Persuasion Summary

Jane Austen


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Persuasion Summary

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The last novel written by English author Jane Austen, Persuasion, was published posthumously in 1817, approximately six months after her death. Among her classic novels are Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice, all of which were published anonymously during her lifetime. Thematically, Austen commonly focused on the English upper class and of women in search of social standing and financial security for which marriage is often a means to an end. Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, a twenty-seven year old Englishwoman whose family is having financial difficulties. To reduce their expenses the family rents its home to an Admiral named Croft and his wife. The wife’s brother is Captain Fredrick Wentworth to whom Anne was engaged in 1806, but they have not had contact with each other for seven years. At the time of this serendipitous meeting both are single.

The history of the Elliot family is recounted at the start of the novel as it was preserved in The Baronetcy, the favorite book of Sir Walter Elliot. The Elliots are a respected family and landowners. Sir Walter’s wife, Lady Elliot, has been dead for fourteen years. Their daughters are Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary. Of the three only the youngest, Mary, is married. Her husband is the rich Charles Musgrove, and they live nearby. Sir Walter lives extravagantly which has plunged the family into debt. The family advisor, Lady Russell, has told the family that it needs to cut back expenses but Sir Walter cannot fathom the thought of forsaking any of his creature comforts, although he is ultimately convinced that he must, thus leading to the decision to rent out their estate, Kellynch Hall. Sir Walter finds Admiral Croft and Mrs. Croft to be acceptable tenants even though as a rule he does not like Navy men. Anne is excited by the prospect of renting to them as she realized that Mrs. Croft is the sister of a man with whom she was once in love. That romance ended when Lady Russell decided that Captain Wentworth was not socially acceptable and Anne cancelled their engagement. Now, she is filled with the anticipation of perhaps seeing him again.

When Sir Walter, along with Elizabeth and a friend of the family named Mrs. Clay, goes to Bath, Anne stays with Mary at Uppercross Cottage for two months. Anne greatly enjoys Elizabeth’s husband’s family including his parents and his siblings, Henrietta and Louisa. She is particularly taken by the affection she sees among them. Shortly, she finds out that Captain Wentworth has returned and is staying at Kellynch. Wentworth also strikes up a friendship with Mr. Musgrove and becomes a regular presence at Uppercross. Anne is happy to see him, but he is cool towards her and shows more attention to Louisa and Henrietta. Wentworth suggests that they all travel to Lyme to see his friends the Harvilles. At Lyme there is a man named Elliot who is Anne’s cousin and the heir to Kellynch. During a walk, Louisa takes a fall and loses consciousness. Anne cares for her and is told that it will take several months for her to recover during which time she is to stay in Lyme. Wentworth feels responsible for the accident and wants to help the family. Anne also continues to help the Musgrove family. Eventually she goes to stay with Lady Russell.

When Christmas passes, Anne and Lady Russell must return to Bath and the Elliots which saddens Anne. While her father and sister pay little attention to her, she is formally introduced to Mr. Elliot who is now on good terms with Sir Walter. Anne wonders why Elliot suddenly made peace with her father but does see him as a gentleman. Soon it becomes apparent that Elliot is taken with Anne. Meanwhile, Anne meets an old school friend, Mrs. Smith, a recent widow facing financial difficulties. Mrs. Smith informs Anne that Elliot is planning to marry Anne to become the heir to Kellynch. He is motivated by the fear that Sir Walter might wed Mrs. Clay and produce a son who would become the heir. This news shocks Anne.

The Crofts, meanwhile, appear in Bath and announce two engagements. Louisa is to marry Captain Benwick whom she met while in Lyme recovering from her injury. Henrietta is engaged to Charles Hayter, a cousin. The news of Louisa’s engagement is especially pleasing to Anne as it means that she is not marrying Captain Wentworth, who shortly arrives in Bath. Wentworth has raised his financial stature and Sir Walter grudgingly accepts him socially. Wentworth writes Anne a love letter in spite of the fact that he believes her to be promised to Elliot. Anne is overjoyed by the letter and she and Wentworth get engaged. Elliot and Mrs. Clay leave Bath; Sir Walter and Lady Russell give Anne and Wentworth their blessing.