Friday, 8 June 2007

Persuasion Summary

Notable Characters: Anne Elliot, Frederick Wentworth, Sir Walter Elliot, Lady Russell, Henrietta Musgrove, Louisa Musgrove, William Elliot.

Persuasion was written between 1815 and 1816 and was Jane Austen’s final completed novel. The heroine is a young woman, Anne Elliot, who is 27 years old at the start of the novel and is the second of three daughters of Sir Walter. She is treated like a Cinderella figure by her widowed father and older sister Elizabeth, who at age 29 years; runs the home. Sir Walter is in debt and is forced to move from the family home, Kellynch-hall, to a more modest dwelling in Bath. Kellynch-hall is leased to Admiral and Mrs. Sophia Croft; the latter has two brothers, Mr. Edward Wentworth and Captain Frederick Wentworth.

Eight years before the story begins, Anne was in love and briefly engaged to Frederick Wentworth. Financial stability parted them however, as Anne was discouraged by her father and a close friend, Lady Russell, due to Frederick’s limited means.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth visit Bath and send Anne to visit her other sister, Mary, who is married with children. Anne loves the children and is respected and praised by Mary’s in-laws, the Musgroves. Their son, now deceased, had been aboard the ship that Captain Wentworth commanded and the Captain arrives at the Musgrove residence to visit the family. Anne and Frederick share a very awquard moment and he is stunned by her change in appearance since their last meeting, 8 years prior. He is still angry and unforgiving towards Anne for her betrayal and during dinner that evening, he is very unresponsive to her.

That November they visit Lyme, where Wentworth’s friend Captain Harville lives and a mutual friend, Captain Benwick, is staying. Anne finds she has common interests with Captain Benwick and they have many conversations regarding prose. One of the Musgrove daughters, Louisa, spends much time with Wentworth and it is suspected that he cares for her. Whilst out walking, Louisa jumps from high steps and she sustains a head injury. She is taken to the Harville residence and nursed back to health by Mrs Harville and Anne’s sister, Mary. Anne leaves and Lady Russell takes her to Bath to meet her father. Anne dislikes Bath, feeling it a place of confinement. Anne is told by her sister that Louisa Musgrove is now engaged to Captain Benwick and that her sister, Henrietta Musgrove has also become engaged to a cousin of the family.

Anne and Wentworth reunite at a concert in Bath and Wentworth professes that he could never have loved Louisa, providing Anne with hope that he may be returning to her. An estranged cousin of Anne, William Elliot is trying to court Anne but due to her love for Wentworth, she does not respond. Upon her firm decline, Anne is told the true character of William by a close friend. He does not love Anne but believes that through their courtship he can have an influence and ultimately prevent the marriage of Sir Walter to a woman, Mrs. Clay, which will protect his inheritance. Anne believes she should tell Lady Russell at once of William’s true nature but she then sees William and Mrs. Clay meeting on the street and a number of questions occupy her mind.

The Musgrove daughters and their fianc├ęs arrive in Bath and the wedding preparations begin. At a social engagement, in a very poignant scene, Wentworth gives Anne a letter which asks her whether it is too late for her to love him again and proclaims to her that he has never loved anyone but her. They exchange their beloved feelings for each other. Wentworth apologises for the misunderstanding concerning his affections for Louisa and Anne explains that her behaviour 8 years prior was a result of the duty that she felt towards Lady Russell. They are engaged to be married and Anne feels that she has been offered a second chance of happiness. The engagement disrupts the sly plans of William but his true intentions are soon discovered when he takes Mrs. Clay into protection again to prevent her marriage to Sir Walter. Persuasion was published after Jane Austen’s death, along with Northanger Abbey.

Jon Spence states in his biography of Jane Austen that “Persuasion is the most unsettled of Austen’s novels.” He believes that the transition from prudence to romance that Anne takes is not in terms of romantic love but instead in her perception of the world.

I personally feel that this was a very special novel for Jane Austen. Until this point, her heroines always were between the ages of 17 and 21. She was 40 when she wrote this novel and I think that it is from a very different perspective. Anne, the heroine of Persuasion, is fully mature in mind and feels at age 27, that the chance of love has passed her by, but she is given another chance. I like to think that this is a reference to what Jane Austen may have felt about her own life and her love for Tom Lefroy. She was not given a second chance for happiness and fulfilment due to the social and financial barriers that divided them. I feel that perhaps this novel, her last, is a way of giving a happy ending to a very beautiful and tender love story.

Famous Adaptations
Persuasion (1995). Directed by Roger Michell. Starring Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds, Susan Fleetwood, Colin Redgrave.
Persuasion (2007; TV production). Directed by Adrian Shergold. Starring Sally Hawkins, Rupert Penry-Jones.

Possible Similarities:
Anne Elliot: There is the possibility that Anne Elliot is very similar to Cassandra Austen. They both have a reserved nature and also remain very dedicated the memory of their lost love. If this is the reality, then the character of Anne pays wonderful tribute to Cassandra.
As mentioned above, there is also a similarity between the circumstances of Anne and Wentworth’s original separation and the experience that Jane and Tom encountered.

Frederick Wentworth: Two of Jane Austen’s brothers, Francis and Charles, pursued naval careers which Jane would have respected immensely. She would have also known significant details of the profession which would have aided the development of her hero’s character.

Pic 1: Penguin Classic cover of Jane Austen's Persuasion
Pic 2: Wentworth giving Anne his letter. Taken from the Jane Austen Society website.

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