Persuasion | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Persuasion | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


What is the importance of the Baronetage in Persuasion?

The Baronetage bookends the novel. In the opening scene Sir Walter Elliot is reading the Baronetage, the only text he cares to read. His preoccupation with the book is the first appearance of the motif of vanity, showing how he derives pride and pleasure from his titled ancestry. He carefully adds to the text of the Baronetage by adding important life events and dates, such as his wife's death and his youngest daughter's marriage. When Sir Walter accidentally leaves the volume out, Elizabeth Elliot, his favored daughter, is shamed by it because it reminds her she is unmarried. Her reaction to the volume alerts readers to one of the novel's themes: marriage is the only mode of upward mobility for women. In one of the final scenes, Sir Walter, who objected to Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot's first engagement, adds their union to the book "with a very good grace," demonstrating his acceptance of the marriage. However, this acceptance is based on Captain Wentworth's good fortune, good looks, and personal charm and reflects once again the theme of upward mobility through Captain Wentworth's military career. The closing entry in the Baronetage reaffirms Sir Walter's unchanged character and Elizabeth Elliot's unchanged status.

In Chapter 3 of Persuasion what is Mrs. Clay's argument and motivation for Sir Walter Elliot's renting Kellynch Hall to a sailor?

To convince vain Sir Walter Elliot to rent his ancestral home to a sailor, Mrs. Clay says she has encountered "a good deal of the profession." She lists several reasons sailors are "desirable" tenants for Kellynch Hall: They can afford it. "[N]eat and careful," they'll keep the house clean and the garden and topiary tended to. Valuables (such as portraits) will be safe. Mrs. Clay's father is Sir Walter's lawyer, who volunteers to handle the logistics of renting the property. Left widowed with little money and two children, Mrs. Clay has moved back into her father's home. It is to her advantage and to everyone else's that Sir Walter rent Kellynch Hall to avoid sinking deeper into debt. Naval officers are looking to rent properties and would be ideal tenants. On one level, knowing of Sir Walter's extravagant ways and financial problems she may be helping her father's interests so that he is paid for his services. On another level, however, she may be trying to further her own interests, as Lady Russell and Anne suspect her of romantic interests in Sir Walter. If this is so, then keeping his finances sound is to her advantage. A match between her and Sir Walter would represent upward mobility for her as she would be the titled mistress of Kellynch Hall.

In Persuasion why is Anne Elliot's aversion to Bath significant?

How little Anne's father considers her feelings and her dislike of Bath, where she went to school after her mother's death, signifies their growing animosity and estrangement. Sir Walter Elliot's decision to relocate to Bath highlights the differences between him and Anne and Anne's humiliating position in his household. Practical and sensible, Anne understands the family's need to cut back on expenses and would be content in a smaller house nearby where they could live simply and be near family and friends. Her father, however, wants an opportunity to continue living extravagantly; living in a smaller house would humiliate him.

What is Mr. Shepherd's role in setting the plot of Persuasion in motion?

Mr. Shepherd's actions set the plot into motion by bringing the two estranged lovers together again and giving Anne a new home in which to reconsider her former romance. When the possibility of Sir Walter renting Kellynch Hall arises, he insists on helping, ensuring that Sir Walter has no involvement and steering the rental toward Admiral Croft. He also persuades Sir Walter to choose Bath over London, knowing his client can live there less expensively. By securing Admiral Croft as Sir Walter's tenant, Mr. Shepherd inadvertently sets the stage for the reunion of Anne Elliot and the admiral's brother-in-law, Captain Wentworth. By steering Sir Walter toward Bath he puts Anne in an environment where she can think and act for herself and gradually grow apart from Lady Russell.

How do the Musgrove and Elliot families differ in Persuasion?

Although both families are landed gentry and well respected, the Musgroves and Elliots are different in many ways. For instance, when the Crofts leave Kellynch Hall Admiral Croft says, "I thought we should soon come to a deal, my dear, in spite of what they told us at Taunton." This statement suggests that vain and foolish Sir Walter Elliot has a reputation of being difficult, while the Musgroves, neither vain nor foolish, are the most popular family in the area. They are a large, loving family, whereas Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot are cold to Anne and indifferent to Mary; they judge others primarily on appearance and social standing. While Sir Walter is of high rank, the Musgroves are "not much educated, and not at all elegant," yet they are friendly, open-minded, and have exhibited better control over their wealth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot, on the other hand, are vain, extravagant, arrogant, and irresponsible despite their education.

In Chapter 6 of Persuasion how does Captain Frederick Wentworth's pending arrival alter the mood of the story?

After the narrator provides background information about the connection between the late Richard Musgrove and Wentworth, the last paragraphs of the chapter return to Anne Elliot's perspective. With a long sentence filled with italics and dashes, the author describes Anne's emotions, usually in check but now high. Nonetheless, Anne resolves to "be insensible" to Wentworth's presence. Here Mrs. Musgrove serves as a foil, or contrast, to Anne. As Anne witnesses Mrs. Musgrove's public, emotional response—mourning her son and praising the man who positively influenced him—Anne remains outwardly calm, despite her inner turmoil. The narrator alerts readers that the likelihood of being often in Wentworth's company is a "trial to Anne's nerves," setting the stage for the highly charged interactions between the two that characterize their scenes.

In Persuasion what budding romantic relationships do Charles and Mary Elliot Musgrove disagree about, and why are their disagreements important?

Charles and Mary Elliot Musgrove disagree about these relationships: Charles Hayter and Henrietta Musgrove: Mary thinks Charles Hayter is socially beneath Henrietta, but Charles Musgrove, knowing his cousin is an eldest son, is educated, is a curate, loves Henrietta, and will inherit property, thinks he is a good match for Henrietta. Louisa Musgrove and Captain Frederick Wentworth: While Charles Musgrove thinks Captain Wentworth prefers Louisa, Mary thinks he prefers Henrietta. Captain Benwick and Anne: While Charles Musgrove thinks Captain Benwick is smitten with Anne Elliot, Mary disagrees. The couple's disagreement on the subject of love shows their differences in attitudes about people. Mary Elliot Musgrove reflects her father's snobbishness. While Charles's attitudes are more practical, he is not a great judge of character either. He completely misses the likelihood that Anne Elliot and Wentworth—given their romantic history—are likely to still have feelings for each other.

In Chapter 10 of Persuasion how does nature reflect Anne Elliot's mood on the walk?

At the beginning of the walk Anne Elliot draws inspiration from the scenery. She busies herself by reciting quotations about autumn to herself, "that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling." In contrast to Anne, Louisa Musgrove and Captain Frederick Wentworth flirt. After Louisa says "If I loved a man, as [Mrs. Croft] loves the Admiral, I would always be with him," Anne overhears Wentworth praise Louisa's firm character, and Anne's mood quickly turns. Because the narration mostly follows Anne's point of view, the shift in her emotions is reflected in her observations of nature: "the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone altogether." Her sadness over lost youth and hope are projected on her surroundings to depict a depressing atmosphere. By the time the group reaches Winthrop the farm looms "without beauty and without dignity."

In Chapter 10 of Persuasion what is the importance of the conversation between Anne Elliot and the Crofts in the carriage?

Admiral Croft says Captain Wentworth would be less patient about choosing between Henrietta and Louisa if it were wartime. The admiral then asks his wife how many days they spent together before marrying. She refuses to answer and says if Anne Elliot knew how short their engagement had been, "She would never be persuaded that we could be happy together." The Crofts serve as a foil for Wentworth and Anne's situation. They married after a short time together; Anne and Wentworth have been parted for eight years. In this case the juxtaposition of the two sets of lovers creates situational irony, a discrepancy between what the characters expect and what actually happens. It is Anne, who suffers from constant regret over giving up Wentworth—not Louisa or Henrietta Musgrove—whom Wentworth will marry.

How does Mary Elliot Musgrove's character appear contradictory in Persuasion?

Throughout the novel, Mary's character is often contradictory. She claims to be ill when she isn't, only to gain Anne's attention and assistance. Although she lacks Anne's intelligence and depth of character, she is generally good spirited and pleasant company, but only when she gets her own way and receives the attention she believes she merits. In fact she exhibits a combination of the most notable traits of the Elliots: she has both her father's and Elizabeth's snobbery, seen in her disapproval of a match between Charles Hayter and Henrietta, and Anne's essential good nature. In addition Mary seems foolishly hypocritical at times. After little Charles has his accident, her husband prepares to attend a party. Mary criticizes him for leaving, but when Anne Elliot offers to watch Charles Musgrove Jr., Mary leaves immediately. When Mary writes to Anne at Bath she complains about the Crofts but writes again—after Mrs. Croft has offered to carry her message—to say their "neighbourhood cannot spare such a pleasant family."

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