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Persuasion | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Persuasion | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, published in 1817, tells the story of Anne Elliot, a woman of noble birth who is persuaded to break an engagement with a naval officer whom she adores. The novel satirizes the absurdities of the British class system and how it forces lovers apart for economic and social reasons.

Persuasion was one of Austen's last two novels, published simultaneously with Northanger Abbey. A shift in perspective is reflected by Anne's mindset, which is less optimistic than those of Austen's earlier protagonists. The author herself might have been disillusioned with the customs of her class and culture. Though many of Austen's works are regarded as social satire, Persuasion presents a particularly clear case of a woman whose opinions, desires, and overall happiness are often disregarded.

1. Austen died before Persuasion was published.

Austen was still working on revisions of Persuasion at the time of her death. She became very ill while writing the novel and died in July 1817, before publication of the novel. One of her biographers, John Halperin, believes her understanding of her coming death informed the writing of the "sad and autumnal" novel.

2. Austen's brother most likely chose the title for Persuasion.

Austen's brother Henry was very supportive of his sister's writing and assisted with the publication of her unfinished works after her death. Critics speculate Jane Austen may have wanted to name the novel The Elliots originally, but she didn't title it before succumbing to her illness.

3. Persuasion was Austen's first book that revealed her to be the author.

Upon Austen's death, her brother and sister released Northanger Abbey and Persuasion as posthumous publications. They included a note stating that their sister was the author, the first time she had been credited directly for her work. Her earlier works had been published with the credit "By a Lady."

4. Persuasion is Austen's only novel to feature an older heroine.

In her previous novels, Austen's protagonists were eligible young women in their late teens or early 20s. Persuasion, however, features a 27-year-old protagonist who, in contrast to Austen's other characters, feels hopeless and uninspired about the future and prospects of marriage.

5. Persuasion challenged the established norms of marriage.

Although marriage during Austen's time was sharply defined by gender roles and the notion of "separate spheres" for men and women, Persuasion intentionally combats this notion. The characters of the Crofts represent a married couple who share duties and burdens, and both partners genuinely enjoy each other's company.

6. Some critics believe Persuasion was written as a gift for unmarried women.

Some critics believe that, as an unmarried woman herself, Austen wrote Persuasion for other women in her position. One Austen biographer writes:

In one light it can be seen as a present to herself, to Miss Sharp, to Cassandra, to Martha Lloyd, even to the memory of poor Miss Benn; to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring.

7. Austen wrote about the Royal Navy from family experience.

In Persuasion the Royal Navy is presented in an extremely flattering and admirable light. Two of Austen's brothers served in the navy for years, working their way through the ranks. Austen clearly found that profession more honorable than that of an established gentleman who simply inherits wealth, title, and prestige.

8. There is an entire society dedicated to Jane Austen.

The Jane Austen Society of North America has more than 4,500 members who often refer to themselves as "Janeites." The author's incredible popularity in the United States has led the fans to write in the style of Austen, dress in 19th-century attire, and convene at banquets and balls across the country.

9. An author wrote a postapocalyptic novel based on Persuasion.

Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars (2012) models a strict dystopian class system after that of Austen's 19th-century England. The novel's protagonist must negotiate the difficult social constructs while trying to find love in spite of social pressures.

10. Jane Austen and John F. Kennedy may have had the same disease.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy was given only months to live when he was diagnosed with Addison's Disease but survived and attained the presidency in what appeared to be reasonably good health. The illusion of health may, in fact, have been a side effect of the condition. Austen suffered a slow decline from what is thought to be Addison's disease, with her last words being, "Nothing but death," in response to her sister asking if she wanted anything.

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