What is the central theme in Jane Austen's Persuasion?

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One central theme in Austen's Persuasion depicts the virtues and vices of being easily persuaded. Vices are brought out much more frequently than virtues. For instance, when earlier in her life Anne, at the age of 19, fell in love with Wentworth, Lady Russell persuaded her not to enter an engagement because he had no fortune. His plan was to earn his fortune in the Navy, but that would have made their engagement a long one. However, Lady Russell's decision had such a negative effect on Anne that she became depressed and lost her bloom early so that she was now "faded and thin" (Ch. 1). At the age of 27, Anne now believes that Lady Russell's advice had been poor. "She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness" (Ch. 4). Anne's willingness to give in so easily to another's opinion, in this instance, can be seen as a vice because it broke her heart.

Austen also portrays the ability to be persuaded as a virtue, and she does so in a very dramatic way. Wentworth, thinking of how easily Anne was persuaded, praises Louisa Musgrove for her determination to not be easily persuaded (Ch. 10). However, in Lyme, when Louisa is determined to jump down the steep stairs from the Upper Cobb down the Lower Cobb and be caught by Wentworth, Wentworth attempts to persaude her not to, feeling it is too dangerous. Louisa's only response is, "I am determined I will." Wentworth missed the catch and she fell to the pavement and was knocked unconscious. Austen uses this moment to prove that, in this instance, Louisa's failure to be persuaded nearly cost her her life, proving that in some cases, allowing oneself to at least sometimes be persuaded can sometimes be a virtue (Ch. 12).

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