Persuasion | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Persuasion | Context


Bath and Lyme

In 1801 Jane Austen's father, George Austen, retired and moved the family to Bath, in southwestern England, where they lived for four years. The spa and resort town serves as a setting for Persuasion, as it had for Austen's novel Northanger Abbey. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Austen describes her first sunny view of Bath: "The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through the rain. The sun ... got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion." The rain Austen reports to her sister makes a prominent appearance in Persuasion's Bath. When Anne sees Captain Wentworth for the first time there it is raining, and he offers to escort her with an umbrella. It also rains on the morning he proposes to Anne, delaying her arrival at the White Hart.

In 1804 Austen visited Lyme, a coastal town in southwestern England, with her family for the summer. After her sister Cassandra and brother Henry continued to Weymouth, Austen wrote Cassandra letters about dancing, bathing, and visiting the Cobb (the harbor wall), where the climactic scene of Persuasion unfolds. The towns of Bath and Lyme have become literary landmarks in part because of Austen.

Royal Navy

The character Captain Frederick Wentworth, the protagonist's love interest, serves in the Royal Navy, as do several other characters in Persuasion. Jane Austen knew the world of naval officers well; two of her brothers served in the Royal Navy. Both were ultimately promoted to the rank of admiral. When 93-year-old Francis died in 1865, he had reached "the very summit of his profession" as a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath and Senior Admiral of the Fleet. Charles typically served in frigates and sloops, once leaving England for as long as seven years.

Social Class

In order, titles of nobility in England include duke, marquis, earl, viscount, baron, baronet, and knight. Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth Elliot are obsessed with their noble cousins (widowed Lady Dalrymple or Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, Miss Carteret). Sir Walter Elliot is a baronet, thus giving his wife the title of Lady. Mr. Musgrove (Mary Elliot Musgrove's father-in-law) is a landowner, making his wife simply Mrs. Musgrove. Wealthy businessmen, military officers, and clergymen are considered gentlemen and are called "Mister" or addressed according to their rank (Captain Wentworth, Admiral Croft).

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