Persuasion is the last novel fully completed by Jane Austen. It was published at the end of 1817, six months after her death.
The story concerns Anne Elliot, a young Englishwoman of twenty-seven years, whose family moves to lower their expenses and reduce their debt by renting their home to an Admiral and his wife. The wife's brother, Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth, was engaged to Anne in 1806, but the engagement was broken when Anne was "persuaded" by her friends and family to end their relationship. Anne and Captain Wentworth, both single and unattached, meet again after a seven-year separation, setting the scene for many humorous encounters as well as a second, well-considered chance at love and marriage for Anne in her second "bloom".
The novel was well-received in the early 19th century, but its greater fame came later in the century and continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. Much scholarly debate on Austen's work has since been published. Anne Elliot is noteworthy among Austen's heroines for her relative maturity. As Persuasion was Austen's last completed work, it is accepted as her most maturely written novel, showing a refinement of literary conception indicative of a woman approaching forty years of age. Her use of free indirect discourse in narrative was in full evidence by 1816.
Persuasion has been the subject of several adaptations, including four made-for-television adaptations, theatre productions, radio broadcasts, and other literary works.
The story begins seven years after the broken engagement of Anne Elliot to Frederick Wentworth. Having just turned nineteen years old, Anne fell in love and accepted a proposal of marriage from Wentworth, then a young and undistinguished naval officer. Wentworth was considered clever, confident and ambitious, but his low social status made Anne's friends and family view the Commander as an unfavourable partner. Anne's father, Sir Walter Elliot, and her older sister, Elizabeth, maintained that Wentworth was no match for a woman of Kellynch Hall, the family estate. Lady Russell, a distant relative whom Anne considers to be a second mother after her own passed away, saw the relationship as imprudent for one so young and persuaded Anne to break off the engagement. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell are the only family members who knew about the short engagement, as Anne's younger sister Mary was away at school.
Several years later, the Elliot family is in financial trouble on account of their lavish spending, so they rent out Kellynch Hall and decide to settle in a cheaper home in Bath until their finances improve. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's new companion, Mrs Clay, look forward to the move. Anne is less sure she will enjoy Bath, but cannot go against her family. Mary is now married to Charles Musgrove of Uppercross Hall, the heir to a respected local squire. Anne visits Mary and her family, where she is well-loved. As the war against France is over, the tenants of Kellynch Hall, Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia, (Frederick's sister), have returned home. Captain Wentworth, now wealthy and famous for his service in the war, visits his sister and meets the Uppercross family, where he crosses paths with Anne.
The Musgroves, including Mary, Charles, and Charles' sisters Henrietta and Louisa, welcome the Crofts and Captain Wentworth, who makes it known that he is ready to marry. Henrietta is engaged to her cousin, clergyman Charles Hayter, who is absent when Wentworth is introduced to their social circle. Both the Crofts and Musgroves enjoy speculating about which sister Captain Wentworth might marry. Once Hayter returns, Henrietta turns her affections to him again. Anne still loves Wentworth, so each meeting with him requires preparation for her own strong emotions. She overhears a conversation in which Louisa tells Wentworth that Charles Musgrove first proposed to Anne, who turned him down. This news startles Wentworth, and Anne realises that he has not yet forgiven her for letting herself be persuaded to end their engagement years ago.
Anne and the young adults of the Uppercross family accompany Captain Wentworth on a visit to see two of his fellow officers, Captains Harville and Benwick, in the coastal town of Lyme Regis. Captain Benwick is in mourning over the death of his fiancée, Captain Harville's sister, and he appreciates Anne's sympathy and understanding. They bond over their mutual admiration for the Romantic poets. Anne attracts the attention of Mr William Elliot, her cousin and a wealthy widower who is heir to Kellynch Hall despite having broken ties with her father years earlier. On the last morning of the visit, the youthful Louisa sustains a serious concussion at the sea wall while under Capt. Wentworth's supervision. Anne coolly organizes the others to summon assistance. Wentworth is impressed with Anne's quick thinking and cool-headedness, but feels guilty about his actions with Louisa, causing him to re-examine his feelings for Anne. Louisa, due to her delicate position, is forced to recover at the Harvilles' home in Lyme for months. Captain Benwick, who was a guest as well, helps in Louisa's recovery by attending and reading to her.
Following Louisa's accident, Anne joins her father and sister in Bath with Lady Russell while Louisa and her parents stay at the Harvilles' in Lyme Regis for her recovery. Captain Wentworth visits his older brother Edward in Shropshire. Anne finds that her father and sister are flattered by the attentions of their cousin William Elliot, secetly believing that if he marries Elizabeth, the family fortunes will be restored. William flatters Anne and offhandedly mentions that he was "fascinated" with the name of his future wife already being an "Elliot" who would rightfully take over for her late Mother. Although Anne wants to like William, the attention and his manners, she finds his character opaque and difficult to judge.
Admiral Croft and his wife arrive in Bath with the news that Louisa is engaged to Captain Benwick. Wentworth travels to Bath, where his jealousy is piqued by seeing William trying to court Anne. Captain Wentworth and Anne renew their acquaintance. Anne visits Mrs Smith, an old school friend, who is now a widow living in Bath under strained circumstances. From her, Anne discovers that beneath William's charming veneer, he is a cold, calculating opportunist who led Mrs Smith's late husband into debt. As executor to her husband's will, William has done nothing to improve Mrs Smith's situation. Although Mrs Smith believes that William is genuinely attracted to Anne, she feels that his primary aim is to prevent Mrs Clay from marrying his uncle, as a new marriage might mean a new son, displacing him as heir to Kellynch Hall.
The Musgroves visit Bath to purchase wedding clothes for Louisa and Henrietta, both soon to marry. Captains Wentworth and Harville encounter them and Anne at the Musgroves' hotel in Bath, where Wentworth overhears Anne and Harville discussing the relative faithfulness of men and women in love. Deeply moved by what Anne says about women not giving up their feelings of love even when all hope is lost, Wentworth writes her a note declaring his feelings for her. Outside the hotel, Anne and Wentworth reconcile, affirm their love for each other, and renew their engagement. William leaves Bath; Mrs Clay soon follows him and becomes his mistress, ensuring that he will inherit Kellynch Hall. Lady Russell admits she was wrong about Wentworth and befriends the new couple. Once Anne and Wentworth have married, Wentworth helps Mrs Smith recover the remaining assets that William had kept from her. Anne settles into her new life as the wife of a Navy captain.
Sir Walter Elliot, Bt. – A vain, self-satisfied baronet. Sir Walter is a man whose extravagance since the death of his prudent wife thirteen years before puts his family into dire financial straits, forcing him to lease his estate, Kellynch Hall, to Admiral Croft and take a more economical residence in Bath. Despite being strongly impressed by wealth and status, he allows Mrs Clay, who is beneath him in social standing, to join his household as a companion to his eldest daughter.
Elizabeth Elliot – The eldest and most beautiful of Sir Walter's three daughters. Elizabeth encourages her father's imprudent spending and extravagance, while she herself desires marriage after spending most of her young life managing the family estate in her mother's place. She and her father regard Anne as inconsequential, wanting to ensure only that she marries a man who can enhance the Elliot family's social standing.
Anne Elliot – The second daughter of Sir Walter. Anne is intelligent, accomplished and attractive, and she is unmarried at 27, having broken off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, then a naval commander, seven years earlier. Anne fell in love with Wentworth but was persuaded by her mentor, Lady Russell, to reject his proposal because of his poverty, uncertain future, and Anne's youth. Anne rejects Charles Musgrove's proposal a few years later, knowing she still loves Wentworth, but it is only when Wentworth returns from fighting abroad that she finally confronts her unfulfilled feelings for him.
Mary Musgrove – The youngest daughter of Sir Walter, married to Charles Musgrove. Mary is attention-seeking, always looking for ways she might have been slighted, and often claims illness when she is upset. She is just as obsessed with social standing and wealth as the rest of her family, and opposes sister-in-law Henrietta's interest in marrying a cousin, Charles Hayter, who Mary feels is unworthy of being married to a woman of means.
Charles Musgrove Jr. – Son of Charles Musgrove Sr. Husband of Mary and heir to the Musgrove estate. He first proposes to Anne, who says no as she does not truly love him. He marries Mary about five years before the story opens, and they have two sons. He is a cheerful man, who loves hunting and easily endures his wife's faults.
Lady Russell – An intimate friend of the late Lady Elliot and the godmother of Anne, of whom she is particularly fond. She is instrumental in Sir Walter's decision to leave Kellynch Hall and avoid financial crisis. She values social rank and finds in Anne the Elliot daughter most like her late friend, which leads her to persuade the young girl not to marry Wentworth seven years earlier on account of his lack of wealth.
Penelope Clay – A poor widow with children, daughter of Sir Walter's lawyer, and companion of Elizabeth Elliot. She aims to flatter Sir Walter into marriage while her oblivious friend looks on. Later, she abandons the family to become the unmarried mistress of William Elliot.
Captain Frederick Wentworth – A naval officer, about 31 years old, who proposed to Anne some seven years earlier. At the time, he had no fortune and uncertain prospects, but owing to his achievements in the Napoleonic Wars, he advanced in rank and in fortunes. He is one of Sophia Croft's two brothers. He gained his step to post Captain, and gained wealth amounting to about £25,000 from prize money awarded for capturing enemy vessels. He is an eminently eligible bachelor, eager to settle down with a good woman.
Admiral Croft – A good-natured, plainspoken tenant at Kellynch Hall and brother-in-law of Captain Wentworth. In his naval career, he was a captain when he married, present at the major Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, then assigned to the East Indies, and now holds the rank of rear admiral of the white.
Sophia Croft – Sister of Captain Wentworth and wife of Admiral Croft for the last fifteen years. She is 38 years old. She offers Anne an example of a strong-minded woman who has married for love instead of money and who has a good life as a naval wife.
Louisa Musgrove – Second sister of Charles Musgrove, aged about 19. Louisa is a high-spirited young lady who has returned with her sister from school. She likes Captain Wentworth and seeks his attention. She is ultimately engaged to Captain Benwick after recovering from her serious fall. Her brother Charles notices that she is less lively after suffering the concussion.
Henrietta Musgrove – Eldest sister of Charles Musgrove. Henrietta, aged about 20, is informally engaged to her cousin, Charles Hayter, but is tempted by the more dashing Captain Wentworth. Once Hayter returns home, she again connects with him.
Captain Harville – A friend of Captain Wentworth. Wounded two years previously, he is slightly lame. Wentworth has not seen his friend since the time of that injury, and is eager to reconnect. Harville and his family are settled in nearby Lyme for the winter. His wife tends to Louisa, and the children come to stay with the Musgroves for the Christmas holiday.
Captain James Benwick – A friend of Captains Harville and Wentworth. Benwick was engaged to marry Captain Harville's sister Fanny, but she died while Benwick was at sea. He gained prize money as a lieutenant and was promoted to commander (thus earning the right to be called Captain). Benwick's enjoyment of reading gives him a connection with Anne as does her willingness to listen to him in his time of deep sadness. Benwick was with Louisa Musgrove during her recovery, at the end of which they become engaged to marry.
William Elliot – A distant relation ("great grandson of the second Sir Walter" when it is not stated from which Sir Walter the present one descends) and the heir presumptive of Sir Walter. It is later revealed that, beneath his charming veneer, Mr Elliot is a cold, calculating opportunist. He became estranged from the family when he married a woman of lower social rank for her fortune and actively insulted his uncle; his relatives cast him aside, until he returned as a wealthy man when they desperately needed money. Despite rumours that he is interested in Elizabeth, he instead turns his attentions towards Anne. He is a widower, eager to claim the social value of the title that he will someday inherit. He also has an interest in Mrs Clay, Elizabeth's companion, and she later becomes his mistress, although this turns out largely to be an attempt by William to stop his uncle from remarrying and potentially producing a son who would also have a claim to his inheritance.
Mrs Smith – A friend of Anne Elliot who lives in Bath. Mrs Smith is a widow who suffers ill health and financial difficulties. She keeps abreast of the doings of Bath society through news she gets from her nurse, Rooke, who tends the wife of a friend of William Elliot's. Her financial problems could have been straightened out with assistance from William Elliot, her husband's friend and executor of his will, but Elliot's greed led him to hide most of her remaining fortune with the expectation that he would eventually be able to take it for himself. Wentworth eventually acts on her behalf when William departs Bath, allowing Mrs Smith to claim her money.
Lady Dalrymple – A viscountess, cousin to Sir Walter. She occupies an exalted position in society by virtue of wealth and rank. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are eager to be seen at Bath in the company of this great relation and her daughter, Miss Carteret, at a time when their own social status is in question.
Miss Carteret - Daughter of Lady Dalrymple, who is always in tow behind the viscountess. Considered by Anne and others to be undeserving and very ordinary in intelligence and social graces. Elizabeth, who is more socially motivated, tolerates her company.
Readers of Persuasion might conclude that Austen intended "persuasion" to be the unifying theme of the story, as the idea of persuasion runs through the book, with vignettes within the story as variations on that theme. British literary scholar Gillian Beer establishes that Austen had profound concerns about the levels and applications of 'persuasion' employed in society, especially as it related to the pressures and choices facing the young women of her day. Beer asserts that persuasion was indeed "fraught with moral dangers" for Austen and her contemporary readers;:xv she notes particularly that Austen personally was appalled by what she came to regard as her own misguided advice to her beloved niece Fanny Knight on the very question of whether Fanny ought to accept a particular suitor, even though it would have meant a protracted engagement. Beer writes:
Jane Austen's anxieties about persuasion and responsibility are here passionately expressed. She refuses to become part of the machinery with which Fanny is manoeuvring herself into forming the engagement. To be the stand-in motive for another's actions frightens her. Yet Jane Austen cannot avoid the part of persuader, even as dissuader.
Fanny ultimately rejected her suitor and married someone else after her aunt's death.:x–xv
Thus, Beer explains, Austen was keenly aware that the human quality of persuasion—to persuade or to be persuaded, rightly or wrongly—is fundamental to the process of human communication, and that, in her novel "Jane Austen gradually draws out the implications of discriminating 'just' and 'unjust' persuasion." Indeed, the narrative winds through a number of situations in which people influence or attempt to influence other people, or themselves. Finally, Beer calls attention to "the novel's entire brooding on the power pressures, the seductions, and also the new pathways opened by persuasion.":xv–xviii
Development of the novel
Canadian scholar Sheila Johnson Kindred states that parts of Persuasion were inspired by the career of Austen's brother Charles Austen, a Royal Navy officer as there are some similarities between the career of the real-life Captain Austen and the fictional Captain Wentworth: both began their careers in command of sloops in the North America station at about the same age; both were popular with their crews; both progressed to the command of frigates; both were keen to share their prize money with their crews, though Captain Wentworth ended up considerably richer as a result of his prize money than did Captain Austen.
Likewise, Captain Austen's wife Fanny, whom he married in Bermuda in 1807, bears some similarities to Mrs Croft, who, like Fanny Austen, lived aboard naval vessels for a time; lived alternatively in Bermuda and Halifax (the two ports that hosted the Royal Navy's North America station); crossed the Atlantic five times, though Mrs Croft was middle-aged in the novel while Fanny Austen was 15 when she married Captain Austen.
Jane Austen liked Fanny Austen, whom she admired for her "unfussiness and gallant good sense." Even after the outbreak of the War of 1812, Fanny Austen was anxious to follow her husband back to the North America station despite the danger of American attacks on Bermuda and Halifax. Jane Austen was impressed with her devotion according to Kindred, seeing Fanny's desire to be with her husband no matter the danger as an attractive trait. Likewise, in Persuasion, Mrs Croft follows her husband everywhere despite the dangers.
In a letter to her niece Fanny Knight in March 1817, Austen wrote that she had a novel "which may appear about a twelvemonth hence." John Murray published Persuasion together with Northanger Abbey in a four-volume set, printed in December 1817 but dated 1818. The first advertisement appeared on 17 December 1817. The Austen family retained copyright of the 1,750 copies, which sold rapidly. The later editions of both were published separately.
The book's title is not Jane Austen's but her brother Henry's, who named it after her untimely death. There is no known source that documents what Austen intended to call her novel. Whatever her intentions might have been, Austen spoke of the novel as The Elliots, according to family tradition, and some critics believe that is probably the title she planned for it.
Henry Austen supplied a "Biographical Notice" of his sister in which her identity is revealed, and she is no longer an anonymous author.
Early drafts and revisions
American literary historian A Walton Litz has emphasized the special quality of Persuasion among Austen's novels, as it was written over a relatively narrow space of two or three years from start to finish. Almost all of Austen's novels were written in the form of first drafts (now lost) from before 1800, over a decade before their first publication in the last years of Austen's life. Since Persuasion was written over such a narrow time frame, Litz was able to locate and publish Austen's early handwritten drafts as she refined the text of the novel into its final published form. Persuasion is unique among Austen's novels in allowing such a close inspection, as recorded by Litz, of her editorial prowess in revising and enhancing early drafts of her own writing. Litz, citing the research of Norman Page, gives an example of Austen's meticulous editing by excerpting a passage of Austen's cancelled Chapter Ten of the novel and comparing it to the revised version. In its original version, the manuscript stated:
[Wentworth] found that he was considered by his friend Harville an engaged man. The Harvilles entertained not a doubt of a mutual attachment between him and Louisa; and though this to a degree was contradicted instantly, it yet made him feel that perhaps by her family, by everybody, by herself even, the same idea might be held, and that he was not free in honour, though if such were to be the conclusion, too free alas! in heart. He had never thought justly on this subject before, and he had not sufficiently considered that his excessive intimacy at Uppercross must have its danger of ill consequence in many ways; and that while trying whether he could attach himself to either of the girls, he might be exciting unpleasant reports if not raising unrequited regard./ He found too late that he had entangled himself, (cancelled version, as published in Chapman's edition of Austen).
Litz then gives the final version by Austen:
"I found", said he, "that I was considered by Harville an engaged man! That neither Harville nor his wife entertained a doubt of our mutual attachment. I was startled and shocked. To a degree, I could contradict this instantly; but, when I began to reflect that others might have felt the same—her own family, nay, perhaps herself, I was no longer at my own disposal. I was hers in honour if she wished it. I had been unguarded. I had not thought seriously on this subject before. I had not considered that my excessive intimacy must have its danger of ill consequence in many ways; and that I had no right to be trying whether I could attach myself to either of the girls, at the risk of raising even an unpleasant report, were there no other ill effects. I had been grossly wrong, and must abide the consequences"./ He found too late, in short, that he had entangled himself (final version).
To this may be added the surviving version of Austen's handwritten copy of the original draft before the editing process outlined above had even started where Austen wrote it in the following nascent form:
He found that he was considered by his friend Harville, as an engaged Man. The Harvilles entertained not a doubt of a mutual attachment between him & Louisa—and though this to a degree was contradicted instantly—it yet made him feel that perhaps by her family, be everyone, by herself even, the same idea might be held—and that he was not free alas! in Heart.—He had never thought justly on this subject before—he had not sufficiently considered that this excessive Intimacy at Uppercross must have it's (sic?) danger of ill consequence in many ways, and that while trying whether he c-d (sic) attach himself to either of the Girls, he might be exciting unpleasant reports, if not, raising unrequited regard!—He found, too late, that he had entangled himself—."
Literary significance and criticism
In his essay titled "Persuasion: forms of estrangement," A Walton Litz gives a concise summary of the various issues critics have raised with Persuasion as a novel.
Persuasion has received highly intelligent criticism in recent years, after a long period of comparative neglect, and the lines of investigation have followed Virginia Woolf's suggestive comments. Critics have been concerned with the "personal" quality of the novel and the problems it poses for biographical interpretation; with the obvious unevenness in narrative structure; with the "poetic" use of landscape, and the hovering influence of Romantic poetry; with the pervasive presence of Anne Elliot's consciousness; with new effects in style and syntax; with the "modernity" of Anne Elliot, an isolated personality in a rapidly changing society.
Susan Morgan in her 1980 book on Austen, challenges Litz on naming Persuasion as a novel showing Austen's assimilation of the new romantic poetry as this raises difficulties. Morgan notes Litz's comment on "the deeply physical impact of Persuasion"; he remarks that "Mansfield Park is about the loss and return of principles, Emma about the loss and return of reason, Persuasion about the loss and return of 'bloom'." Litz acknowledges the crudeness of these formulations and we recognize that he is attempting to discuss a quality of the novel which is hard to describe. But such summaries, even tentatively offered, only distort. The few brief nature scenes in Persuasion (and they are brief out of all proportion to the commentary on them), the walk to Winthrop and the environs of Pinny and Lyme, are certainly described with sensibility and appreciation. And in Anne's mind they are just as certainly bound up with 'the sweets of poetical despondence'."
Persuasion is the first of Austen's novels to feature a woman who, by the standards of the time, is past the first bloom of youth as the central character. British literacy critic Robert P Irvine writes that Persuasion "is in many ways a radical departure" from Austen's earlier novels. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin characterizes the book as Austen's "present to herself, to Miss Sharp, to Cassandra, to Martha Lloyd...to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring."
A recurring debate held in 18th century Britain concerned the power of books over women; namely were women more susceptible to the power of reading than men, and if so, was reading a benign or malign influence on women? Austen first addressed this question in Northanger Abbey where reading Gothic books has comic effects for Catherine Morland, and also gives her a more acute sense of reality and to understand people. Pinch writes that Austen returns to this theme in Persuasion but in a more mature and probing manner as Persuasion is concerned with "...what it feels like to be a reader. It does so by connecting this feeling to what the presence of other people feel like. It explores, that is, the influence reading can have on one's mind by comparing it to the influence of one person's mind over another's."
The American scholar Adela Pinch writes that Persuasion has been called the most lyrical of Austen's novels; "Its emphasis on memory and subjectivity has been called Wordsworthian, its emotional tone has been likened to Shelley and Keats, and its epistemological strategies compared to Coleridge's conversation poems. Its modernity has been hinted through allusions to the lyric fiction of Virginia Woolf."
Pinch also writes that Austen is more concerned with spatial matters as various families, especially the Musgrove family, are portrayed in terms of the amount of space they take up and the amount of noise they generate. For example, Captain Wentworth and Elliot are prevented from embracing by grossly obese Mrs Musgrove, and Sir Walter comments after seeing some Royal Navy sailors are "fit not to be seen" as Austen notes how people look and the brain registers visual information. Pinch describes Persuasion as a novel of "... repetitions, of things happening within a strong context of memory." Anne is often lost in her own world of thought, and recurring phrase throughout the book is "Anne found herself". Concerning Anne's Elliot's walk at Winthrop on a November day, Anne ruminates on various aspects of her life and of the books she has read, where Austen seems to suggest that reading books is insufficient consolation for a woman's pain, but also unavoidable if one wishes for her comfort.
The literary scholar Stuart Tave, in his essay concerning Persuasion's main character Anne Elliot, notes the melancholy qualities of Anne's reality in her world after she turns away the original proposal of marriage from Captain Wentworth. For Tave, Austen portrays Anne as a character with many admirable traits, usually exceeding the quality of these traits as they are found in the other characters which surround her. Tave singles out Austen's portrayal of Anne at the end of the novel in her conversation with Captain Harville where the two of them discuss the relative virtues of gender and their advantages compared to one another; Tave sees Anne as depicting a remarkable intelligence. Tave quotes from Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own where Woolf states, "It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen's day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex." Tave applies Woolf's insight to Persuasion when he continues: "All histories are against you, Captain Harville says to Anne in their disagreement about man's nature and woman's nature, 'all stories, prose and verse.' He could bring fifty quotations in a moment to his side of the argument, from books, songs, proverbs. But they were all written by men. 'Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story,' as Anne says. Persuasion is the story told by a woman."
In her book on Austen, the critic Julia Prewitt Brown finds significance in the comparison of Persuasion to Austen's earlier novel Emma regarding Austen's ability to vary her narrative technique with respect to her authorial intentions. As Brown states:
The coolness to the reader (conveyed by Austen's narrative) contrasts with an intensity of feeling for the characters in the story, particularly for the heroine. The reason for this contradiction is that Anne Elliot is the central intelligence of the novel. Sir Walter is seen as Anne sees him, with resigned contempt. For the first time Jane Austen gives over the narrator's authority to a character almost completely, In Emma, many events and situations are seen from Emma's point of view, but the central intelligence lies somewhere between the narrator and the reader, who together see that Emma sees wrongly. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot's feelings and evaluations correspond to those of the narrator in almost every situation, although there are several significant lapses...It seems that this transfer of authority placed a strain on Jane Austen's accustomed narrative tendencies and that she could not maintain it completely.
Unlike the other Austen heroes who are either part of the gentry, the aristocracy or the Church of England, Robert Irvine writes of how Captain Wentworth is a self-made man who has become rich via prize money allowed to those who served in the Royal Navy of that era. Sir Walter disparages naval officers like Wentworth and Croft because they "spoil" their complexions outside on the sea and says these men have risen "too quickly" in social status. However, Sir Walter is portrayed as financially incompetent, having squandered his inherited wealth, whereas Wentworth uses his prize money won via his victories at sea wisely. Sir Walter's dismissal of the navy men who played such a prominent role in defeating Napoleon is considered unpatriotic and ungrateful. The scholar Gary Kelly states that Sir Walter is a stand-in for the notoriously spendthrift and snobbish Prince Regent George—a man whom Austen deeply disliked—as the Prince of Wales was infamous for his womanizing, gambling, drinking, and inability to pay his colossal debts. At the time, there was a widespread belief that Britain defeated France despite the debauched Prince Regent rather than because of him, and Kelly states that a character like Sir Walter—who did nothing to defeat Napoleon—attacking someone like Wentworth was Austen's way of expressing her frustration at the Prince Regent taking credit for defeating Napoleon.
Anne and Wentworth, once married, do not become part of the land-owning gentry, with Austen stating the two were destined for "settled life." Irvine states that the sailors in Persuasion are the "most subversive characters" in all of the Austen books as they possess "national importance" only by the virtue of their role in defeating Napoleon and do not own land nor do they ask for social recognition from the gentry. The Royal Navy in Persuasion is a meritocracy where one rises up via one's talents, not via birth and land, which, Irvine writes makes Persuasion the most radical of all of Austen's novels.
Irvine notes that the gentry characters in Persuasion are an "unimpressive lot." Sir Walter Eliot is portrayed as a vain, pompous, and incapable of providing love for his children, while the Musgrove family lack class and elegance. John Wiltshire writes that Sir Walter obsessively reads books relating only to the baronetage, and the Musgrove family is relentlessly philistine in their tastes. Admiral and Mrs Croft do not plan to buy an estate, being content to rent Kellynch Hall, and are described as taking better care of the estate than Sir Walter, whose family has owned Kellynch Hall for three generations. Wiltshire considers that the narrowness of vision and taste from both the Musgroves and Sir Walter highlight the heightened state of Anne's consciousnesses.
Charles Musgrove, though friendly and respectable, is portrayed as unsuitable for Anne as his only interests are guns, hunting, dogs and horses. Irvine notes that in British fiction at the time, it was a normal plot device for women—who were portrayed as more sensitive and poetical than men—to improve someone like Charles Musgrove by showing him that there is more to life than hunting, but Anne rejects this role, and the narrator suggests that she was right to do so. The marriage of Anne's parents is presented as such a match with Anne's mother attempting to "improve" Sir Walter, and her life become thoroughly miserable as a result. However, the possibility of such a marriage seems to exist for Captain Benwick and Louisa Musgrove as the narrator notes "he would gain cheerfulness and she would learn to be an enthusiast for Scott and Lord Byron." Irvine states that Benwick and Anne are similar characters, who have a profound sense of loss, but Anne's heart still belongs to Captain Wentworth although Benwick is described as "younger in feelings, if not in fact; younger as a man. He will rally again, and be happy with another".
Irvine writes of the differences between the Elliot sisters and Austen's other sibling relationships. In contrast to the Dashwood sisters (Sense and Sensibility) and the Bennet sisters (Pride and Prejudice), Anne is not close to her sisters.
Lady Russell persuades Anne to reject Captain Wentworth's first offer of marriage when Anne was younger. Lady Russell never expresses any guilt about breaking up Anne's relationship with Wentworth, as the book describes "her heart revelled in angry pleasure, in pleased contempt."
John Wiltshire notes that Wentworth is a man of action as opposed to words, which makes Anne the only self-reflective character in the novel. Anne becomes steadily more assertive, telling Mr Elliot at one point "My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company." The climax of the book where Anne speaks of love, knowing that Wentworth is listening, is unique in the Austen novels, in that the heroine in a certain sense proposes marriage to the hero.
Considering the plot of Austen's novel, Robert Irvine writes that, apart of Austen's novels, a "non-event" at the beginning of the novel where Anne did not marry Captain Wentworth shapes the rest of the plot as the hero and heroine must defeat the consequences of their shared history. Irvine also states that Persuasion's plot depends upon the main characters remaining the same, and the need for the characters to remain true to themselves, to cherish the memory of the ones they love, is emphasized by the signs of social decay around Anne; the gentry characters neglect their estates and treat the values they are supposed to uphold. Anne's love for Wentworth is the only fixed point in an otherwise fluid world.
Irvine states that key moments in Persuasion occur when a third party overhears somebody's else conversation, whereas conversation is a means for members of the elite to confirm their membership of a common group in Austen's other novels. Louisa Musgrove discusses Admiral Croft's carriage driving with Wentworth, which leads her to say "...If I loved a man, as she loves the Admiral, I would be always with him, nothing should ever separate us, and I would rather be overturned by him, than driven safely by anybody else." Irvine states that overhearing this conversation brings back Anne's memories of her love for Wentworth and brings her sorrow as she fears that he is falling in love with Louisa. Another overheard conversation occurs during the climax of the novel when Anne debates with Captain Harville about the respective capacity for faithfulness of men and women, which Wentworth overhears. Realising that Wentworth is listening in, Anne says "All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone." The narrator notes that after saying this "She [Anne] could not immediately have uttered another sentence; her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed." As Captain Wentworth fears a second rejection by Anne, John Wiltshire, known for his work on psychoanalysis and literature, feels that much of the novel is concerned with incidents that bring the two together and relies upon relating Anne's psychological state as she comes close to the man who once proposed marriage to her, making more of a psychological study.
The novel is described in the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition as a great Cinderella story. It features a heroine who is generally unappreciated and to some degree exploited by those around her; a handsome prince who appears on the scene but seems more interested in the "more obvious" charms of others; a moment of realisation; and the final happy ending. It has been said that it is not that Anne is unloved, but rather that those around her no longer see her clearly: she is such a fixed part of their lives that her likes and dislikes, wishes and dreams are no longer considered, even by those who claim to value her, like Lady Russell.
The popularity of Austen's literary works has caused the stories to be adapted for several other forms of performance.
- 1960: Persuasion, BBC miniseries starring Daphne Slater as Anne and Paul Daneman as Captain Wentworth.
- 1971: Persuasion, ITV miniseries starring Ann Firbank as Anne and Bryan Marshall as Captain Wentworth.
- 1995: Persuasion, made-for-television film (which was released in US theatres by Sony Pictures Classics) starring Amanda Root as Anne and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Wentworth.
- 2007: Persuasion, teleplay, filmed in Bath in September 2006 for ITV1, with Sally Hawkins as Anne, Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth.
- 2019: Rational Creatures, a modernization of Persuasion, with Kristina Pupo as Ana Elías (Anne Elliot) and Peter Giessl as Fred Wentworth (Captain Wentworth).
- 2010: Persuasion, a musical drama adapted from the novel by Barbara Landis, using music from the period selected from Austen's own writings. It was performed by Chamber Opera Chicago first in 2011, again in 2013, and subsequently performed by the same company in New York as well as several cities in the United Kingdom in 2013-2015.
- 2011: An adaptation for the stage of Persuasion by Tim Luscombe was produced by Salisbury Playhouse (Repertory Theatre) in 2011. In 2019, this adaptation was staged by the Genesian Theatre.
- 2012: Persuasion, adapted for the theatre by Jon Jory, world-premiere at Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista, California.
- 2017: "Persuasion," directed by Jeff James ,who adapted it with James Yeatman, ran at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester in May and June.
- 2018: Persuasion: a new play by Sarah Rose Kearns, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen; in development 2016-2018 with assistance from the HB Playwrights Foundation and the Jane Austen Society of North America New York Metropolitan Region.
- 1986: BBC Radio 4 dramatized full-cast adaptation in three parts with Juliet Stevenson as Anne and Tim Brierley as Captain Wentworth.
Literature using themes or characters of the novel
- Beckford, Grania (1981), Virtues and Vices: A Delectable Rondelet of Love and Lust in Edwardian Times, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0312849542
- Dev, Sonali (2020), Recipe for Persuasion, Rajes, HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-283907-7, retrieved 18 November 2020
- Peterfreund, Diana (2013), For Darkness Shows the Stars, Balzer + Bray
- Price, Sarah (2015), Second Chances: An Amish Retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion (The Amish Classics), Charisma Media, ISBN 978-1-62998-239-7
- Beer, Gillian (1998). Introduction. Persuasion. By Austen, Jane. London: Penguin Classics. ISBN 978-0-140-43467-5.
- Kindred 2009, p. 117
- Kindred 2009, p. 120
- Kindred 2009, p. 121
- Gilson 1986, pp. 135–139
- LeFaye 2003, p. 278
- Litz, A Walton (2010) . "Persuasion: forms of estrangement". In Halperin, John (ed.). Jane Austen: Bicentenary Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-09929-5.
- Morgan, Susan (15 February 1980). In the Meantime: Character and Perception in Jane Austen's Fiction. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-53763-4.
- Irvine 2005, p. 81
- Tomalin 1997, p. 256
- Pinch 1998, p. 98 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFPinch1998 (help)
- Pinch 1993, p. 99
- Pinch 1993, p. 100
- Pinch 1993, pp. 101–102
- Pinch 1993, p. 104
- Pinch 1993, p. 106
- Pinch 1993, pp. 115–116
- Tave, Stuart M (1973). "Anne Elliot, Whose Word Had No Weight". Some Words of Jane Austen. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-79016-9.
- Brown, Julia Prewitt (1979). Jane Austen's Novels: Social Change and Literary Form. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-47172-6.
- Irvine 2005, p. 82
- Kelly 1997, p. 159
- Irvine 2005, pp. 82–83
- Wiltshire 1997, p. 78
- Irvine 2005, pp. 82, 86
- Irvine 2005, p. 83
- Irvine 2005, pp. 83–84
- Irvine 2005, p. 84
- Irvine 2005, p. 85
- Wiltshire 1997, p. 80
- Wiltshire 1997, p. 82
- Irvine 2005, pp. 84–85
- Irvine 2005, p. 87
- Irvine 2005, p. 88
- Irvine 2005, pp. 88–89
- Irvine 2005, p. 89
- Wiltshire 2000 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFWiltshire2000 (help)
- Wiltshire 1997, p. 79
- Parrill 2002, pp. 197–201
- Hopkins, Lisa, ed. (2018). After Austen: Reinventions, Rewritings, Revisitings. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 281. ISBN 978-3-319-95893-4.
- Bresloff, Alan (12 September 2011). "Jane Austen's "Persuasion"". Around the Town Chicago. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
- "Jane Austen's Persuasion, Newly Adapted as a Musical – Discount Tickets at Royal George Theater". Style Chicago. September 2013. Archived from the original on 17 September 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
- Dibdin, Thom (7 August 2015). "Jane Austen's Persuasion". All Edinburgh Theatre. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
- Luscombe, Tim (2011). "Persuasion by Jane Austen". Salisbury UK. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
- Luscombe, Tim (2011). Persuasion by Jane Austen in a new adaptation. London: Oberon Books. ISBN 978-1-84943-193-4. Retrieved 18 November 2020.
- Kary, David (7 July 2019). "PERSUASION @ THE GENESIANS". Sydney Arts Guide. Archived from the original on 7 July 2019. Retrieved 9 July 2019.
- "OnStage Playhouse". CA Community Theatre. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- "Persuasion (director Jeff James)". BSECS Criticks Reviews. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
- "Jane Austen's Persuasion | New Play by Sarah Rose Kearns". Jane Austen's Persuasion. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
- "Spring Reads - HB Playwrights New Plays in Process - HB Studio". HB Studio. 27 March 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
- "Spies and Spas in Saratoga: JASNA-NY Takes to the Road". Jane Austen Society of North America, New York Metropolitan Region. 13 May 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
- "BBC Radio 4 Extra, Persuasion". BBC. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
- Bell, Terena (20 January 2021). "On the Never-Ending Barrage of Austen Adaptations". Medium. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
- Gilson, David (1986). Grey, J David (ed.). Editions and Publishing History. The Jane Austen Companion. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-025-45540-5.
- Irvine, Robert P (2005). Jane Austen. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-31434-3.
- Kelly, Gary (1997). "Religion and Politics". In Copeland, Edward; McMaster, Juliet (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-49517-2.
- Kindred, Sheila Johnson (June 2009). "The Influence of Naval Captain Charles Austen's North American Experiences on Persuasion and Mansfield Park". Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal (31): 115–129. S2CID 141868499.
- LeFaye, Deirdre (2003). Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. London: Francis Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-2278-6.
- Parrill, Sue (11 April 2002). Jane Austen on Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Adaptations. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-1349-2.
- Pinch, Adela (Spring 1993). "Lost in a Book: Jane Austen's "Persuasion". Studies in Romanticism. 32 (1): 97–117. doi:10.2307/25600997. S2CID 171375241.
- Tomalin, Claire (1997). Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Alfred A Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-44628-6.
- Wiltshire, John (1997). "Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion". In Copeland, Edward; McMaster, Juliet (eds.). The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-49517-2.
- "John Wiltshire". Annual General Meeting. Boston: Jane Austen Society of North America. October 2000. Retrieved 8 October 2020.
- The full text of Persuasion at Wikisource
- Quotations related to Persuasion (novel) at Wikiquote
- Media related to Persuasion by Jane Austen at Wikimedia Commons
- Persuasion at Standard Ebooks
- Persuasion at Project Gutenberg
- Persuasion public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- Persuasion Gazetteer, A Guide to the Real and Imagined Places in the Novel