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Book Review - Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)

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Background

Jane Austen was the author of six novels, two of which were published posthumously.  These two were “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey.”  The subject at hand is a discussion of “Persuasion,” a story written in the Regency period in England.  The book is therefore characterized by stilted language, with long, run-on sentences, which would not be acceptable in our day.  However, the language is a constant reminder of the setting of the story, and allows the reader to be a participant in the subtle activities that are described.  Most, if not all, of Jane Austen’s novels dwell on the fact that a woman in certain circumstances is totally dependent on a good marriage in order to change the course of her life and bring her a higher social standing as well as economic security.

                                                         

Jane Austen

                                                                Jane Austen - Wikimedia

Introduction

Sir Walter Elliot, a widow for the past 13 years, is the father of three girls -Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary, the last of whom is married to Charles Musgrove and is the mother of two young children.  Sir Walter’s wife had always kept their finances in close reserve.  After she passed away, her husband indulged himself to the extent that the family estate had dwindled to the point where he had to consider renting out his mansion, known as Kellynch Hall, and take lesser living quarters with his daughters in the town of Bath.  A friend of Elizabeth’s, Mrs. Clay, also lived with the family.  A lady of somewhat lower standing, having no financial resources of her own, had a secret plan to marry Sir Walter to insure her financial future. 

Anne’s History

Sir Walter’s second daughter, Anne, had reached the age of spinsterhood at 27 years of age.  Anne had intelligence and warmth, and had always followed the dictates of her father as well as those of her mentor and friend, Lady Russell, who had guarded and advised the girls since the death of their mother.

When Anne was 19 years old, she fell in love and became engaged to a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, who was quite poor and had no satisfactory family connections.  Through the persuasive ability of Sir Walter as well as Lady Russell, Anne broke off the engagement when it was not sanctioned by her loved ones who cautioned her because of her youth.

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Persuasion
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Kellynch Hall Has New Tenants

Sir Walter acted fastidiously in accepting a new tenant for Kellynch Hall and settled on a retired Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia who were happy to settle into their new quarters.

While Sir Walter and Elizabeth readied themselves to go to Bath, Anne decided to spend some time with her sister Mary and Charles Musgrove at Uppercross Hall.  Anne was fond of their two children and enjoyed her time there.  She also enjoyed Charles’ two sisters, Henrietta and Louise.  Henrietta was engaged to a clergyman, Charles Hayter. 

Sophia Croft is a Wentworth

It so happened that Admiral Croft’s wife Sophia was the sister of Frederick Wentworth who visited them when they took over Kellynch Hall.  Since Uppercross Hall was nearby, the Crofts were neighbors to the Musgroves.  Wentworth and Anne were destined to meet once again.  Since Anne never forgot her love for Frederick, she encountered nervous emotions whenever they met.  Because he had advanced his rank and fortune during war times, Frederick had become Captain Wentworth, acquiring a small fortune as well.

A Visit to the Town of Lyme

Captain Wentworth invited Anne, Henrietta, and Louisa to visit some navy colleagues of his in the quaint and lively town of Lyme.  Captain Harville’s sister was engaged to Captain James Benwick; sadly, she passed away when he was away at sea.  Benwick was still much in mourning when the guests arrived.  Anne’s sympathy and understanding attracted Benwick to her; they discovered their common interest in poetry.

An Encounter with William Elliot

On a walk throughout Lyme, Anne noticed William Elliot, who was the designated heir to Kellynch Hall upon the death of Sir Walter Elliot.  William and Sir Walter had a falling out years earlier, and he did not recognize Anne upon seeing her in Lyme.  When he realized later that Anne was indeed Sir Walter’s daughter, he became exceedingly interested.  If he were to marry Anne, his title to the Elliot property would be more than secured.

Louisa Falls and Has a Concussion

During their stay in Lyme, Captain Wentworth seemed to favor Louisa Musgrove and spent much time with her, seeming to avoid Anne at all costs.  Louisa fell and had a serious concussion when Wentworth was unable to catch her.  They had been acting silly, causing her to fall.  Anne was able to give aid to Louisa, embarrassing Wentworth who felt guilty about his carelessness with Louisa.  He was impressed with Anne’s ability to take over the situation.

When the party left Lyme, Louisa stayed behind at Captain Harville’s house until she might feel able to return home.  Anne and Lady Russell went to Bath to join Sir Walter and Elizabeth who were already ensconced in their new quarters.

 

Emma
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William Elliot Reconciles with Sir Walter

William Elliot had already visited Sir Walter in Bath and the two men had reconciled their differences.  Lady Russell noted that William seemed fond of Anne.  Anne enjoyed his company but was not particularly fond of his character.

Louisa Becomes Engaged to Captain Benwick

Admiral Croft and Sophia came on a visit to Bath with the news that Louisa Musgrove had become engaged to Captain Benwick while the two were thrown together during her rehabilitation in Lyme.  Anne was pleased that Captain Wentworth was no longer paired with Louisa.  When Captain Wentworth came to Bath, he was disturbed that William Elliot appeared to be courting Anne.  He made attempts to renew his friendship with Anne.

Anne Visits Her Friend Mrs. Smith

Anne, who was known to be good-hearted made a visit to an old school friend of hers, Mrs. Smith, who had fallen on hard times when her husband passed away.  Also, she was not doing well physically.  She confided to Anne that William Elliot, an advisor to her husband, had gotten him into enormous debt.  As the executor of his will, Elliot did nothing to improve her circumstances, although they both knew that Mrs. Smith’s husband had properties off shore which could be sold, bringing her a tidy fortune.  Mrs. Smith was also aware that William Elliot was determined to prevent Mrs. Clay from marrying Sir Walter, since a marriage which might produce a son would bring on the death knell to William Elliot’s inheritance of the Elliot estate.  Anne was grateful to have this information from her old friend.

 

Northanger Abbey (Penguin Classics)
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(price as of Aug 16, 2016)

Captain Wentworth Writes a Note to Anne

When the young people were once again congregating, Captain Wentworth overheard a conversation between Anne and his friend Captain Harville.  Anne specifically stated that a woman always remains faithful in love, but a man has less capacity for faithfulness.  This prompted Captain Wentworth to write a note to Anne, declaring that his love for her had never died.  When they came together, they spoke to each other about their love, which culminated in their renewing their engagement.  Lady Russell was happy with the new arrangement, and admitted that she had been wrong eight years ago in not accepting Captain Wentworth.

A Happy Ending

As an added benefit, Frederick Wentworth was instrumental in helping Mrs. Smith to regain her husband’s assets.  Anne was happy to be a naval officer’s wife and to marry the man that she had always loved.

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