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Persuasion | Chapter 1 (Volume 1, Chapter 1) | Summary

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Summary

In the summer of 1814 in Somerset County, England, Sir Walter Elliot lives with his two unmarried daughters—Elizabeth, 29, and Anne, 27—at Kellynch Hall, the family estate. Sir Walter is a widower of 13 years and a titled member of the landed gentry whose reading enjoyment is limited to The Baronetage, a catalog of the genealogies of British baronets. His youngest daughter Mary is married to Charles Musgrove and lives nearby at Uppercross Cottage on the Musgrove family's estate. Sir Walter, extravagant, vain, and snobbish, favors his eldest and prettiest daughter, ignoring Anne's intelligence and good nature.

The late Lady Elliot's good friend, Lady Russell, remains close with the family. She is a trusted friend and adviser. Acquaintances of the Elliots and Lady Russell, a widow, think it is odd that the widowed friends have remained just friends and are not married.

Inheriting her father's good looks, arrogance, and modest intellect, Elizabeth hopes to marry although there are no prospects in sight to fulfill her requirements for social standing. Many years earlier she had her eye on William Elliott, her father's heir. (Under the rules of primogeniture common in England at the time, Sir Walter's title and estate will go to his nearest male relative since he has no sons.) However, her father severed ties with William Elliot because of his rudeness in refusing to meet Elizabeth on several occasions and in marrying a wealthy woman with no social background.

Sir Walter reveals to Elizabeth on their annual trip to London, from which Anne is regularly excluded, that he is in financial trouble. Elizabeth, who has little common sense and insight, cannot advise him, so he seeks guidance from Lady Russell and Mr. Shepherd, his lawyer.

Analysis

As this chapter presents background information about Sir Walter, Elizabeth, Anne, and Lady Russell, it also establishes alliances among the characters—Sir Walter with Elizabeth and Anne with Lady Russell.

When snobbish Sir Walter adds Mary's marriage to Charles Musgrove to The Baronetage, he believes he is raising the social standing of the Musgroves despite their financial security and family harmony. Even though Sir Walter claims he has faith Elizabeth will "one day or another, marry suitably," she has begun to suffer anxiety, representing the pressure on a woman to marry. The repetition of 13 years, the time in which her mother has been dead, illustrates her exasperation.

The chapter introduces the theme of foolishness. Without "sensible" Lady Elliot Sir Walter spends carelessly and finds himself in financial trouble. His foolishness is the inciting incident that sets the plot in motion.

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