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Persuasion | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Persuasion | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Chapter 8 of Persuasion how does the author use the symbol of ships to create tension?

At a dinner at the Great House Anne overhears Captain Wentworth talk about his navy career. Before Anne broke Wentworth's heart, "he knew that he should soon have a ship ... that would lead to every thing he wanted." Now his conversation reminds her both of his perception of her cruelty and of the chance for happiness that she threw away. Throughout the conversation he reminisces about ships. In his speeches he indirectly refers to Anne. Of his first assignment he mentions how good the Asp was for him because he "wanted to be doing something," a reference to his heartbreak. He also praises his friend Captain Harville (who "wanted money: worse than myself" because Harville is married) and all the money they made on the Laconia. Money is, of course, a motive for Wentworth since Anne broke their engagement because he lacked it.

How does Captain Benwick's character change in Persuasion, and why are his changes significant?

Captain Benwick reveals both positive and negative character transformations during the course of the novel. He overcomes his isolation and excessive mourning for his dead fiancé, who was Captain Harville's sister, but he falls in love with Louisa Musgrove so speedily that Harville believes Benwick is disrespectful to the dead. He is reclusive when Anne meets him, but with their common interest in books Anne gets Benwick to socialize and open up more. However, the people he chooses to socialize with are a select few; Mary Eliot Musgrove, who is not intellectual, complains to Lady Russell that he ignores her during their walks. Finally Benwick shows a romantic interest in Anne, which reveals his good taste, but then switches his interest to the relatively shallow Louisa Musgrove. Possibly Austen uses his imperfect judgment to contrast him with Captain Wentworth and show the superiority of the latter suitor.

What does Lady Russell mean when she says "Time will explain" in Chapter 16 of Persuasion?

Captivated by the charming William Elliot, Lady Russell sings his praise. Anne, however, believes her cousin is interested in her sister Elizabeth, who once wanted to marry him. However, when Anne mentions this to Lady Russell the older woman says, "Time will explain." Lady Russell's statement creates dramatic irony: readers know more than she does. Aware of her role in Anne and Captain Wentworth's failed engagement, Anne's constant regret, Anne's suspicions about William Elliot, and her growing evidence of Captain Wentworth's good-heartedness, readers may find that Lady Russell's opinion lacks value and seems wrong. And in fact time does explain the situation as William Elliot's true character, including his involvement with Mrs. Clay, is revealed and Anne's love for Wentworth is returned. Time shows that Lady Russell's judgments about both of Anne's suitors are wrong.

In Chapter 18 of Persuasion how is Anne Elliot affected by the information Admiral Croft shares with her during their walk?

After the news of Louisa Musgrove and Captain Benwick's engagement, Anne Elliot and Admiral Croft have a private conversation in which Anne learns the following and interprets it accordingly: Because Wentworth traveled while Louisa was recovering from a serious injury, Admiral Croft doubts the seriousness of the relationship, as does Anne. Admiral Croft confirms that Wentworth showed no regrets on hearing of Louisa and Benwick's engagement and feels no ill will whatsoever toward either person. Anne's worries that Wentworth is hurt by Louisa's engagement have been unfounded. He is not—and Admiral Croft doubts his brother-in-law ever had really serious feelings for Louisa, making it impossible for him to be hurt. This information relieves Anne's worries about Captain Wentworth's feelings and present state of mind. As a result, she feels his attentions to Louisa were nothing more than flirtation and is now more optimistic about the chances of a reunion with her former lover.

How is Mrs. Smith's character a positive influence on Anne Elliot in Persuasion?

The beginning of the novel establishes that Sir Walter Elliot thinks Anne Elliot is "haggard" and hopeless. Until her extended visit at Uppercross, she is unhappy and ignored. Before leaving for Bath she reflects on her time in Uppercross and Lyme, cherishing the experiences and people there. During that time she falls out of touch with her father and Elizabeth Elliot and realizes she is happier without them. In Bath she has the opportunity to act on the lessons she has learned. When she reconnects with Mrs. Smith, she has an outlet apart from her father's shallow high society connections. Because of Mrs. Smith's humble and optimistic character, being in her company inspires Anne. The relationship also helps Anne grow by giving her the strength to say no to her family and confirming her suspicions about William Elliot. This growth significantly advances the plot and provides Anne with the courage to follow her best instincts.

In Chapter 18 of Persuasion what are Mary Elliot Musgrove's motivations for writing a letter to Anne Elliot?

Mary Elliot Musgrove is a complicated character who is "often a little unwell, and always thinking a great deal of her own complaints." At first the mood of her letter is resentful and complaining. Its first line begins, "I make no apology for my silence, because I know how little people think of letters in ... Bath." Readers know Anne Elliot does, in fact, care, as the omniscient narrator tells them, but Mary's news is filled with her complaints about her in-laws and hints about being invited to stay in Bath. As she continues the letter she has the triumph of being the first to convey exciting news. Louisa's engagement to Captain Benwick is a great surprise for Mary, of course, and the letter gives her the opportunity to verify self-righteously that she was correct about Wentworth's affections being elsewhere. "I never thought him [Wentworth] attached to Louisa." Knowing Mary's character, readers can infer that her motivation, in addition to relaying surprising news, is to add an "I told you so" to her perceptions on the marital pursuits of others.

What does Anne Elliot mean when she says Mrs. Smith has "elasticity of mind" in Chapter 17 of Persuasion?

When Anne Elliot first meets Mrs. Smith, their characters are juxtaposed to display how different their experiences have been. Even though she is only a few years older than Anne, Mrs. Smith—once Anne's mentor at school—is now widowed, bedridden, and racked with debt. In the text the author uses a stark, staccato sentence rhythm to emphasize the dramatic pain Anne's friend has suffered: "She had been very fond of her husband; she had buried him." This statement demonstrates, through Anne's eyes, how amazed she is by Mrs. Smith's resilience: "Neither sickness nor sorrow seemed to have closed her heart or ruined her spirits." As Anne and Mrs. Smith grow close, Anne insists her friend has "elasticity of mind." Her power of positivity, peace, and charity comes from "nature alone," meaning her state of mind seems effortless. Anne supposes it's a "merciful" gift to "counterbalance" her friend's horrible luck.

In Chapter 18 of Persuasion what does Anne Elliot notice Admiral Croft looking at, and what is its importance?

While walking back to Camden Place, Anne Elliot sees Admiral Croft "in earnest contemplation" of a store-window print. It features a ship that, to the admiral's trained eye, seems ridiculously unstable. As the admiral assesses the believability of the image he announces, "I would not venture over a horsepond in it," yet he admits he stops to look at it every time he passes. In this ritual Admiral Croft seems to be exploring the theme of foolishness. Because he has expert knowledge of watercraft he is fixated with this display window print (window space is typically reserved for profitable, eye-catching things). In a way he is laughing at the artist who painted the picture, the business that sells the painting, and the people who buy it, implying that all are foolish. They imitate navy life without understanding it.

In Persuasion how does William Elliot's present treatment of Sir Walter Elliot and past treatment of Mr. Smith reveal his character and further the theme of foolishness?

William Elliot is a self-serving social climber at best; at worst he is cruel and deceitful. He preys on people of higher rank, after learning their weaknesses, to improve his own status and to make financial gains. His treatment of Mr. Smith and Sir Walter Elliot reflects both of these objectives. Because William Elliot has already secured wealth, he wants to ensure he inherits Sir Walter's title, which he can guarantee only by preventing Sir Walter from marrying again and having a male child. By ingratiating himself back in the family and appealing to Sir Walter's and Elizabeth's vanity, William actually hopes to marry Anne, despite being attentive to Elizabeth, and to gain enough influence in the family to keep Sir Walter from marrying Mrs. Clay. His actions are reported by the omniscient narrator and reflect his hypocrisy, deceit, and vanity. William Elliot's treatment of Mr. Smith is revealed as far more dishonorable. Mr. Smith seems to have been a weak character, subject to William Elliot's deceit. He dies before Mrs. Smith discovers the state of their finances, which have been depleted in part because of William Elliot's influence. Yet William Elliot refuses to execute her late husband's will despite his legal obligation to do so. The fact that both Mr. Smith and Sir Walter allow themselves to be manipulated by William Elliot reflects poorly on not just Elliot but the vanity and foolishness of his "victims."

In Persuasion how does Lady Russell's character develop the theme of upward mobility and the motif of pursuit of marriage?

Throughout the novel the pursuit of marriage is shown to lead to upward mobility. For women upward mobility was attained only by conforming to social norms and expectations and marrying well. Before the start of the novel Lady Russell, popularly known "as a woman of the greatest influence," discouraged Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth's engagement. A few years later (still preceding the novel's beginning) Lady Russell encouraged Anne to marry Charles Musgrove, but Anne refused. In both instances Lady Russell was motivated by money—Wentworth had none; Charles had money and would inherit his father's estate. When Lady Russell alludes to William Elliot's potential proposal, she says, "I think there would be every possibility of your being happy together." However, to Lady Russell the happiness of a couple lies in their suitability, not in romantic love. This is why Anne must break from her in order to find true happiness.

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