Persuasion was Jane Austen's last completed novel, written between summer 1815 and summer 1816. In 1816 the author fell into the lingering illness which eventually killed her, in July 1817.
Austen herself may have suspected the plot lacked her normal sparkle, since she thought the original ending was 'tame and flat', and rewrote it (the revised ending has a number of hanging threads which, perversely, leave a piquant taste). In March 1817 she told her niece Fanny Knight that she had another novel ready for publication, but added: 'You will not like it, so you need not be impatient. You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me.' Discriminating critics have, more often, found it her most mature—if least funny—work. The novel was published posthumously in a four-volume bundle along with Northanger Abbey (her least mature work), by John Murray, in December 1817 (dated 1818 on the title page), together with an informative 'Biographical Notice of the Author' written by Jane's brother (and sometime unofficial literary agent) Henry Austen. The novel's action can be precisely placed (thanks to the Baronetage entry on the first page) as being over nine months,summer 1814 to spring 1815.
Study questions - Reflect on the following points
1. Is Anne a frail or a strong woman? What do you most like in her? What, instead, do you like the least?
2. What about Captain Wentworth? Is he too proud, too austere, too resentful toward Anne? What do you most admire in his character? Is there anything you don't like?
3. What is the role of parents in Persuasion? What kinds of examples do they set for their own children?
4. Which characters change throughout the course of the novel? Which ones remain static? What are the larger implications for this personal growth or stagnation?
5. Why is it so important to keep Kellynch within the Elliot family? How important is Kellynch to the different members of the family?
6. Does Persuasion challenge or defend the status of class structure in early nineteenth century British society? How?
7. What is the significance of the title "Persuasion"? How are the novel's characters positively and negatively affected by persuasion in the story?
8 The rogue in Persuasion: Mr Elliot, Anne’s cousin. Comparison with other similar male figures in Austen’s major works.
9. Persuasion, like Mansfield Park , has a number of characters who are in the navy. How positively/negatively are they depicted?
10. How the depiction of the warm – hearted naval families contrast with Anne’s own family? (her vain and rank-proud Baronet father and her cold and selfish elder sister)
The Heroine: Anne Elliot
When writing Emma, Jane Austen declared: "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like". In one of her last letters she , instead, referred to Anne Elliot as"a heroine who is almost too good for me."
What did Austen mean with “too good”? Anne Elliot is easily the most unique of Jane Austen's well-known heroines and represents a distinct departure from the author's typical characterization of female protagonists. When the novel begins, Anne is twenty-seven years old. She certainly possesses greater wisdom and maturity; but she lacks the usual verve and sparkle we associate with Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. Missing, too, is the playful sense of irony which Austen's other heroines revel. The most remarkable thing about Anne Elliot, however, is that she does not seem to have to acquire self-knowledge - her attitudes and behavior are astonishingly consistent from beginning to end. In fact, her character can hardly be said to "develop" in the usual sense of the word. All her development seems to have taken place in the eight years that precede the opening of Persuasion, the eight years since her fateful decision not to marry Captain Wentworth.
She is clever and considerate. Anne takes pride in practicality, intellect, and patience.Though Austen very frankly notes that "the bloom of youth has left her" and that she is not the prettiest of the young ladies in the novel, Anne becomes little by little more attractive when her better qualities are noted. She is level-headed in difficult situations and constant in her affections. Such qualities make her the desirable sister to marry; she is the first choice of Charles Musgrove, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Elliot.
Noted critic, Harold Bloom, seems to have put his finger upon it when he described Anne Elliot as having a "Shakespearean inwardness" . Like Shakespeare's most intensely inward character, Hamlet, she experiences a spiritual isolation and withdrawal from the dysfunctional world around her, she displays extreme introspection and psychological perspicacity and she possesses the strength of will to remain true to her character and values, despite changes in circumstance".
In the end, Anne concludes that she is right to have been persuaded by Lady Russell, even if the advice itself was misguided. The conclusion implies that what might be considered Anne's flaw, her ability to be persuaded by others, is not really a flaw at all. It is left to the reader to agree or disagree with this. Do you agree with her?
Personally, I think that the Anne, who made the mistake of being persuaded 8 years before, doesn’t exist any longer when the novel opens. She’s stronger now. She's suffered for the consequences of her choice and won’t repeat her mistake.