The book that has stuck with me the most throughout my Reading the Classics journey has undoubtedly been Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s writing style is such that the reader is continually asking, what will happen next? It becomes difficult to put her books down. Persuasion is another of Austen’s classics which I felt compelled to read and did so within a very short space of time.
Who was Jane Austen?
Having read two of Austen’s novels, I wanted to find out a little bit more about the author.
Born 16th December 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, Jane Austen was the 7th child of 8 children born to George and Cassandra Austen. George was a clergyman and served as rector to the local Anglican parishes. The family were by no means wealthy but her father earned a modest income. More importantly, the family were close-knit. And this enviable upbringing informed Jane’s novels.
In 1801 the family moved to Bath, the city in which much of Persuasion is set. Jane could draw upon her own experiences of Bath and bring so much of the beautiful city to life in her novel.
Like many of the heroines in Austen’s novels, Jane refused to marry for marrying’s sake. She did have a few romances throughout her life but ultimately failed to tie the knot.
Jane Austen the Author
Austen began to write from an early age. She composed poems and short stories which would amuse her family. In 1811, Jane’s brother Henry helped to negotiate the publication of her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. At this time, women were not permitted to enter legal contracts. Therefore it was commonplace for a male to enter into an agreement on her behalf. It was also deemed unacceptable for a woman to be a full-time published author. This occupation, it was perceived, was in direct opposition to the feminine role. And so Austen’s works were published anonymously.
From the sales of Sense and Sensibility, Austen made a good deal of profit, £140. The publications of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma soon followed.
By 1816, Jane’s health was beginning to fail and she completed her final novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion before her death in July 1817. She was only 41. These two final novels were published posthumously.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Persuasion’s heroine is Anne Elliot, the 27-year-old second daughter of a Baronet, Sir Walter Elliot. Anne’s mother had passed away 13 years prior and this sense of loss of a parent Anne fully connected with is felt throughout the work. In place of a loving mother, Anne has a dutiful and devoted friend, Lady Russell (a friend of her late mother). In Anne, Lady Russell sees many of the admirable qualities her mother had possessed and she becomes something of a mentor to young Anne.
Anne’s father, Sir Walter is a rather cold parent. He sees little of value in his daughter, Anne other than her role as an Elliot, and all that this entails. Anne’s elder sister, 29-year-old Elizabeth, on the other hand, holds great influence over their father. The unmarried Elizabeth takes on the position and responsibility of the lady of the house in the place of her mother.
Anne’s younger sister, Mary is married to Charles Musgrove. Charles had previously proposed to Anne, but Anne had refused. Charles and Mary are a rather happy yet comical couple.
Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth
At the age of 19 (7 years prior to the setting of the novel) Anne had fallen in love with a young naval officer, Captain Frederick Wentworth. The couple became engaged. Wentworth, however, had little to offer in the way of finance or of social status and so Anne was persuaded to call off the engagement.
Anne’s father finds himself in financial difficulties, to the extent that he must rent his family home, Kellynch Hall. He along with Anne and Elizabeth are to take up residence in Bath in order to avoid utter financial ruin.
A series of circumstances brings Anne and Wentworth together once more after a bitter separation some seven years before. Anne must explore her true feelings and discover whether she does in fact still love Wentworth and conversely, whether he still loves her.
The title Persuasion was given to the novel following Jane’s death by her brother. However, we might suppose that this had been the title she had in mind.
Austen explores the notion of persuasion whether for good or evil throughout the novel. Despite her strong mind and her intellect, Anne is nevertheless persuaded by others as are many other characters in the novel. Most notably, Anne is persuaded to call off her engagement to Wentworth.
Jane had a seemingly excellent relationship with her parents, however, she is all too aware that not all are so lucky. Anne’s relationship with her father is rather distant, especially when compared with the relationship her sister Elizabeth enjoys with their one surviving parent.
It could also be suggested that Anne is envious of the relationship her brother-in-law, Charles, enjoys with his parents, the Musgroves.
Rank and Consequence
Austen is incredibly apt at poking fun at the social conventions of her time. The snobbery of Anne’s father and sister Mary are incredibly comical. Mary’s sense of her own self-importance, owing to her membership in the ‘Elliot family’ is most amusing. Anne does not share in the snobbish attitudes of her father and sisters. However, she does hold a sense of pride in her role as an ‘Elliot’. As Sir Walter and Elizabeth try to improve their connections by associating with their social betters, Anne believes personal characteristics are of more value than social rank.
Persuasion is ultimately a romance novel and so the theme of love is rather prominent. Austen tests the endurance of love. The notion of love is questioned by the characters, can one learn to love somebody? Can we have a second chance at love?
A Recommended Read
I had no idea what to expect from Persuasion when I picked it up at the charity shop for 50p! It’s safe to say that it will remain in my collection of classics forevermore. I will undoubtedly be reading this wonderful novel again in the future. There is something so warm and comforting about Austen’s novels that they need to be read again and again.