of continually thumbing to that page of the Baronetage where he can find himself listed. Nothing else she utters has any purpose or consequence other than to mask her intentions. "Quite delightful! Exactly like father and son," Mrs. Clay exclaims when replying to Elizabeth’s description of the new relationship between Sir Walter and William Elliot. "Miss Elliot, may I not say father and son?" (219) she asks, when she wants to say "husband and wife" of a significantly different coupling. Simply put, she lies. Subterfuge and ulterior motives define her entire personality. A variant of the word "danger" appears in reference to her several times, used by both narrator and other characters.

Nonetheless, Sir Walter and Elizabeth never suspect her. "Mrs. Clay," Elizabeth protests, "never forgets who she is, and. . .she reprobates all inequality of condition and rank more strongly than most people" (62). That Mrs. Clay does not forget who she is one cannot doubt, as much as one cannot doubt that she also never forgets what she is doing. Elizabeth, however, seems willing to forget or ignore both. She even allows—more so insists—that Mrs. Clay displace Anne as a sister. "She is nothing to me, compared to you," Elizabeth exclaims (158). Consequently, the first and most dangerous of these two unattached widows can attach herself to the first and most socially minded members of the Elliot family, whose arms and minds remain open to the greatest threat to their security.

Mrs. Smith, the second widow, and no more attached to a good name, house, or fortune than Mrs. Clay has any acceptable claim to, demonstrates the opposite of her counterparts characteristics. Honest, straightforward, and struggling to maintain whatever independence she can, people such as Sir Walter and Elizabeth must naturally shun her. Whereas Mrs. Clay selfishly seeks to reestablish herself in the social hierarchy by becoming Lady Elliot, Mrs. Smith seeks no new husband; instead, she lives in "a noisy parlour, and a dark bed-room behind, with no possibility of moving from one to the other without assistance, which there was only one servant in the house to afford" (166). This does not mean that Mrs. Smith wishes to remain in this state; indeed, she has definite plans for reacquiring the wealth that left her shortly after her husband.

However, those plans do not involve attaching herself to another man. They involve the sale of her dead husband’s property in the West Indies, from which the profits would render her able to live quite comfortably—and independently. This brave and seemingly honorable intention, however, still leaves her unassociated with any remarkable name, which in Sir Walter’s eyes makes her nothing less then reprehensible. When he finds out about Anne’s visit to this widow, of equal position to his own Mrs. Clay, Sir Walter erupts into disapproval. "A mere Mrs. Smith, an every day Mrs. Smith, of all people and all names in the world, to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be preferred be her, to her own family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland!"(170) The hypocrisy and prejudice of the tirade alert even Mrs. Clay, who wisely leaves the room, knowing, as Anne does, that "Mrs. Smith was not the only widow in Bath between thirty and forty, with little to live on, and no surname of dignity" (170). However, Sir Walter remains entirely oblivious to this stunning contradiction, failing to understand that he has been committing the identical crime for weeks, to his exact specifications. The implications diverge in that Mrs. Clay behaves as a lady should, pretending to uphold the social mores held dear by Sir Walter and Elizabeth, while Mrs. Smith keeps only one servant and resides in the unfashionable Westgate-buildings. The poor, unattached widow, immensely superior in character to the other poor, unattached widow, meets with Sir Walter’s disdain as a result of her superior characteristics.

Honesty and straightforwardness get little other exercise in Persuasion until Captain Wentworth and Anne finally break down and express what they actually think. Mrs. Smith only hesitates to do so once, when she labors under the impression that Anne plans to marry the treacherous William. When Anne relieves her anxiety, Mrs. Smith begins a series of brutally candid character assessments that disclose, once and for all, the machinations of both William and Mrs. Clay. "Mr. Elliot is a man without heart or conscience," she says. "A designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself, who, for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character" (206). At no other time does a character disregard so much social caution; Mrs. Smith completely lets go and has the courage—or audacity—to see and describe things as they really are. Mrs. Clay would never do such a thing, and receives ample reward; more and more making Sir Walter appear the conceited, prejudicial snob that the narrator has set him up as since the opening page. She then goes on to speak against Mrs. Clay in terms that had previously been only silently appreciated. "She is a clever, insinuating, handsome woman, poor and plausible, and altogether such in situation and manner, as to give a general idea among sir Walter’s acquaintance, of her meaning to be Lady Elliot, and as general a surprise that Miss Elliot should be blind to the danger" (212). She essentially says that Mrs. Clay deserves no amount of trust, everyone knows it, and Elizabeth might well be an idiot. Mrs. Smith, thought of by the rest of society as deserving limited or no regard at all because of her inestimable position as a poor widow without a name, saves the very man who belittled her from damage to his own.

It is fair, then, that one result of Wentworth and Anne’s honest expressions of love and subsequent marriage is that Mrs. Smith returns to affluence while Mrs. Clay runs off with the other defaced liar, William Elliot. The narrator projects that she will seek to marry herself to him instead, forever questing after a state of comfortable and mercenary dependence—an ironic contradiction that fits in well with Austen’s other criticisms. Sir Walter, through his behavior towards the two women, demonstrates that society may prefer a deceitful, greedy widow of undistinguished name to one of honesty, poverty, and independence.


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Per*sua"sion (?), n. [L. persuasio; Cf. F. persuasion.]

1.

The act of persuading; the act of influencing the mind by arguments or reasons offered, or by anything that moves the mind or passions, or inclines the will to a determination.

For thou hast all the arts of fine persuasion. Otway.

2.

The state of being persuaded or convinced; settled opinion or conviction, which has been induced.

If the general persuasion of all men does so account it. Hooker.

My firm persuasion is, at least sometimes, That Heaven will weigh man's virtues and his crimes With nice attention. Cowper.

3.

A creed or belief; a sect or party adhering to a certain creed or system of opinions; as, of the same persuasion; all persuasions are agreed.

Of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political. Jefferson.

4.

The power or quality of persuading; persuasiveness.

Is 't possible that my deserts to you Can lack persuasion? Shak.

5.

That which persuades; a persuasive.

[R.]

Syn. -- See Conviction.

 

© Webster 1913.

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