Persuasion | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Persuasion | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How do Mrs. Smith's revelations about William Elliot's deeds and character in Chapter 21 of Persuasion develop the character of Anne Elliot?

While William Elliot is welcomed into Anne Elliot's family, Anne remains skeptical of him despite the positive picture Mrs. Smith has painted when she thought he and Anne cared for each other and planned to marry. After Mrs. Smith informs Anne of her cousin's greed, lies, ill treatment of his first wife and their wretched marriage, and his current intentions toward Sir Walter Elliot, Anne is not shocked. Rather, given her characteristic composure she treats the information as new knowledge and considers how best to deal with it. She is relieved she was not taken in by his superficial charm. The revelations ultimately help her to separate from the influence of Lady Russell, who had been favorably disposed toward William Elliot, and summon the strength of mind to act on her new knowledge.

What does Sir Walter Elliot's failure to provide Anne's dowry in Chapter 24 of Persuasion reveal about his character?

Anne Elliot's dowry is large. Because of his vanity and extravagance Sir Walter Elliot has failed to rein in his spending and now has insufficient funds to pay more than a "small" portion of that amount. Instead of saving money, he maintains social standards that benefit him and fails to adhere to those that benefit others. It is obvious that he cares more about satisfying himself and his excesses than in fulfilling his parental obligations. His actions show that he is incapable of change or growth: throughout the novel he lacks "principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation which Providence had placed him." At the same time, through her triumphant union with Captain Wentworth, Anne no longer must rely on her spendthrift father, and his meanness has no effect on her.

How do the events of Chapter 20 of Persuasion further the relationship between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth?

The chapter lays the groundwork not just for Anne and Wentworth's reconciliation but for Anne's understanding that her family will not stand in their way. First, Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth discuss the engagement of Louisa Musgrove and Captain Benwick, and the discussion reveals the feelings the two still have for each other. Captain Wentworth says, "They have no difficulties to contend with at home, no opposition, no caprice, no delays." At this remark Anne blushes and he stops, realizing he has indirectly referred to their failed engagement. Wentworth tells her that a man should not easily recover from a "devotion of the heart" to a superior woman, and Anne knows he is referring to herself. Later in the chapter when Anne is anxious about her relatives' reactions to Wentworth, she is grateful they stand behind her. To her surprise several promising events for their potential reunion occur. For example, she witnesses her sister Elizabeth curtsey to Wentworth. During the concert Anne overhears Lady Dalrymple admiring him and asking Sir Walter for his identity. Because of her social position her interest in and approval of Wentworth greatly influences Sir Walter and Elizabeth. When Anne finally accepts Wentworth's proposal her father accepts the idea "with a very good grace."

How does Austen convey the effect of Captain Wentworth's sudden appearance in Bath in Chapter 19 of Persuasion?

Austen shifts in and out of free, indirect discourse to show the effect of Captain Wentworth's appearance on Anne Elliot. Up to the point at which Anne catches a glimpse of Wentworth, Austen mocks Mrs. Clay's determined efforts to spend time with William Elliot by walking to Camden Place with him. The sight of Wentworth changes the narrative to a direct focus on Anne's thoughts and feelings. Seeing him makes Anne feel like "the greatest simpleton in the world." Suddenly she becomes fixated on "see[ing] if it rained," a veiled excuse for seeing him. When Wentworth and Anne consequently meet, their mutual discomfort highlights their feelings. Anne describes her emotional state as "agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery." Her embarrassment is heightened when William Elliot arrives to walk her home. The narrative then shifts again to free, indirect discourse to describe the "ladies of Captain Wentworth's party" as they chat about William Elliot's liking for his cousin. This shift introduces dramatic irony: readers are aware that if Anne could have heard this discussion her embarrassment would have greatly increased.

In Persuasion what is the significance of Anne Elliot's reaction to Mrs. Smith's living conditions?

Anne Elliot finds Mrs. Smith in poor health and relative poverty. She reflects that she "could scarcely imagine a more cheerless situation ... than Mrs. Smith's," who lives in two rooms at the Westgate Buildings and needs assistance to move because she lost the use of her legs due to rheumatic fever. Mrs. Smith leaves her quarters only to visit the baths for medical treatment and is reduced to knitting pincushions and card holders for income because her late husband left her with extreme debt. As Anne observes Mrs. Smith living with an open heart and high spirits, she realizes her friend's poverty bears no weight on her character. Instead Mrs. Smith's cheerful nature has not changed since the days when the two were friends at school. Her good nature has a powerful effect on Anne, who values her friend so highly that when she marries Wentworth she considers Mrs. Smith to be one of the only two friends—the other being Lady Russell—she adds "to his list."

What is the significance of Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot's habit of walking away from each other in Persuasion?

Throughout the novel much attention is paid to how often Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot walk away from each other. Their body language mirrors their emotions. After calling on the Musgrove sisters in Uppercross, Wentworth walks "to the window to recollect himself, and feel how he ought to behave." In this scene his walking away signifies their estrangement. They are uncomfortable with each other as she regrets her decision and he still feels anger and hurt. The estranged couple continue to abandon each other, as when Anne finds Wentworth in her seat at a party and she draws back. As they encounter each other more frequently, however, they begin to return quickly after walking away. After seeing Anne unexpectedly in Bath, Wentworth speaks to her, leaves, and returns following "a short interval." By the novel's end they begin finding ways to be together after they have been apart. At the Musgroves' lodgings in Bath, Captain Wentworth walks to the fireplace, pretending to warm himself, before moving next to Anne. Their final reunion is the result of Wentworth's leaving the lodgings, then returning to give Anne a love letter. He leaves once again only to join Anne on the street and receive the look he has requested to signal her enduring love for him.

In Persuasion how does the reader know Captain Wentworth was never in love with in Louisa Musgrove?

If Captain Wentworth were in love with Louisa Musgrove, a man of his character would not have left Louisa in the hands of others while she recuperated from her injury, as he states to Anne. In Bath at the concert, Captain Wentworth shamelessly and unemotionally talks to Anne Elliot about Louisa Musgrove and Captain Benwick's engagement. His detachment is evidence of his lack of romantic feelings. He admits to Anne that he thinks there's a "disparity" in the match. While Louisa is friendly, spirited, and smart, "Benwick is something more." Because Wentworth witnessed Benwick's mourning, he knows his friend's heart was shattered. Thinking Fanny Harville a "superior creature," he claims a man's heart doesn't heal after loving a woman like her. He adds, "He ought not; he does not." It appears Wentworth speaks from personal experience. He knows this, as do readers, because he is still in love with Anne.

In Chapter 11 of Persuasion what are Anne Elliot's impressions of the Harvilles' residence, and why are they significant?

Anne Elliot's first impression of the Harvilles' house is that the space is tiny. The size leads her to believe the Harvilles can only have invited the large group "from the heart." As she observes the details of the house, however, she feels that it reflects the warmth and love of its occupants. The house was furnished by the owner, but Anne admires what the couple has added, the "rare species of wood, excellently worked up, and with something curious and valuable from all the distant countries Captain Harville had visited." Knowing Captain Harville is not a reader, she is moved by his generosity and compassion when she sees the bookcase he has obtained for Captain Benwick. Because Anne witnesses the couple's happiness, she is filled with a bittersweet feeling; since the Harvilles are intimate friends of Captain Wentworth's their love is a reminder of what she has lost.

Why does Persuasion open with a description of Sir Walter Elliot and not Anne Elliot?

Typically first chapters introduce the setting, main characters, and conflict of a novel. Persuasion's opening chapter describes Sir Walter Elliot instead of the novel's protagonist, Anne Elliot, to show the importance of social status and rank in the Elliot family. Sir Walter's snobbery is so significant to the backstory of the novel—the foiling of Anne's love for Captain Wentworth—and to the events of the narrative that he serves as Persuasion's antagonist. In the novel's backstory Sir Walter has rejected Captain Wentworth, destroying his daughter's chance at love. Presently he is squandering the family fortune, and his behavior causes the inciting incident: the renting of Kellynch Hall to the Crofts. The Crofts' tenancy brings Wentworth back into Anne's life, and her efforts to distance herself from her father's snobbery and reclaim Wentworth's affections form the events of the plot.

What is the significance of the anxiety Elizabeth Elliot experiences in Chapter 22 of Persuasion?

When Charles and Mary Elliot Musgrove appear unexpectedly at Camden Place in Bath, Elizabeth Elliot is conflicted by their arrival. Because she has inherited her father's vanity, she feels she must invite them to dinner, but—concerned with perceptions—she worries what they will think about her reduced circumstances. After persuading herself that "country hospitality" does not include dinners, she refrains from inviting the large Musgrove party to stay. Her "suffering" is short-lived: "It was a struggle between propriety and vanity; but vanity got the better." This decision and surrounding conflict highlight Elizabeth Elliot's self importance and liken her to her father. Her vanity stunts her character's growth and makes her appear foolish to readers. For example, Elizabeth cordially invites the party for "an evening" in her beloved and fussed-over drawing rooms. When Charles later reserves a theater box, an activity that conflicts with Elizabeth's plans, Mary reminds him of his promise to attend the Elliots' event. He then insists evenings are "never worth remembering." This interaction makes Elizabeth Elliot's conflicted proprieties seem even less important.

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