Describe the life of women in Austen's England.

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Each of Austen's novels present women of different social classes and differing personality traits and temperaments. Persuasion is no different in this respect. Mrs Clay represents a middle class woman, daughter of Sir Elliot's financial agent and the lowest class person in the story, while Lady Russell represents an upper class woman, as does the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple. The other women represent varying layers of social class, personality and temperament in between these two extremes.

To illustrate, Austen presents two women who know dependency and two who know sickness. Mrs Clay and Mrs Charles Smith, Anne's friend, are both dependent. Mrs Clay is deceitful, manipulative and ambitious. She employs her wiles and the art of cunning to insinuate herself into the Elliot's affections and aims for a higher social position that will rid her of dependency. Mrs Smith quietly endures her dependency, living within her means, expecting no gifts while being content with the small advantages she does have.

Another illustration using sickness involves Mrs Smith and Mary Musgrove, Anne's younger sister. Mrs Smith does what she can do, takes the cures she can take and tries by good conduct and loving temper to make the best of things for herself and to avoid making caretakers suffer from ill treatment. Mary Musgrove, on the other hand, sees only gloom and dismay when she feels ill, spends her time making demands, and makes complaints that tire even the kindest of well-wishers. Both have degrees of sickness to contend with but the difference in personality and temperament affect the experience women have of aspects of their lives.

An important example of the theme of the life of women relates to social position and is illustrated by Anne and her elder sister Elizabeth. Anne and Elizabeth have identical social position: they are both daughters of a baron. Anne is humble and reticent while Elizabeth is arrogant and demanding. Anne is content with living within the means their father still has after squandering his wealth, while Elizabeth demands trappings that represent their elevated social status (ironically, baronetcy is the lowest noble order granted). Anne is giving, trusting to a fault (as regarding Lady Russell) and gentle. Elizabeth is domineering and selfish.

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