70 pages 2 hours read

Persuasion

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1817

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Persuasion is the last novel completed by Jane Austen (1775-1817) before her death. Written between the years 1815-1816 and published posthumously, the Regency-era novel centers on the engagements and marriages of a small circle of middle-class families, with particular attention to the social and private lives of women. Echoing character dynamics found throughout Austen’s works, the romantic protagonists must confront the nature of their individual pride before fully realizing their relationship. This guide references the 1998 Penguin Classics edition of Persuasion.

The English writer Jane Austen is best known for her six major novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1817, posthumous), and Persuasion. Although Austen had modest success during her lifetime, her works became celebrated after her death for their humor, incisive social commentary, and emotional realism. Considered both academically and artistically significant, her writing has inspired many film and television adaptations. Persuasion has been adapted for television, film, theater, and radio.

Plot Summary

After many years of poor financial management, the once affluent Elliot family must alleviate their debt. The proud Sir Walter Elliot struggles to accept his fallen social position, but the family agrees to rent out their home at Kellynch Hall and move to cheaper accommodations in Bath. The new tenants, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, turn out to be past acquaintances of Sir Walter’s daughter Anne. Mrs. Croft is the sister of Captain Wentworth, a man Anne almost married eight years ago, before she was persuaded out of the match by the Elliots’ close friend Lady Russell, who did not approve of Wentworth’s income or social standing at the time. After their parting, Anne refused her only other suitor and now spends most of her time secluded at Kellynch Hall. Anne feels anxious at the possible return of Captain Wentworth to her life.

Sir Walter and the eldest Elliot sister, Elizabeth, go to Bath to secure their new home. Elizabeth’s friend Mrs. Clay goes with them, despite both Anne and Lady Russell disapproving of the association; they consider the widowed Mrs. Clay socially inferior and fear that she will entrap Sir Walter into marriage. Meanwhile, Anne goes to stay with her younger sister Mary Musgrove, the only married Elliot daughter.

The extended Musgrove family embraces Anne enthusiastically, and she begins to overcome her shyness. Captain Wentworth comes to stay with his sister, Mrs. Croft, and quickly develops a daily routine of visiting the Musgroves. Mary’s young sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove, are both eager to court Captain Wentworth, whose distinguished military service has made him wealthy and famous. Captain Wentworth and Anne hardly speak to each other and never mention the past. Anne suffers silently as she watches Wentworth flirt with the Musgrove girls, unable to declare her true feelings and certain he has not forgiven her for breaking their engagement years ago.

As Henrietta is already engaged to her cousin, it becomes assumed that Captain Wentworth will propose to Louisa. However, during a group outing to Lyme, Louisa falls and suffers a head injury that keeps her on bed rest there for an extended period. During and directly following the accident, Anne’s levelheadedness proves an invaluable asset to the frightened family group. Wentworth begins to show interest in Anne again, and she hopes that her newfound confidence has attracted Wentworth’s notice and soothed his hurt feelings about the past.

Anne travels to Bath to join her father, sister, and Mrs. Clay in their new home. Her father and sister treat her coolly and do not respect her, a stark contrast to the warm and familial Musgroves. However, Anne begins to assert her independence and confidence. She disagrees with Lady Russell on the good intentions of her cousin Mr. William Elliot, who has recently reconnected with Sir Walter after years of antagonistic estrangement. Anne visits her old school friend Mrs. Smith, a widow in poor circumstances and ill health. Anne’s family disapproves of this friendship, believing it will damage their reputation among the elite Bath families.

The Crofts and the Musgroves come to stay in Bath as well, bringing the news that Louisa is now engaged to Captain Benwick, who tended to her during her recovery in Lyme. Captain Wentworth also comes to Bath, and he and Anne see each other frequently through social engagements with the Musgroves where they engage in more meaningful conversations. At a concert evening, Anne speaks directly to Wentworth despite being surrounded by her family, who do not acknowledge Wentworth’s now superior social position. Meanwhile, Anne resists the flirtatious advances of Mr. Elliot. Anne soon realizes that Wentworth is still in love with her and jealous of Mr. Elliot, whom their social circle assumes to be courting Anne.

Anne learns that Mr. Elliot manipulated Mrs. Smith’s late husband into several disastrous financial decisions under the guise of friendship. Mrs. Smith reveals Mr. Elliot to be a selfish man who failed to assist her in reclaiming her income after her husband’s death. Mr. Elliot is in Bath to watch over Sir Walter and prevent him from marrying Mrs. Clay, thereby endangering Mr. Elliot’s own inheritance. Mr. Elliot’s interest in marrying Anne is also tied into these intentions.

One morning, while Anne and Captain Wentworth are visiting the Musgroves, Wentworth pretends to write a letter while secretly writing a note to Anne. He leaves it on the table for Anne to read alone. In the note, Wentworth admits his love, his jealousy, and his pride, asking Anne to consider him once again as a fiancé. Overcome with emotion, Anne heads home but runs into Wentworth on the street. Anne and Wentworth walk through Bath and confess their mutual, continued feelings for each other.

Finally engaged to the man she loves, Anne expresses her happiness to her family, who accept Wentworth. She is no longer persuaded by their desires and is confident enough to claim that her past mistake was not fully her fault, but the influence of Lady Russell acting on a young mind. Anne and Wentworth enter into married life with perfect harmony and love.

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By Jane Austen