Persuasion Summary

Persuasion is a novel by Jane Austen in which the 27-year-old Anne Elliot, who broke off a youthful engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth, reconciles with him before the two again become engaged.

  • Years after their engagement, Anne and Wentworth meet again. Anne still cares for him, but he is aloof to her.
  • Anne is courted by her cousin, Mr. William Elliot, a widower.
  • Though Anne is not interested in Elliott, Wentworth is jealous of Elliot’s interest in Anne.
  • Wentworth writes Anne a long, emotional letter, and soon they are engaged again.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1045

Sir Walter Elliot is a conceited man, vain of both his good looks and his title. He lives at his country seat, Kellynch Hall, with two of his daughters, Elizabeth and Anne. Elizabeth, handsome and much like her father, is the oldest and her father’s favorite. Anne, sweet, self-effacing, and quietly intelligent, is ignored and underrated by both. Mary, the youngest daughter, is married to an agreeable young man named Charles Musgrove; they live in an untidy house at Uppercross, three miles from Kellynch Hall.

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Living beyond his means had brought financial disaster to Sir Walter. On the advice of his solicitor and of a family friend, Lady Russell, he is persuaded to rent Kellynch Hall and take a smaller house in Bath. Anne would have preferred to take a modest house near home, but as usual, her father and sister have their way in the matter.

Reluctantly, Sir Walter lets his beloved country seat to Admiral Croft and his wife, who is the sister of a former suitor of Anne, Captain Frederick Wentworth. Anne and Captain Wentworth had fallen in love when they were both very young, but the match had been discouraged. Anne’s father felt that the young man’s family was not good enough for his own, and Lady Russell considered the engagement unwise because Captain Wentworth had no financial means beyond his navy pay. Anne had followed their advice and broken the engagement, but Wentworth had advanced and became rich in the navy, just as he had said he would. Anne, now twenty-seven years old, has not forgotten her love at age nineteen, and no one else has taken Captain Wentworth’s place in her affection.

With all arrangements completed for the renting of Kellynch Hall, Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and her friend, Mrs. Clay, are off to Bath. Before they depart, Anne warns Elizabeth that Mrs. Clay’s is not a disinterested friendship and that she is scheming to marry Sir Walter if she can. Elizabeth will not believe such an idea, nor will she agree to dismiss Mrs. Clay.

Anne is to divide her time between her married sister, Mary Musgrove, and Lady Russell until Christmas. Mary and her family also live near her husband’s father and mother and their two daughters, Henrietta and Louisa. During her visit to the Musgroves, Anne meets Captain Wentworth again while he is staying with his sister at Kellynch Hall. She finds him little changed in eight years.

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Because the Musgroves take the Crofts and Captain Wentworth into their circle immediately, the captain and Anne meet frequently. He is coldly polite to Anne, but his attentions to the Musgrove sisters lead Mary to begin matchmaking. She cannot decide, however, whether he prefers Henrietta or Louisa. When Louisa encourages Henrietta to resume a former romance with a cousin, Charles Hayter, it seems plain that Louisa is destined for Captain Wentworth.

Further events increase the likelihood of such a match. During a visit to friends of Captain Wentworth at Lyme Regis, Louisa suffers an injury while the captain is assisting her in jumping down a steep flight of steps. The accident is not his fault, for he had cautioned Louisa against jumping, but he blames himself for not refusing her firmly. Louisa is taken to the home of Captain Wentworth’s friends, Captain and Mrs. Harville and Captain Benwick. Quiet, practical, and capable during the emergency, Anne has the pleasure of knowing that Captain Wentworth relies on her strength and good judgment, but she feels that a match between him and the slowly recovering Louisa is certain.

Anne reluctantly joins her family and the designing Mrs. Clay at Bath. She is surprised to find that they are glad to see her. After showing her the house, they tell her the news—mainly how much in demand they are and about the presence of a cousin, Mr. William Elliot, who suddenly appeared to make his peace with the family. Mr. Elliot is the heir to Sir Walter’s title and estate, but he had become estranged from the family years before because he did not marry Elizabeth, as Sir Walter and Elizabeth felt he should have. Also, he had affronted Sir Walter’s pride by speaking disrespectfully of his Kellynch connections.

Now, however, these matters are explained away, and both Sir Walter and Elizabeth are charmed with him. Anne, who had seen Mr. Elliot at Lyme Regis, wonders why he chose to renew a relationship so long neglected. She thinks it might be that he is thinking of marrying Elizabeth, now that his first wife is dead; Lady Russell thinks Anne is the attraction.

News shortly arrives of Louisa Musgrove’s engagement to Captain Benwick. Joy, surprise, and a hope that Captain Wentworth has lost his partiality for Louisa are mingled in Anne’s first reaction. Shortly after Anne hears the news, Captain Wentworth arrives in Bath. After a few meetings, Anne knows that he has not forgotten her. She also knows that he is jealous of Mr. Elliot, although his jealousy is groundless.

Even if Anne feels any inclination to become Lady Elliot, the ambition is short-lived, for Mr. Elliot’s true character now comes to light. Anne learns from a former schoolmate, who had been friendly with Mr. Elliot before he basely ruined her husband, that his first design in renewing acquaintance with Sir Walter’s family was to prevent Sir Walter from marrying Mrs. Clay and thus having a son who would inherit the title and estate. Later, when he met Anne, he had been genuinely attracted to her. This information is not news to Anne, since Mr. Elliot had proposed to her at a concert the night before. She gives him no encouragement.

Convinced that Anne still loves him as he does her, Captain Wentworth pours out his heart to her in a letter. Soon all is settled happily between them. Both Musgrove girls are also married shortly afterward, but, much to Mary’s satisfaction, neither of their husbands is as rich as Wentworth. Mrs. Clay, sacrificing ambition for love, leaves Bath with Mr. William Elliot and lives under his protection in London. Perhaps she hopes some day to be Lady Elliot, though as the wife of a different baronet.

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