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Persuasion | Motifs

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Pursuit of Marriage

The constant gossip surrounding the pursuit of marriage, or engagement, shows how much society valued marriage. By the frequent conversations throughout the novel it becomes apparent to readers the motive to marry is usually to maintain or improve one's social standing. In Volume 1, Chapter 4 the grounding example of the motif is Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot's engagement. Because of her father's title and Wentworth's lack of money and family background, others saw the engagement as a failure, despite the couple's suitability of character and deep love for each other. In Volume 2, Chapter 9 even Mrs. Smith, who intimately knows William Elliot's cruelty, insists his romantic feelings for Anne are genuine and tries to persuade her to consider marrying him. She insists, "Your peace will not be shipwrecked as mine has been. You are safe in all worldly matters."

Walks

Walks give characters the opportunity to speak privately, as well as to be overheard or seen by others. When on a walk Anne overhears Captain Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove's conversation at Uppercross, and in Lyme, Anne Elliot is "seen" by William Elliot. Furthermore, on walks in the country characters often find comfort and time for reflection in being surrounded by nature. As the characters travel through various locales, the nature they encounter varies. In Volume 1, Chapter 3 the sight of the Kellynch's "lawns and groves" and the "pleasure" they bring Anne tether her heart to the country. In Lyme characters seek the sea for its beauty. In Volume 1, Chapter 12 Anne and Henrietta Musgrove wake early and walk to the shore, where "they praised the morning; gloried in the sea; sympathized in the delight of the fresh-feeling breeze—and were silent."

Vanity

The novel opens by describing the character of Sir Walter Elliot: "Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot's character; vanity of person and of situation." His vanity, a sign of superficiality and narcissism, precedes him. After the Crofts meet him to tour Kellynch Hall in Volume 1, Chapter 8, Admiral Croft says to Mrs. Croft, "I thought we should soon come to a deal, my dear, in spite of what they told us at Taunton." Sir Walter's vanity forces a rift between himself and Anne. His vanity, shared with Elizabeth Elliot, alienates Anne at home and forces her to look elsewhere for love, which she finds in Lady Russell, Captain Wentworth, Mrs. Smith, and her Uppercross and Lyme friends.

Illness

Both real and feigned illnesses reveal the true nature of characters. Mary Elliot Musgrove imagines herself ill in order to gain attention, showing her shallowness, while Anne tends to her willingly, showing her goodness. Louisa Musgrove is high-spirited and intent on marrying Captain Wentworth until after her accident, when she instead falls in love with quiet, intense Captain Benwick. Mrs. Smith bears her illness without complaint and Anne treats her friend with dignity while her father disparages her, underscoring the superior morals of these two characters.

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