How does Persuasion define domestic virtues? And how does the novel set up the relationship between domestic virtue, national identity, and empire?

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The vision of domesticity that Jane Austen presents in Persuasion relates almost exclusively to upper-class English people. There is a clear separation between male and female worlds in regard to the domestic sphere, which is a decidedly female domain. The Elliot daughters are born into a wealthy family—although, over time, they see their father’s fortunes decline—and they are raised with the expectation that they will marry well. The domestic virtues they are expected to master are not practical ones. Anne is a person of substance who largely overcomes the scant opportunities she was provided to develop fully as an adult. The irony that Austen develops inheres in her sisters’ belief in their superiority to Anne. While Elizabeth firmly upholds the domestic sphere as she rules the household, Mary cannot cope and retreats into hypochondria.

While the women sit at home and devote their time to socializing and frivolity, the business of empire is in men’s hands. Austen shows that it is not merely the problem of Captain Wentworth’s birth that Anne’s father objected to, but his inadequate income. Only after the captain has proven himself in the wider world, serving the Crown, does Sir Walter treat him with respect. Anne has kept her head, and was never fully indoctrinated into the shallow virtues of domesticity, so she can now make her own decisions.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 27, 2020
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