Favourite Jane Austen Novels - Persuasion
'Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot's character; vanity of person and of situation.'
'but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way--she was only Anne.'
'Eight years, almost eight years had passed, since all had been given up. How absurd to be resuming the agitation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness!'
'Men have had every advantage of us in telling their story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.' - Anne Elliot.
'The one claim I shall make for my own sex, is that we love longest, when all hope is gone.'
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you.” - Frederick Wentworth
Why You Should Read Persuasion by Jane Austen
You may not be given to reading early nineteenth century literature but if you ever decide to try it for free, through Project Gutenberg, you could do a lot worse than reading Persuasion.
Persuasion was published in December 1817, just a few months after Jane Austen's untimely death at the age of 41.
It was an untitled novel when she died.
She referred to it to her sister, Cassandra as 'The Elliots' and that is probably what it would have been called had Jane Austen lived to see it published.
Her brother Henry named it Persuasion after he read it himself, realising that it was really a book about how others could persuade or influence to the detriment of others.
Persuasion is a novel which has some topical references as well so it is a more appealing novel because of this.
Britain had only recently claimed victory in the Napoleonic Wars and the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 had shown that Britain was the main naval power in the world. Persuasion has several naval characters, providing an interesting change from Austen's usual landed gentry.
And what woman reading a novel (or watching a series or movie) can resist the appeal of a man in uniform? Jane Austen knew it in 1817 and Taylor Hackford knew it in 1982 for An Officer and A Gentleman.
So Persuasion is essentially a love story set against a backdrop of a family's falling status and wealth.
By the end of the novel, you will want to cheer. It is a novel where you close the cover at the end and want to start all over again.
Jane Austen described her writing as like trying to 'write with a fine brush on a bit (not two inches wide) of ivory as produced little effect after much labour' - it is such a self-depracating quote and yet her writing reveals that every word is written with care and every word is written to have impact.
She understood that creating a good story with great characters was all that really mattered and she succeeds with Persuasion in every chapter.
Persuasion is a novel with everything and I hope you try to find the time to read it.
Themes, Setting and Characterisation in Persuasion
Persuasion is one of Jane Austen's best novels for its interwoven themes and plot lines.
- The main theme of Persuasion has to do with people falling under the influence of others and of the consequences of that happening. Anne Elliot fell in love at age 19 with Frederick Wentworth and he proposed to her but she was persuaded to decline because he was, at that time, a poorly paid seaman without much hope of advancing in the world.
- Anne Elliot's father persuades himself to lease out his country estate and huge house, Kellynch Hall to Admiral Croft so that he can continue to persuade others that he is able to live the high life in Bath. In fact, his wealth is dwindling fast but he hangs on to his status against all evidence.
- Captain Wentworth persuades the party to visit Lyme Regis because of its health benefits only to have Louisa Musgrove persuade him he should catch her from the Cobb. It all ends badly.
- Anne's cousin, William Elliot tried everything to persuade Anne that he admires her but she is persuaded otherwise by her friend Mrs Smith, who loves to listen to gossip.
- Anne Elliot is such a warm, caring character that we are presented to her helping the staff to pack away her family heirlooms and next see her supporting her rather depressed sister, Mary with her small sons. Jane Austen shows us Anne at twenty seven, a spinster without any real purpose other than as a second fiddle to others. She's looking back at what might have been and is, by and large surrounded by people who don't deserve her.
- However, the layers of her personality are built up in subsequent chapters to reveal a somewhat contemplative, dignified woman who is personable, intelligent, eloquent, self-reliant, kind and caring. She is a sensible woman in a world full of insensible ones; no wonder Captain Wentworth continued to believe she is worth reconsidering.
- The novel begins with Anne helping the staff to pack away their many possessions in readiness for the tenancy of Admiral Croft and his wife, Sophy. She is left alone by her father and sister, Elizabeth who leave for the many delights of Bath.
- Jane Austen truly gives us a flavour of regency England with its newly favoured seaside resorts 'for health' like Lyme Regis (Lyme was renamed Lyme 'Regis' after the king visited to take the waters).
- Anne Elliot's father and sister retire to Bath for the summer with all of its many entertainments and distractions. The scenes set in Bath are very descriptive. Bath is presented as THE social networking city for those who can afford it. In real life, Jane Austen lived in bath for about five years, she did not enjoy living there; she disliked its society constant 'parading' their wealth and status.
- Anne goes to stay in the countryside with her sister Mary and her family. Jane Austen gives us a sweep of the country lifestyle and of the more limited social opportunities - dining with neighbours and long walks seem to be the order of the day, every day.
- For the first time too, Jane Austen introduces characters who are less well off; indeed her friend, Mrs Smith is a disabled widow living in a poor area of Bath but Anne really loves her friend and visits many times. This was a good way for Austen to show Anne Elliot as a person disinterested in wealth.
- Naval characters appear aplenty with Admiral Croft, Captain Wentworth, Captain Benwick and Captain Harville all enjoying good characterisation - all sailors but all very different.
- The family is once again a central plank of the themes in the story with Anne's own family now disbursed because their father chooses to live a 'fake' high life in Bath with her snobbish elder sister, Elizabeth.
- Mary and Charles - Anne Elliot goes to live with her married sister, Mary and her husband and children. Neither husband or wife is really happy and Anne begins to appreciate early that marriage is not always the best union when people are so very different.
- The Musgrove sisters become regular visitors at Mary's and more so when Captain Wentworth visits. These two characters provide good conflict/competition characters for the reader. Louisa is flightly and flirty whilst her sister, Henrietta is already in love with Charles Hayter, a less well off boy from the local village.
- Love interest/Conflict - Is there anything better than more than one lady interested in the main lead character. Captain Wentworth is much admired and Anne, who had rejected him eight years before has to live with watching others trying to court this handsome naval officer.
- Peripheral characters in Persuasion are all characters which Jane Austen uses to take the story forward. Her skills in no wasted words or scenes means that Captain Harville and Captain Benwick are both central characters in the scenes set in Lyme Regis. Mrs Russell, Anne's old neighbour, responsible for putting Anne off marrying Wentworth eight years earlier remains a toxic influence in the background.
19th Century Reaction To Jane Austen's Persuasion
Jane Austen was never a best selling novelist. That said, the edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published in 1818 made £500 in book sales in the year it was published - more money than Jane Austen had ever had in her whole life time.
In the early 19th Century, England was in the grasp of Romanticism, both in art and literature. A look at some of the other novels and poetry of the time reveals a rather more colourful, vivid, imaginative, passionate writing style than that offered by Jane Austen.
Sir Walter Scott, then fighting the corner for the novel which was universally lambasted as the poor relation of literature wrote extensively about Jane Austen praising her realism more than anything.
His own novels, like Ivanhoe, Waverley, Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy were swashbuckling tales of derring-do with swordsmen battling it out for fair maiden or their land.
So what was this realism he described?
Charlotte Bronte also wrote to George Henry Lewes to defend Jane Austen but did not enjoy her lack of colour or descriptive passages. Bronte found Austen's tales amusing observations of every day life.
The fact is that nobody was really sure what to make of Jane Austen. She was unique! She wrote exactly what she observed and this made her writing amusing, ironic, acerbic and somewhat too 'everyday' or 'normal' or 'real' for most critics.
Readers in the mid-19th Century, used to the Bronte novels (Acton, Currar and Ellis Bell), wonderfully descriptive and somewhat gothic at times and Scott's swashbuckling heroes took a little while to feel very much for Lizzy Bennet and her rather proud, arrogant D'Arcy.
They read Persuasion and thought it was just an everyday tale of a once wealthy family falling on hard times and of the many romantic interludes which wove in and out of this incident.
Jane Austen was, arguably, misunderstood as an author until after 1870 when her nephew wrote her biography and argued that she was actually an astute observer of human life around her. By 1870 women authors were becoming more prevalent and Austen was suddenly praised for the simplicity but cleverness of her writing.
She was 'officially' the subject of literary criticism - what was her technique? Austen was not supporting the canon of her own era. She was most definitely subverting that canon. All of her characters were intimately sketched so that readers felt that they knew them but some of her characters were presented to us through her own particular lens of astuteness, irony, skepticism and criticism.
Jane Austen was telling it like it was! She poked fun at some of the people with whom she came into contact for the ridiculous ways in which they lived their lives - the regency period, it has to be said was one of England's more colourful, grandiose and excessive.
Jane Austen was able to see through all of this excess and bluster and write realistic stories inhabited by the people living during that era.
So in Pride and Prejudice, we have the singular, clever, funny, energetic Elizabeth Bennet living amongst some of Hampshire's most hideous people - Mr Collins, Lady Catherine de Bergh, Caroline Bingley, her own mother.
In Persuasion, we have strong, sensible but lovelorn Anne Elliot surrounded by people like her proud, pompous father and sister, her depressingly non-maternal sister, Mary, her slimy,smarmy cousin Mr Elliott and the rather ridiculous Louisa Musgrove.
Persuasion is not set in extraordinary places; it is set in the places Jane Austen knew. She was able to take us into their world and create a page-turning novel out of the ordinary lives of the minor gentry.
Jane Austen's Heroines
Most Jane Austen fans will have a favourite female character from her various novels and I would like to make a case here for Anne Elliot from Persuasion as one of Jane Austen's more compelling heroines.
Her two most well-known novels, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility focus in on the relationships of sisters and have a number of wonderful heroines - Lizzy Bennet is unmatched for her intelligence and wit and seems to fit in rather oddly with her siblings.
Jane Bennet - beautiful, sensible, sensitive, close to Lizzy
Mary Bennet - dull, miserable, pious, plain.
Kitty Bennet - a follower, always on the look out for fun but usually at the expense of younger sister, Lydia.
Lydia Bennet - flirty, improper, silly, promiscuous.
Lizzy Bennet is the second oldest of the Bennett girls and seems to spend most of the novel trying to correct their wrongs/misunderstandings.
Sense and Sensibility has two sisters, the dreamy, romantic, over-sensitive Marianne and the down to earth, kind, sensible Elinor.
In Persuasion, Jane Austen changes this somewhat by having three Elliot sisters, none of whom are close.
Jane Austen does a rather good hatchet job on Elizabeth Elliot, she is from the first page, allied to her vain, pompous father and disagrees with Anne on all measures to help the family save money and remain at Kyllinch Hall. She is rather haughty and detached; nobody reading Persuasion can like Elizabeth Elliot.
Mary Elliot is treated more moderately but is looked at by Austen as somewhat selfish and hanging on to her past single life of parties and distractions in spite of now having two small sons.
Jane Austen regularly does this with 'other' female characters - it is a game of comparisons and contrasts for the reader; sensible funny Elizabeth Bennet versus vain, stupid Lydia Bennet or mournful, miserable Mary Bennet. Anne Elliot, kind, clever, sensible versus Elizabeth Elliot, vain, petulant and superficial.
Not surprisingly, Anne is the middle sister, treading a careful path between her two siblings but not close to either Elizabeth or Mary.
Jane Austen wants these ordinary people to be seen not just as individuals but as 'family' - considerations like wealth, status, marriage, motherhood and friendship can act as weaknesses or strengths depending on those people as individuals - Jane Austen seems to enjoy showing the vulnerabilities and perhaps laughs at the weaknesses too.
As readers, we are voyeurs, sitting at the dining tables of these families and becoming flies on the wall in the Elliot's, Dashwoods, and Bennet's home.
Jane Austen understood this dynamic perfectly - her ability to write extraordinary novels about ordinary people are what makes so many people read her books over and over again.
Persuasion is no exception and yet it it quite different from her other novels because we the readers imbue it with our own understanding of Jane Austen as a person at the time it was written - she was very poorly and this would be her last novel.
Did Jane Austen know that she would die soon? Scholars are still arguing over that one and the truth is nobody can really know.
Persuasion was written immediately after Emma and it was written quite quickly due to Jane Austen's failing health. Some critics have argued that it is, perhaps, not as polished as her earlier novels because it was not redrafted at length.
It is also Austen's only novel with a central character who was 'past it' in early nineteenth century terms. At twenty seven, Anne Elliot was unlikely to find a husband and more likely to remain a spinster, drafted in (as she is in Persuasion) to family affairs to make up a four at bridge or as a babysitter so that her other sister could enjoy a good social life.
Persuasion is all the better for its slightly more mature, introspective heroine, Anne Elliot. She is a fictional character to whom readers can relate and by the end of Persuasion, Frederick Wentworth's postponed but enduring love for her seems justified.
Persuasion - TV Adaptations
Two of the best adaptations of Jane Austen's Persuasion have appeared on British TV.
The first one made by the BBC in 1995 starred Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds and was directed by Roger Michell, who went on to direct Notting Hill and Changing Lanes among other movies.
It was originally meant to be made as a TV show but was released in cinemas instead.
Michell treats the book very well in this adaptation with many lines taken verbatim from the novel. The filming is done in great locations. The filming on the cobb at Lyme Regis is particularly good though the more spectacular weather conditions of the 2007 remake certainly add some added drama.
Amanda Root is rather wonderful as Anne Elliot and I confess that in later readings of the novel, I always imagine her as Anne. Amanda Root has starred in many leading stage roles, including Lady Macbeth for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Ciaran Hinds plays a very understated Captain Wentworth. It is worth seeing this adaptation for the kiss at the end which takes place in a busy market street in Bath - how shocking, kissing in public!
The 2007 version of Persuasion stars actress Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot and she also does an amazing job of playing Anne just as she is written. Hawkins won a Best Actress Golden Globe for the movie, Happy Go Lucky and is a very engaging actress. Her Captain Wentworth was played by actor, Rupert Penry-Jones.
Both are sumptuous adaptations with no expense spared on settings, props, costumes and scenery.
If I was pushed, I would say I preferred the first but I am a huge Sally Hawkins fan so I own both versions any way.
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Persuasion - The Last Novel & The Best Novel?
I may get shot down in flames from across the ether at that title!
But Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen novel; mainly for all of the reasons touched upon in this article.
It was written when she was already considered 'over the hill' to be chosen as someone's wife and to some extent she seems to have already accepted that.
All of this is conjecture of course; we can never really know what Jane Austen was thinking when she wrote it and because it was published posthumously, we can never really know whether it was autobiographical or not.
But in my own mind, it has a purity and characterisation above and beyond most of her other novels, save, Pride and Prejudice.
I believe Anne Elliot is one of her best characters ever - an astute observer of life and society who has an independent mind and an unshakeable spirit, even when it seems that her own chance at marriage may have passed her by. Anne Elliot seems so real at times that you can imagine her stepping off the pages into your own life and becoming a dear friend.
Persuasion also has Jane Austen at her pithy, satirical best as she pulls away the gloss, wealth and glamour of the landed gentry to reveal hidden debts and the superficiality of keeping up appearances in spite of those debts.
Best of all, I like Persuasion best because Anne Elliot gets her man - and he really, really loves her.
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