Discussion Post: Persuasion
Hello, Challengers! It’s another Jane Austen week, and this time around the novel of interest is Persuasion, Austen’s last completed novel before her death. Feel free to participate in the comments or post your answers to the questions below on your own blog for a chance to win a beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classic! Next week we’re reading Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, but for now, Persuasion!
First and foremost, let’s discuss Frederick Wentworth. Do you see him as a typical Austen hero along the lines of Edward Ferrars, Fitzwilliam Darcy, etc., or is he more distinct? If you see him as different, please discuss why.
Corey has called Captain Wentworth “dreamy” in the past, and after reading Persuasion, I have to agree that he is one of the dreamiest Austen heroes. In addition, he is one of the most human and flawed of Austen’s heroes. While Darcy is kind of a jerk for no reason (sorry, Darcy fans, but it’s true), Wentworth makes it clear that he has been ill-used by Anne and is finding it quite hard to forgive her, despite his continuing feelings.
There is no doubt that Wentworth is proud and independent, and his contempt for Elizabeth Elliot (seen when he is finally given the dubious honor of receiving her calling card) and his inability to completely supress his occasional inappropriate mirth (as when Mrs Musgrove attempts to discuss her youngest son with him) are traits that may cause him and Anne a great deal of trouble with society in the future.
Despite this, there is never any doubt that Wentworth is a good person. While the reader may be tempted to dismiss Darcy as a snob and Edward as a milk-sop, Wentworth consistently shows his worth both through his successful military career and his willingness to help his friends whenever necessary. One particular example is the striking scene where Anne is being teased by a nephew who has climbed on her back — though Wentworth has not forgiven her for their broken engagement, when he sees her distress he immediately takes charge and rescues her from her small, annoying burden.
Would Darcy have done this for Elizabeth near the beginning of the novel? Perhaps. Would Edward have done this for Marianne, even near the end of their novel? Doubtful.
Like Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion’s main theme is hinted at by the title. How is the act of persuasion seen as a double-edged sword in the novel? What defines just and unjust means for wielding this rhetorical weapon?
The first encounter the reader has with “persuasion” is Lady Russell’s having persuaded Anne to break off her engagement with Wentworth. At the end of the novel, Anne decides that though yielding to this persuasion caused her and Wentworth to be separated for eight unnecessary years, it was unequivocally the correct thing to do. Lady Russell was, essentially, a mother to her — going against her wishes would have cast a pall over Anne and Frederick’s engagement, and it may have broken off eventually anyway.
So the burden of responsibility is placed on the persuader, rather than the persuaded. This sheds a different light on not only Anne’s relationship with Lady Russell, but Wentworth’s encounter with Louisa. Originally, Louisa is blamed for being obstinate and self-willed; at some point, Wentworth admits that he should have been firmer in refusing to indulge the whims that led to her near-fatal accident.
Therefore, persuasion is shown as a powerful tool that must be used carefully and to the unequivocal benefit of the persuaded…though, as Anne admits near the end of the novel, it’s often hard to tell what the best decision would be until after the decision has been made.
The issues of rank and social mobility lurk behind the more central themes in this novel; think Sir Elliot and his maintaining what he sees as a fitting lifestyle, or the Musgrove cousins who are a class below Henrietta and Lousia, or Wentworth himself. How does Austen feel about rank in general, do you think? How can you discern (or can you discern) her opinion on the matter?
It’s safe to say that Austen thinks that those who place rank above the merits of a good character, agreeable temperatment, and other valuable qualities. There’s not a rank-conscious person among her Persuasion characters who is not shown to be silly, rude, or vain by the end of the novel. Sir Elliot, Mr. Elliot, Elizabeth and Mary are all played for laughs as a result of their pretensions.
That’s not to say that Austen doesn’t consider material concerns when evaluating the potential success of a marriage. Henrietta Musgrove’s match to a socially inferior cousin is really only acceptable because he seems to be a good guy, he stands to inherit a fortune, and has a steady income. Wentworth is accepted by the Elliots and Lady Russell in part because of his fortune as well, despite his occupation and lack of noble background. Mr. Elliot’s marrying solely for money, however, is not viewed as highly, showing that Austen does not consider fortune to be a substitute for other valuable qualities which Henrietta’s cousin must possess.
Loved reading this one, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this wonderful novel! See you next week for Ivanhoe.