Book: “Persuasion” by Jane Austen
Publication Year: 1818
Book Description: Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?
Part II – Chapters 15 – End
Story – “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
In Bath, Anne is reunited with her father, Elizabeth, and Lady Russell. She is dismayed to see that Mrs. Clay remains with them and appears to be going nowhere anytime soon. She’s also clearly risen in the estimation of Sir Walter who comments much less on her freckled face. In other developments, she hears that Mr. Elliot is also in Bath and has completely reconciled with the family who are all delighted with him. Anne is confused by his sudden interest in being on good terms with people he’s ignored for years, but, upon meeting with him again, can’t help but acknowledge that he is quite charming. He also is delighted to discover that Anne is the very woman he was so interested in when in Lyme, and he quickly becomes a frequent visitor of hers. Lady Russell begins to hope for an eventual union between the two.
While in Bath, Anne reconnects with an old school friend who has fallen on hard times. Widowed and ill with very little money, Mrs. Smith is practically bed-ridden but still presents a optimistic face to the world and is a breath of fresh air to Anne in her reasonableness. Mrs. Smith is also a good source of information, as her nurse seems to know the goings-on of everyone in the city.
Eventually, Anne hears news of the Musgroves. Louisa is mostly recovered, and in a shocking turn of events, has become engaged to Benwick. Anne can’t imagine a bigger mismatch, but is also extremely relieved and happy to know that Captain Wentworth is still single, even if it means nothing to her, practically speaking. One by one, various parties begin making their way to Bath as well. First the Crofts come, followed shortly by Captain Wentworth himself.
Anne runs into him unexpectedly in a shop where she is waiting for Mr. Elliot to escort her home through the rain. She immediately notices that Captain Wentworth seems much more self-conscious and uncomfortable. They have a brief discussion about Louisa and Benwick in which Captain Wentworth makes some surprising (and pleasing) speeches about how first loves to superior women can never be gotten over, that Louisa is sweet, but nothing to Benwick’s first fiancé. Anne is confused but pleased, seeing hints that he may be talking about more than Benwick and Louisa and more of himself and her. Mr. Elliot arrives, however, and whisks her away.
They meet again at a music concert where Anne goes out of her way to approach Captain Wentworth. Her family publicly shuns him however, not acknowledging that they know him. He seems more stilted than he had in the shop, though Anne makes efforts throughout the night to make herself approachable. She isn’t helped by Mr. Elliot who continues to try to dominate her time and attention.
Soon after, she is called to visit Mrs. Smith. At first, Mrs. Smith is eager praise Mr. Elliot, hinting that she has a favor she’d ask Anne to speak to him about. Anne is bewildered to learn that it is generally understood that she will soon become engaged to Mr. Elliot. She insists to Mrs. Smith that it isn’t so. Mrs. Smith then lays out her true feelings about Mr. Elliot. Not only did he lead Mrs. Smith’s late husband into ruin, but he wrote and spoke horribly of the Elliots the entire time. Mrs. Smith believes that he is only now making an effort because he has suddenly learned to value the rank that will be bestowed on him with Sir Walter’s death and fears any upsets in the form of Mrs. Clay getting her claws in Sir Walter and providing an alternative heir. For her part, Mrs. Smith’s own finances are largely in ruin because a piece of property her husband owned is not accessible to her without the executor of her husband’s will, Mr. Elliot, who so far has refused to even speak to Mrs. Smith about it. Anne is horrified to learn all of this, but also not completely surprised as she never fully trusted Mr. Elliot’s strange motives to reconcile with her family.
The Musgroves also come to Bath to buy wedding clothes for Henrietta. This causes concern for Sir Walter and Elizabeth, as they aren’t very proud of Mary’s lower connections. One morning, Anne goes to visit the Crofts where she finds Captain Wentworth as well as Captain Harville. Captain Wentworth sits down to write a letter while Anne and Captain Harville stand nearby. The two get into a debate about lost love and men and women. Anne insists that women love longest, when all other hope is lost. Captain Harville points to poetry and books as proof of women’s fickleness but Anne argues that those are all written by men. Throughout this discussion, she gets the sense that Captain Wentworth is eagerly listening. Eventually, the party begins to break up and everyone leaves the room while Anne waits behind. Captain Wentworth rushes back in and quickly passes off a letter to Anne.
The letter is a proclamation of love, love that has lasted this entire time. He confesses to being angry and proud, and that he confused this anger for no longer being attached. But that he came to see that she was the most superior woman he has ever known, and can’t go on any longer, especially not hearing her discuss how men’s feelings fade faster. He goes on to say that he will come to a dinner at her family’s house to which he’s been invited and there, all it will take is a look from her to have his answer one way or another.
Mr. Musgrove returns to walk Anne back home. On the way, they meet with Captain Wentworth. Mr. Musgrove asks if Wentworth can take her the rest of the way as he has business elsewhere. The two walk together and confess their feelings for each other. Over the next few days, the news is broken to the family and to Lady Russell. Anne’s family now sees more value in Captain Wentworth since he’s made is fortune and has become popular in society. Lady Russell also is more determined to like him. He also intercedes on Mrs. Smith’s behalf and sees her land restored to her and her financial situation made right. For his part, Mr. Elliot runs of to London with Mrs. Clay: his best bet of preventing a marriage between her and Sir Walter is to take her on himself, though Anne suspects she may have the right of him and become mistress of Sir Walter’s home and fortune one way or another, through the father or the nephew heir.
Heroines – “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”
Anne really comes into her own in this second half. She stands up to everyone around her to some degree or another and makes an effort to put herself forward to Captain Wentworth in a way that likely encouraged him to act more quickly than he would have on his own. She’s also the only one to continuously suspect Mr. Elliot’s sudden interest in her family.
To her family, she refuses to give up her acquaintance with Mrs. Smith, standing her ground in the face of her father’s anger. She also doesn’t worry about their disapproval when she approaches Captain Wentworth at the concert. For Lady Russell’s part, Anne is briefly tempted by her paintings of a life with Mr. Elliott, but she also points out her concerns with him and is not swayed by her overly much.
As for Captain Wentworth, though it’s not stated in the text explicitly, one has to imagine the near miss with Louisa inspired Anne somewhat to put herself more forward. The fact that, when they first meet when waiting out the rain, he is so clearly more discomposed than he was before, of course helps. And then makes that interesting speech about past loves. But Anne doesn’t let it rest there and goes out of her way to speak to him at the concert and to maneuver her seating arrangement to be more available to be approached (I think most of women can sympathize with tactics like this!)
Heroes – “What are men to rocks and mountains?”
I really like that we get so much information on Captain Wentworth’s thoughts and feelings here in the end. Throughout the book, not only does he not speak to Anne directly often at all, we really hear very little from him. We hear a lot about him, but not directly from him. Like Anne, we’re left trying to piece together what his actions reflect about his inner emotions.
But here at the end, not only do we get his entire letter detailing his emotions throughout, but Austen goes into even more detail later about what he’s been up to while Anne has been in Bath. Captain Wentworth admits that his pride almost got the better of him in the end. He let himself be too free with Louisa Musgrove in an attempt to prove (mostly to himself, one has to think) that he was over Anne. Not only did this leave Anne open to being poached by the likes of Mr. Elliot (as he began to see and worry about at Lyme), but he comes to realize that his actions almost spoke for him, with an engagement being expected to the point of it being dishonorable if he didn’t. We hear about how he took himself away in the hopes to weaken the connection and then set off for Bath once it was clear he as free.
But all of that, still, and he was almost set back again by the such a small thing as a meeting or two’s worth of jealousy over Mr. Elliot. Captain Wentworth is clearly an honorable, good man, but I think it’s pretty clear that Anne will be the more steady, sure-footed of the two. Wentworth is, to some extent at least, ruled by the emotion of the moment. Not only did he not spend the time to work out Anne’s true motives at 19 (something that was definitely possible if he hadn’t been brooding and resentful), but he continued to let his emotions get the better of him even after he had the fortune her family wanted. One has to assume that when she turned him down she gave some explanation. He admits, here at the end, that he did them both a disservice by giving in to resentment all of these years and losing them both much happiness in the meantime.
Villains – “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”
Mr. Elliot is revealed to be the true villain of this story. It’s not such a shock as Anne, like Fanny, is firmly established at this point as the best judge of character in the book, and she’s always skeptical of Mr. Elliot’s motives. But, in a strange twist, his true villainy is really directed at any of our main characters. Instead, poor Mrs. Smith seems to be the one who suffers the most. Sure, Sir Walter gets some insults thrown at him in a letter and Elizabeth didn’t come off super well in that initial flirtation, but really, neither of them have it too bad. Sir Walter largely deserves criticism and isn’t ever made aware of the letter, and Elizabeth’s ego seems fine too. But poor Mrs. Smith! Not only to have her husband lead astray throughout the marriage, but then to be fooled by Mr. Elliot into thinking he was their friend altogether and have him abandon her in her time of need after her husband’s death!
As for the current circumstances, Mr. Elliot seems to be genuinely interested in Anne to some degree (as much as he is capable of at least). And his abandonment of the family once again is probably not any bigger of a shock the second go-around. Indeed, one would think that Sir Walter and Elizabeth would be more hurt by Mrs. Clay’s defection than anyone’s! And, in the end, it kind of seems like these two deserve each other and no real harm is done to anyone, especially after Captain Wentworth and Anne can help restore Mrs. Smith.
For her part, we see Lady Russell and Anne’s family come around on Captain Wentworth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth will probably always be a trial, but it seems like there is hope that with a concentrated effort on both Lady Russell’s and Captain Wentworth’s part, that they will get along well enough in the end. They both love Anne, which is what they have going for them.
Romance – “A lady’s imagination is very rapid: it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”
This second half of the book is much more romantic than the first. It’s clear to the reader (and even Anne pretty quickly) that Wentworth has finally come to his senses and gotten over himself and is interested in re-connecting. He, himself, attributes it to noticing Mr. Elliot stare at Anne at Lyme and realizing that he could still lose her if he continues playing games. That, and the fact that he realizes that he is seen as half-engaged to Louisa already and only narrowly misses that bullet by the lucky chance of Benwick interceding.
His speech about Harville’s sister, Louisa, and Benwick’s change in attachment is pretty revealing, and it’s a credit to Anne that she understands him fully. None of this silly drama of miscommunication. She’s picking up what he’s laying down. Instead, any remaining drama comes from him when he gets jealous of Mr. Elliot and becomes cold again at the musical concert. Anne has to make a lot of effort there to engage him and then it still doesn’t seem like he was going to take any action soon until he overheard her conversation with Captain Harville while writing the letter. I think the general understanding is that they would have gotten there eventually, though, either way. But it’s nice to see Anne putting out this much effort to encourage him, proving to him that she is just as capable as pursuing what she wants as others, even if she is still very humble and willing to put others before herself.
We again don’t see the actual proposal or exchange of declarations of love between the two, a staple move of Austen’s at this point. But I think that Captain Wentworth’s letter probably goes down as the most romantic “speech” we have in all of Austen’s works. Darcy has his moments, yes, but the letter wins over by sheer length. It’s the longest and most extensive declaration of feelings that we see from any of our heroes. And, not only does Anne deserve this level of romance, but us readers do, too! If you look at the book as a whole, we probably have the least dialogue between our hero and heroine as we’ve seen in all the books. And probably by a lot, at that! So it’s nice to finally have this nice, long love letter at the end to shore up all those romantic pinings.
Comedy – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
Again, not a lot of comedy in this second half. Most of the humor probably comes from how obsequious Sir Walter and Elizabeth are towards the Dalrymples when they come to town. Anne looks on with pity at their antics, and in a shared moment, she and Mr. Elliot discuss the lack of true interest these high and mighty relatives deserve based on their own merit. There are some good lines about the definition of “good company,” but here we also see the first ideas of Mr. Elliot caring more for rank than Anne does or than he had previously in life.
Really, other than that I can’t think of any comedy bits. The Musgroves show up and Mary has a few funny lines here and there, mostly at Anne’s expense (that see, Benwick is marrying Louisa, of course he was never interested in Anne!) We also see Sir Walter and Elizabeth having to properly balance their obsession with keeping up a good face for the Dalrymples but still include these lesser relatives they have through Mary’s marriage to the Musgroves. No need to acknowledge the fact that the Musgroves are much nicer, more entertaining people on the whole!
Favorite quotes – “What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.”
This good one from Anne in the discussion about loving longest between men or women:
“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
And, of course, the classic romantic line from this book. I’m pretty sure this line would still work today. If some man said “you piece my soul” to you…c’mon, we’d all fall for that.
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”
Final thoughts – “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”
“Persuasion” is probably the book that’s went through the biggest change in my estimation as a reader from the first time I read to my re-reads as an adult. “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” were always favorites. “Mansfield Park” was always a bit more of a struggle and “Sense and Sensibility” and “Northanger Abbey” were always solidly in the middle. “Persuasion” originally was lower down. The lack of interaction between the romantic characters was a detriment, and, on the face of things, Anne had similarities to Fanny as being a bit too reserved and shrinking to immediately appeal to my teenage self. But as an adult, it’s risen to be one of my favorites, pretty much equal with with “Pride and Prejudice” and maybe even above “Emma.”
I don’t think this change is even all that surprising. Anne is an older, more mature heroine, and much of her story surrounds the changes in her perspective on life and love that has come through a decade of adult life. Without having gone through my 20s myself when I originally read it, I didn’t really connect to this arc in the same way I do now. Beyond that, the story of lasting love over a decade of separation now appears as the most romantic of all the romances we’ve seen in the books. Having gone through the ups and downs of romantic pitfalls, false starts, etc., this sure, steady love appeals in a way I couldn’t understand when first reading it.
It’s also probably the most serious of Austen’s books other than “Mansfield Park.” But I think, overall, this one feels much more settled in its overall tone. “Mansfield Park” had odd breaks in the “action,” for lack of a better word, to hear long speeches from various characters on topics that weren’t directly tied to anything outwards of themselves.
For another thing, this book is shorter which I think works better for this type of more serious story. Anne is also a more engaging heroine than Fanny is, which helps carry the story. Not to mention that Captain Wentworth is a more romantic hero than Edmund. Unlike Edmund, his flirtation with Louisa is pretty obviously a shallow, reactionary thing from the very start. We don’t get any silly proclamations of “not imagining any other woman as his wife” either. Instead, much better, we have grand romantic statements of Wentworth’s having loved “none but her.” Much more appealing.
Overall, this was a great book to end this re-read on. I was particularly looking forward to re-visiting it, and it didn’t let me down. Now for reviews of two movie adaptations and, I think, a last “bonus” review of a few other Austen adaptations/spin-offs that didn’t directly fit into the review series as I had it originally planned.
In two weeks, I’ll review the last half of “Persuasion” and share my final thoughts on the book as a whole.