We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

A Short Analysis Of Persuasion, by Jane Austen

The whole doc is available only for registered users

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

“Anne Elliot, with all her claims of birth, beauty, and mind, to throw herself away at nineteen; involve herself at nineteen, in an engagement with a young man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in that profession, would be, indeed, a throwing away, which she grieved to think of! Anne Elliot, so young; known to so few, to be snatched off by a stranger without alliance or fortune; or rather sunk by him into a state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependence! It must not be, if by any fair interference of friendship, any representations from one who had almost a mother’s love and mother’s right, it would be prevented.”

(AUSTEN, 1818, p.24-25)

The excerpt above was extracted from the fourth chapter of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and although it is early in the development of the plot and the story as a whole, much can be known and learned through its close observation. Signs and hints on all the elements involved in the story, such as society organization, relationships, moral and values, characters’ profiles and other issues are given already on the very first paragraphs. Persuasion is extremely well organized in terms of plot. It follows what Ian Watt (1957) calls “principle of causality”, meaning that one event that takes place in the plot under determined conditions will cause, or give possibility to something else to happen. It is also a novel which has the narrative organized by the same principles, but in several different levels, that will be discussed throughout this paper. The tone in Persuasion is darker, bitterer and more melancholic than in the previous novels by Jane Austen.

In one of the letters she wrote to her sister, Austen talks about the tone in her another novel, Pride and Prejudice: “The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade.” (AUSTEN, 1816). Persuasion is not light, or bright or sparkling; it has the shade Austen wrote about, it has sadness. Austen’s works are generally, and also deep mistakenly, considered mere love stories completely unaware and distanced from social and economic contexts. Raymond Williams, critic, says in his book The Country and the City that Austen does give the history of the country in her books, through the social situation of the characters; and indeed, some valuable pieces of information about the English society values of the time can be understood through the excerpt brought above. Anne Elliot is an unmarried twenty seven year old woman, situation that is very much frowned upon in the society and time she lives in, who has initially absolutely no power, voice or choice of her own, and whose wills have always been suppressed by her family and close friend Lady Russell, people who have always imposed her what to do or where to go, disregarding her own thoughts.

Anne is a rational young woman, perhaps the only rational person in her family, which makes her completely misplaced in her environment. Her younger sister Mary is an attention-seeking hypochondriac, and her father, Sir Walter Elliot, and older sister Elizabeth are selfish and vain people, concerned only with appearances and properties. Sir Elliot’s behavior is the main factor responsible for the social comedy present in the story: his disregard for his family’s personal and emotional issues, and his exclusive focus on exterior aspects such as name, book records and property, and his preference of having good “connexions” over real relationships. In Austen’s novels, the characters are concerned about social convention; moral code is something of extreme importance and questions of personal conduct and behavior are crucial. In Persuasion, the social comedy factor is combined with the subjective experience technique, new in the English novels. The subjective experienced is provided by Austen’s personal contributions through free indirect discourse, through which the reader can have close access to Anne’s inner thoughts.

It is essential that Austen relies on this method because so much of the plot happens internally, and it is the only way the reader can fully understand not only Anne’s situation, since it is not something she can share out loud with other characters. The presence of both social comedy and subjective experience is considered a problematic combination by the critic Marilyn Butler (1975), who believes that it is a weakness, for there is no total integration between the two techniques. As it can be observed in the cited excerpt, it is expected that a woman marries well and provide heirs and honor to their family name. Marriage is the center of the plot. Not marriage in its loving and romantic sense, for Austen depicts a world permeated by control, balance, rationality and order, but marriage as a possibility of social raise or a way to maintain a current social status. Considering the English society organization, there are four easily identifiable layers: the aristocracy, the gentry, the new middle classes and the working class. Austen’s world comprehends the two intermediate ones: the gentry and the new middle classes. The peculiarity that is present not only in Persuasion, but also in other Austen’s novel, is what Williams defines as “changes of fortune”:

“… indeed much of the interest, and many of the sources of the action, in Jane Austen’s novels, lie in the changes of fortune – the facts of general change and of a certain mobility – which were affecting the landed families at this time.” (WILLIAMS, 1973, p.113)

Sir Walter Elliot, due to his debts and his refusal to compromise his dignity through cutting off expenses, found himself in the situation of having a property, however no longer being able to maintain it, thus having to rent Kellynch Hall. At the same time, Admiral Croft, who had made a fortune during the war, was interested in the property. People started moving up and down between the two social layers (gentry and new middle class), and that is one of the factors that, in the novel, represents change. In the time, social position, property, manners and family are sources of stability, and all these values are undergoing a change of meaning. Williams explains that as money, authority and power changes hands in the actual English society by the time the book is being written, the novel will reflect it, and deal with these changes as well.

A new social order is rising, causing the attribution of new meanings to existing concepts; gentleman, for example. It is indeed a period of transition when Austen was writing the novel, and the work shows a change of old values into new values, into new ways of organizing society, family and relationships; one noticeable example of that process of change in the novel when Anne gradually becomes the central authority in her social circle, as the world she is constructing replaces Sir Walter Elliot’s. Along with the social mobility, comes the idea that there is no connection between social rank and social roles; titles and words like rank, name, class and gentleman no longer mean what they used to mean before, and rank and merit does not necessarily coincide. All these new social concepts and mobility represent one of the several levels in which the movements of constancy and change organize the novel.

“The novel shows that English society is similarly ‘in between’: in between an old social order in a state of decline and desuetude, and some new ‘modern’ society of as yet uncertain values, hierarchies and principles”. (TANNER, 1986, p.249)

Anne is the heroine of the novel, but she is quite different from the other female protagonists of the other Austen’s novels. She finds herself stuck in a sort of limbo between her father’s house and the husband’s house; husband she does not even have yet. She is the protagonist of the novel, and her name is not even in the title; she is a misfit among her community and her social circle. Usually, the female protagonist of a Jane Austen’s novel falls in love and gets involved with a man, maturing as the plot develops and goes from the romance to the prudence state. Anne goes on the other way around; she is already the prudent woman who already went through that all, and has yet to learn romance. At the point the novel starts, Anne has already experienced most of the traditional romantic “boy-meets-girl”; she is already mature. Time plays not only a chronological, but a central and indirect role in the novel. Persuasion is about remembering events that past – and observing the crucial effects that this past has on the present.

Anne reflects about how it was a mistake to have let herself be persuaded by Lady Russell and her family to reject to marry her true love in her young years, and how lonely, hopeless and regretful she is in the present time because of the tragic past events on the time that has elapsed even before the novel starts. Anne Elliot finds herself in a quite complex situation concerning her will to tell Frederick Wentworth how she regretted her choices in the past and that she still loved him. There is a communication issue, caused mainly by the restrictions she faces because of a gender limitation. Jane Austen’s portraits in her novels the history of women: gentleman’s daughter, who faces lots of constraints and limited opportunities for development in life. There are certain conventions that must be followed, for instance, a young woman must not address a man privately, to talk about these matters.

The technical problem is the verbal prohibition and the simultaneous need to communicate oneself, and Anne has to seek the balance between these two factor in order to deny rumors and let Wentworth know the truth about her feelings, and the solution for the is the indirection. When her attempts in sending “meta-messages” during a conversation fail, she indirectly talks about their own situation through debating women’s constancy and men’s change in general, thus being able to send her message to Wentworth. His response to that is a physical, metaphorical and highly symbolical act (dropping the pen), indicating his intention of not only getting back with Anne, but also of establishing a new kind of relationship, based on gender equality, which is certainly the biggest of all changes that are dealt with in the novel.


AUSTEN, Jane. Persuasion. London, England: Penguin Books, 1994. [1818]. AUSTEN, Jane. Jane Austen’s Letter to Cassandra Austen. Chawton, 1813. BUTLER, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. TANNER, Tony. Jane Austen. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1986. WATT, Ian. The Rise of the Novel. London, England: Chatto and Windus, 1957. WILLIAMS, Raymond. The Country and the City. London, England: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59