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ClassicsOnline Home » AUSTEN, J.: Persuasion (Abridged)
Anne Elliot has grieved for seven years over the loss of her first and only love, Captain Frederick Wentworth. When their paths finally cross again, Anne finds herself slighted and all traces of their former intimacy gone. As the pair continue to share the same social circle, dramatic events in Lyme Regis, and later in Bath, conspire to unravel the knots of deceit and misunderstanding in this beguiling and gently comic story of love and fidelity.
Jane Austen was born in Hampshire in 1775, the seventh of
eight children. Her father was a clergyman who ensured that his children were
educated. After a brief spell at boarding school when they
were very young, Jane and her sister Cassandra were educated at home. In 1801, Mr.
Austen retired and the family moved to Bath. Although Jane Austen never
married, she is reputed to have had a romance in 1802, but she parted from her
lover, who died the following year. In 1803, she was proposed to by a wealthy
Hampshire landowner and after initially accepting his proposal; she refused him
the following morning. In 1805, her father died, and she moved with her mother
to Southampton and in 1809 to the village of Chawton.
In 1816, Jane Austen became seriously ill, and was taken to
Winchester in search of a cure. She died there in 1817. She is remembered by
six great novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813),
Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816), Northanger Abbey (1818) and Persuasion
(1818 — all available on Naxos AudioBooks.
Jane Austen began writing Persuasion in the summer of 1815,
but by the beginning of 1816 she was already suffering from the illness, which
was eventually to prove fatal. However, by July 1816 the first draft of the
book was complete, and in August she undertook various revisions, particularly
to the scene of the reconciliation of the lovers. She probably continued to
revise the book, as she wrote in a letter to a friend in March 1817, “I have
something ready for publication, which may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth
hence...You may perhaps like the heroine, as she is almost too good for me.”
Just four months after writing this, Jane Austen died and Persuasion was
published posthumously in 1818.
There is no doubt that Jane Austen was right when she
predicted that her friend “would perhaps like the heroine”, as Anne Elliot has
turned out to be one of her most popular characters. She stands mid-way between
the agonizingly virtuous Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, and the unbearably arrogant Emma Woodhouse of Emma, of whom
Austen wrote, “no one but myself will much like”.
In Persuasion therefore it seems that she consciously set
out to create a popular character with real self-awareness. As the novel develops,
Anne escapes not only from the passivity imposed upon her by the careless
extravagance of her family, but also from her over-dependence upon Lady
Russell, who turns out to be an unreliable ally. Gradually Anne reveals herself
to be a woman of careful judgments and ready sympathy, one who can assess a
situation and act accordingly. In fact it is perhaps in the decisive moment
when she takes control after the accident in Lyme, while the other women swoon,
that Wentworth accepts his true feelings for her.
In short Anne becomes less and less susceptible to the
“persuasion” which caused her so much pain in the first place, and which
threatens her again when Lady Russell urges her to marry Mr. Elliot; but this
time Anne stands firm. However, she also rages at herself for her continuing
obsession with Captain Wentworth, and it is this quality of self-knowledge and
humor, which makes her such a sympathetic character.
The resolution of the book is particularly significant.
Although at face value we have the usual happy ending — a marriage — this time
it is different. Of all the social groupings in Persuasion, Anne warms most to
the naval contingent. She holds dear the recklessness and good nature of the
Crofts, admires the simple but hospitable lifestyle of the Hartvilles, and
seems to tend more to the itinerant life of the Navy. In contrast she despises
her father’s sycophancy towards Lady Dalrymple and the static, hypocritical
life of High Society in Bath. In her other novels, Jane Austen stresses the
“improving” nature of marriage for her heroines, either financial or moral, but
in this book Anne and Frederick will not retreat into the predictable life of
the landed gentry. The future is uncertain with the prospect of travel and
danger, but as this marriage is based on absolute equality and constancy, we
feel that it will not only withstand the rigors of a seafaring life but will
thrive on its shifting nature. There is a freedom and exhilaration to this
match, which perhaps has particular resonance for the reader of today.\
Notes by Heather Godwin
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