How are women presented in Jane Austen's Persuasion?
As in all of Austen's novels, women are presented differently depending on the character and nature of the woman. According to Austen's view, while high class women are confined to the home, not all women are the same kind of woman.
Austen uses Anne Eliot to show a great contrast between different minds and characters of women in similar classes. While Anne suffered from naivete when she was younger, thereby losing the man she loved due to her father's and Lady Russell's advice that she should not marry him due to his lack of fortune and his uncertainty of acquiring a fortune, now as a little bit older she is respected for her mind, her levelheadedness, and her abilities to take action. We especially see her maturity of mind and levelheadedness when she comes to the rescue after Louisa Musgrove jumps from off the steps of the Cobb, knocking herself unconscious. Only Anne has enough wits about her to direct everyone into action. When Captain Wentworth, seeing the unconscious Louisa looking lifeless, cries out in despair, "Is there no one to help me?," it is Anne who has enough sense to command Captain Benwick to Wentworth's side while Anne continues supporting Louisa's weight, rubbing her hands and temples, and administering smelling salts (Ch. 12). In addition, while Wentworth still staggers against the wall of the Cobb, thinking only of what Louisa's father and mother will think, Anne has enough sense to ask for a surgeon. That awakens Wentworth from his shock, but when he begins to dash off in search of a surgeon, Anne also has enough sense to advise that it would be better if Captain Benwick went in search of a surgeon, as he "knows where a surgeon is to be found" (Ch. 12).
In contrast to Anne, other women in the same class are presented as being ridiculous, vain, or as having other character flaws. Anne's younger sister Mary is portrayed as being ridiculous and overly self-indulgent, both of which are exemplified in the fact that she frequently complains about being ill, even though she really has no ailment, and demands that Anne come to take care of her. In addition, Anne's older sister Elizabeth is portrayed as very conceited, selfish, and vain.
Therefore, the way that Austen chooses to present women actually depends on the larger point she is trying to make. Austen largely focuses on presenting a person's nature rather than on presenting any feminist related social issues of her time period. Hence, in Persuasion, Austen presents different women as having either positive or negative natures, depending on the ultimate point Austen wants to make about the character's nature.