Completed a year before Jane Austen’s death but published posthumously in 1818, Persuasion is the novelist’s last long work. The novel completes her study of English country families begun in Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813). The story begins with a description of Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall in Somersetshire, who, because he is egotistical, improvident, and idle, has managed to fritter away much of his patrimony. When his extravagance necessitates the letting of Kellynch Hall and the renting of a smaller house in Bath, his capable daughter, Anne Elliot, must make most of the provisions, while her father pouts like a spoiled child. Austen uses Sir Walter as well as his deceitful and scheming cousin and heir William Elliot to criticize the indolent, debilitated gentry of her era.
Like Austen’s earlier novels, Persuasion articulates and criticizes late eighteenth century English views of courtship and marriage. While in the novel marriage is clearly the greatest good achievable by a young woman, the path to this achievement is not a smooth one for Anne. She must defy her family to marry the man she loves. Austen shows the reader that she leaves very little behind when she does marry. Prior to marriage, Anne had cared for her selfish father and older sister, as well as aiding her hypochondriac younger sister and her children. Since Anne had no status in her family, becoming Mrs. Wentworth would in any case have been a distinct improvement.
Because Anne has previously rejected Captain Wentworth, the normal slow pace of courtship slows to a snail’s pace. As in all of Austen’s novels, much time is given over to reading and interpreting the sentiments of others. The reader is allowed greater knowledge of Anne’s views than of the views of Wentworth. The courtship proceeds to some extent by negation, for whereas initially Anne dreads seeing Captain Wentworth again, later she is convinced he loves Louisa rather than...
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