Persuasion (Austen)

Jane Austen, 1817 (posthumously)
Penguin Random House
272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780141439686

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen's most adult heroine.

Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy.

The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Jane Austin once compared her writing to painting on a little bit of ivory, 2 inches square. Readers of Persuasion will discover that neither her skill for delicate, ironic observations on social custom, love, and marriage nor her ability to apply a sharp focus lens to English manners and morals has deserted her in her final finished work. (From the publisher.)

Persuasion has yielded three film adaptations: a 1995 version starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds (a LitLovers favorite!), a 2007 TV miniseries with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones, and a 1971 miniseries with Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall.

Author Bio 
Born—December 16, 1775
Where—Steventon in Hampshire, UK
Death—July 18, 1817
Where—Winchester, Hampshire
Education—taught at home by her father

In 1801, George Austen retired from the clergy, and Jane, Cassandra, and their parents took up residence in Bath, a fashionable town Jane liked far less than her native village. Jane seems to have written little during this period. When Mr. Austen died in 1805, the three women, Mrs. Austen and her daughters, moved first to Southampton and then, partly subsidized by Jane's brothers, occupied a house in Chawton, a village not unlike Jane's first home. There she began to work on writing and pursued publishing once more, leading to the anonymous publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811 and Pride and Prejudice in 1813, to modestly good reviews.

Known for her cheerful, modest, and witty character, Jane Austen had a busy family and social life, but as far as we know very little direct romantic experience. There were early flirtations, a quickly retracted agreement to marry the wealthy brother of a friend, and a rumored short-lived attachment—while she was traveling—that has not been verified. Her last years were quiet and devoted to family, friends, and writing her final novels. In 1817 she had to interrupt work on her last and unfinished novel, Sanditon, because she fell ill. She died on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, where she had been taken for medical treatment. After her death, her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published, together with a biographical notice, due to the efforts of her brother Henry. Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Jane Austen's delightful, carefully wrought novels of manners remain surprisingly relevant, nearly 200 years after they were first published. Her novels—Pride and Prejudice and Emma among them—are those rare books that offer us a glimpse at the mores of a specific period while addressing the complexities of love, honor, and responsibility that still intrigue us today. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
(Older books have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

Critics, especially [recently], value Persuasion highly, as the author’s most deeply felt fiction, the novel which in the end the experienced reader of Jane Austen puts at the head of the list.... Anne wins back Wentworth and wins over the reader; we may, like him, end up thinking Anne’s character "perfection itself."
Judith Terry - Modern Library Ed. (cover image—top-right)

On the most basic level Persuasion is a love story, both interesting and entertaining. On a deeper level it examines human foibles and societal flaws. The question of the importance of propriety is raised frequently as is the issue of appearance vs. reality.... Family relationships and duty to family are both foci of the story. Within this family context relationships between men and women are examined...
Diana Mitchell - Penguin Group USA
(From the Teacher's Guide)

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Persuasion:

1. First, talk about Sir Elliot. What matters most in his view of life? What does his reaction to Lady Russell's proposals suggest about the kind of man he is?

2. What do we come to learn (and when do we learn it) about Sir Walter's three daughters—Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary? Describe them. How does Sir Walter treat each of them, especially the two eldest, Elizabeth and Anne?

3. How would you describe Lady Russell? Does her—or did her—influence over Anne work toward Anne's betterment or detriment?

4. When younger, was Anne right to have followed Lady Russell's advice? Did it show passivity on Anne's part or good judgment to have allowed herself to be guided by her elders? Contrast her with Louisa Croft's assertion later in the book that she would never be dissuaded from following her own desires.

5. Talk about the Musgrove family and their affection for and interactions with one another. How do they feel about Mary Elliot Musgrove as their daughter- and sister-in-law? How do they receive Anne? What do you make of Anne's first visit when all complain to her, behind the others' backs, about how the two boys are raised?

6. Do you find Mary's hypochondria funny...or irritating...or what? Consider, also, the scene where Mary manipulates Anne into looking after young Charles so that she, Mary, can go dinner at the Musgrove's and meet Captain Wentworth!

7. Describe the kind of marriage that Admiral and Mrs. Croft seem to have. How do they view one another? How does their marriage differ from, say, Charles and Mary Musgrove's? Is the Croft's relationship typical of that era, do you suppose?

8. With their newfound wealth, both Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft are able to join the upper ranks of English society. How have sailors such as Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft made their fortunes? What is Austen's opinion of this? What is yours? What other options are available for social mobility in the early 19th century?

9. What kind person is Captain Wentworth? What kind of woman does he say he admires? What is the impact on him when he learns that Anne turned down Charles Musgrove in marriage?

10. Why does Mary disparage Charles Hayter? What is his economic and social standing with respect to her own?

11. When Anne meets Captain Benwick in Lyme, what drew the two together? Were you expecting a romance to develop between the two? Why...or why not?

12. How does Wentworth react to Louisa's fall? Whom does he blame—himself or Louisa? What does he begin to realize about Anne...and Louisa?

13. When Anne first reaches Bath, at first sge believes Mr. Elliot is interested in her sister, Elizabeth. Yet Anne hopes that he might not be "to nice, or too observant, if Elizabeth were his object." What does she mean?

14. When it becomes apparent that Mr. Elliot has turned his attentions toward Anne, what makes her uncertain of his sincerity? In the end, what does Anne learn about Elliot's motivations?

15. In all of her novels, Austen casts a gentle, satirical eye on English society. In Persuasion, her gaze seems more critical: what might she be saying in this work about rank and property—and about the possible rise of a middle class?

16. In a letter, Austen described Anne Elliot as "almost too good for me." Do you find Anne "too good" to be true? Is her goodness cloying and sentimental? Or is her goodness something different—an integrity combined with strength and acceptance? How do you see the heroine of this novel?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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