Discussion Post: Persuasion

March 11, 2010 at 12:10 am 11 comments

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.

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Entry filed under: LT Classics Challenge. Tags: , , , .

When can you say you “read” something? Discussion: “How did you become the reader you are today?”

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Eva  |  March 11, 2010 at 4:55 am

    This is my first time participating; do I need to follow all of the discussion questions super-closely? I hope not, because I’d rather go off on a couple tangets! If you’d like, though, I’ll come back and answer the second two questions.

    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.

    I see him as much more of a self-made man than Austen’s other leading men, which I think is part of his appeal to me. :) Also, he never patronises Anne. Even when he’s angry at her, he still treats her as an equal. This might be more related to Anne’s differences though…she’s older than the other heroines and she has more social consequence and financial independence than all but Emma. My other two favourite leading men are Tilney (I know, not the usual choice, but I will defend it proudly) and Knightley, who are both condescending to Catherine and Emma on occasion. Darcy originally writes Elizabeth off for being from the country, and Edward writes Fanny off for being dull, essentially (lol). I suppose the other Edward is always respectful of Elinor, but he’s also duplicitous. So, Wentworth is wonderful because he commands respect for both his character and achievements in life, and he gives respect to Anne from the start. Even when he’s also giving her the silent treatment! ;)

    This is my seventh or eighth reading Persuasion (it’s one of my very favourites of Austen’s, who’s already one of my very favourite authors), and a couple things really jumped out at me this time.

    First of all, the Admiral and Mrs. Croft’s marriage was just everything charming and perfect! It’s interesting, because Austen doesn’t usually portray actually-married couples in this happy of a light. The only possible equivalent I could think of was the Westons from Emma, but even then I don’t think it’s the same. The Crofts are shown as such equals, and perfect complements, and after so many years they still loving being in each other’s company so much, it was just lovely. :) They’re also childless, which is unusual for an Austen marriage (by the end of Emma, Mrs. Weston is expecting). I wonder if those two things are at all related. Anyway, since Austen usually focuses on the unhappiness that results from an unequal marriage, it was nice to see such a change.

    The other thing that struck me was the relationship between the sisters. Sister relationships are a big role for the heroines of three Austen novels (I don’t think Emma’s sister’s cameo is that big of a deal, despite her being married to Knightley’s brother), and in P&P and S&S they’re shown as positive. Sure, Marianne and Elinor get into disagreements (and Margaret occasionally embarrasses her elder sister! hehe), but they’re obviously best friends as well. In P&P, Jane and Elizabeth are best friends. Of course, Elizabeth isn’t as close to her younger sisters, but Kitty & Lydia are close to one another, and none of the girls seem actively hostile to each other, despite Lydia’s teasing of Mary.

    Whereas, in Persuasion, both of Anne’s sisters are *awful*! Elizabeth continually snubs her, to the point that Lady Russell is often upset. And Mary, well, the only Austen character I can think of who trumps her viciousness is Mrs. Norris! Speaking of Mansfield Park, Maria & Julia’s relationship isn’t precisely positive and healthy, but they’re not the heroines either.

    Anyway, that’s what jumped out at me during this reread. :) I love how each time I pick up an Austen novel, I discover something new. A sign of a true classic!

    Reply
    • 2. KT  |  March 11, 2010 at 7:57 am

      Thanks so much for participating! Feel free to be as flexible as you like with the questions. Often I don’t have the time or the room to discuss other interesting topics that I hope my readers will bring up in the comments :)

      You’re right, Wentworth’s having made his own way in the world certainly adds to his masculine appeal :D I hadn’t actually thought about how he never patronizes Anne, but you’re so right — they seem to be on equal terms throughout the novel. Both Anne and Frederick have their emotionally fraught moments and they seem to be very evenly matched in temperament and values. Do you think the Crofts were meant to be an example of the successful marriage Anne could have had (and now will have) with Captain Wentworth, especially as Mrs Croft is Frederick’s sister?

      You’re certainly right about the sisters as well. Obnoxious or embarrassing families are nothing new to Austen novels (Mansfield Park, etc), but Elizabeth’s treatment of Anne is absolutely terrible. It’s enough so that even if Wentworth hadn’t risen in fortune and rank, Anne should have married him just to get away from her awful sister!

      Reply
      • 3. Eva  |  March 12, 2010 at 1:06 am

        I definitely think the Crofts were meant to be an example for Anne! :D I totally see her in the future travelling about w/ Wentworth and having all sorts of adventures. hehe

        Reply
  • 4. Eva  |  March 11, 2010 at 4:56 am

    I forgot to click the ‘subscribe to comments’ box the first time! And now that I see just how long my comment is, I’m sorry about that. But I LOVE Austen so much, I could spend a whole day chatting about her and not even notice that time had passed.

    Reply
    • 5. KT  |  March 11, 2010 at 8:10 am

      No worries! I love long, insightful comments :D

      Reply
  • 6. Corey  |  March 11, 2010 at 6:28 am

    Huzzah! I’m just thrilled to bits that this was such a good read for everyone! I deeply enjoyed rereading it and thinking about it through the lens of your excellent questions. I guess I’ll focus on Wentworth, too, since that seems to be the trend.

    I agree that part of what makes Persuasion great is its completely human characters. While Austen generally excels at creating great characters, I think in Persuasion she really outdoes herself. Whereas in other novels, characters can be more easily defined by a single word (e.g. Darcy=proud, Emma=foolish/young), I think both Anne and Wentworth are really more fully formed. Anne is a constantly maturing character throughout the novel who has gained enough perspective by the end to look back on how she has been persuaded in the past and fairly judge her behavior and that of her persuaders. And as KT noted, Wentworth is wonderfully real as he struggles to balance his continuing admiration for Anne with his hurt from the last time she broke his heart. (Or, as I think he has it, “nearly” broke his heart!) His struggle feels genuine and the evolution of his feelings on the matter (as well as his reactions to other characters) is wonderful to read. Perhaps this fullness of character is a result of both Anne and Wentworth’s relative maturity, as Eva suggests, which would nicely explain the reality of their personalities.

    And to speak to your last question about rank: One of the things I really like about Austen is how she often prioritizes goodness over good family or a good fortune. Those things are also highly prized in her novels (as in, “Wow! Darcy turns out to be nice and has a massive fortune?! Sweet!”), but being a good person is almost always shown to be first and foremost. I definitely agree with you that Persuasion goes all out with this in the comparison between Mr. Elliot (gain a fortune and a title but he’s sleazy) and Captain Wentworth (who has some money, but is clearly a good person).

    Anyway, definitely my favorite Austen and I’m so glad you chose it for the Challenge! :D

    Reply
    • 7. KT  |  March 11, 2010 at 8:11 am

      Okay, so you should have written the LT response to the third question, because you summed up my position succinctly! LOVED this book, so thanks for the recommendation :D

      Reply
    • 8. Eva  |  March 12, 2010 at 1:07 am

      So true what you said re: rank! :) It’d be silly to pretend that money didn’t matter, especially in a time when most women were entirely dependent on their husbands for income, but it can’t replace a completely lack of character.

      Reply
  • 9. Sunday Salon: the Dreamy Post « A Striped Armchair  |  March 14, 2010 at 4:40 am

    […] reread Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the discussion on Literary Transgressions. As if I ever need an excuse to reread her! Two years ago, I wrote a long post about this novel, […]

    Reply
  • 10. Sunday Salon: the Dreamy Post  |  March 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

    […] reread Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the discussion on Literary Transgressions. As if I ever need an excuse to reread her! Two years ago, I wrote a long post about this novel, […]

    Reply
  • 11. Rereadings: Persuasion « Literary Transgressions  |  March 19, 2010 at 12:09 am

    […] Last week KT led a great Classics Challenge discussion involving Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion. As it so happens, I was also rereading that novel at the same time for the first time in five years. But since we’ve already discussed Persuasion (and I think I’ve been enthusiastically in favor of it enough on this blog), I’d like to broaden this Rereadings post and ask you about your rereadings of all Austen’s books. […]

    Reply

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