Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Like most of her novels, Persuasion affords Jane Austen an opportunity to explore social relationships among middle-class men and women living in what is usually considered a refined, country environment away from the commercial and political centers of England. Unlike other Austen novels, however, Persuasion features a heroine who is not a young ingenue first learning the customs and taboos of polite society. Anne Elliot, second daughter of a minor country baronet, is nearing thirty when the action of the novel begins. Readers learn early that she was once engaged to Frederick Wentworth but gave up her lover when friends and relatives convinced her that he was not worthy of her. The action of the novel concentrates on her becoming reacquainted with Wentworth, now a naval captain, and overcoming the objections of others and the connivances of rivals for Wentworth’s affection.
Austen centers the action in various locales: Kellynch Hall, the ancestral home of the Elliots; the country village of Uppercross; and the resort city of Bath. Rising debts cause Anne’s father to rent out Kellynch Hall and move to less expensive lodgings in Bath; Anne visits relatives in Uppercross, where she first learns that Wentworth has returned to the region after rising to distinction and amassing a comfortable fortune through service in the Navy. In a series of connected episodes, Anne and her circle of family and friends travel freely in a series of...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Unlike many women novelists before the twentieth century, Jane Austen has always enjoyed a good reputation among writers (both men and women), and from the initial publication of her work in the first decades of the nineteenth century she has been considered a standard toward which aspiring novelists—especially women novelists—were to reach. Although most male novelists and critics writing prior to the 1960’s have been somewhat patronizing toward Austen because she focuses her attention on domestic and social issues, women writers have long looked to her as one of the earliest feminist novelists. Her heroines usually emerge above the conventional roles expected of women in Austen’s day, although the author’s critique of gender relationships remains a muted strain in works that seem conservative to casual readers. Her work was known and respected by the Brontes and by George Eliot; she is the subject of commentary by the earliest critics now associated with the twentieth century women’s movement, including Virginia Woolf.
Because it was her final novel and was published in what most critics consider an unfinished state, Persuasion has not enjoyed the reputation and influence accorded to other works in the Austen canon, especially Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Nevertheless, in the later decades of the twentieth century, the novel has received increasing attention from critics, especially those interested in women’s issues. Chapters in scholarly studies are devoted to detailed examinations of the work’s characters, themes, and techniques. A number of critics find the novel an advance over earlier Austen works, noting that the writer is able to provide extensive background through brief synopsis so that attention may be concentrated on the climactic scenes in which Anne asserts her independence from the patriarchal society that has denied her the opportunity to make her own choices regarding marriage and lifestyle. The novel is often cited as a mature critique of the social system that treats women as objects and trivializes their intellectual abilities. The union of Anne and Captain Wentworth as equal partners in marriage is hailed as a goal that Austen was promoting despite her apparent acquiescence to traditional social and moral values.
Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Kellynch. Elliot family estate in southwestern England’s Somersetshire, where the novel opens, with the spendthrift baronet Sir Walter Elliot reading the “Elliot of Kellynch-Hall” entry in a list of baronets. Jane Austen rarely describes buildings in any physical detail and devotes scarcely a single word to Kellynch Hall itself. The house can, however, be imagined to be a fairly impressive structure, probably a manor house dating back to the seventeenth century, as the Elliots are an “ancient and respectable family.”)
During Austen’s lifetime, the country gentry—prosperous landowners living on estates similar to Kellynch and serving as local landlords and civil magistrates—constituted the backbone of English society. However, Sir Walter, selfish, shallow, hopelessly vain, and near financial ruin, is forced by his circumstances to rent out Kellynch Hall and move to less expensive quarters in Bath. In so doing, he forsakes his social responsibilities as manor lord, leaves his tenants to fend for themselves, and makes of Kellynch Hall and its “deserted grounds” a kind of socially purposeless derelict that his daughter Anne can only think of in pain.
Uppercross. Musgrove family estate, located three miles from Kellynch Hall. It includes both the Great House that is the home of the elder Musgroves and their daughters, Henrietta and Louisa, and Uppercross Cottage, the home of Anne’s sister Mary and her husband, Charles Musgrove. The senior Mr. Musgrove is very much an English squire in the traditional sense—one of which Austen approves. His estate is well managed, prosperous, and generally happy. At the same time, however, Uppercross is in the midst of ongoing renovation....
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Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Dwyer, June. Jane Austen. New York: Continuum, 1989. Dwyer offers readings of each of Austen’s major novels, including Persuasion, and in separate chapters discusses the writer’s life and her literary techniques and concerns.
Gard, Robert. Jane Austen’s Novels: The Art of Clarity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Gard writes what he calls a corrective to criticism that has moved readers too far away from the texts of Austen’s novels into theoretical concerns. His chapter on Persuasion discusses Austen’s mature ability as a novelist.
Johnson, Claudia. Jane Austen:...
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