'Persuasion' - a Novel by Jane Austen

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Persuasion is a novel that has some elements in common with its author Jane Austen's own life. It centres on Anne Elliot, an unmarried woman, and tells the story of her reactions to other people's various attempts at persuasion.

The Author

Jane Austen was born in 1775 in Hampshire. She had five brothers and a sister, so there was a limited amount of financial support that her parents could provide to them all. Given the limited career options for women at that time, it was considered that her best hope for financial stability was to marry. In 1795/6, she attended balls and spent time with a man named Tom Lefroy. However, he went abroad in January 1796 so their flirtations did not lead to marriage. The Austen family had relatives in the city of Bath, so they visited occasionally, and moved there in 1800 after her father retired as a rector. In 1802 Jane received a marriage proposal, from the wealthy but difficult Harris Bigg-Wither. She initially accepted, but withdrew her acceptance the following day.

Writing novels was a way for women to earn money, although it was considered to be more suitable as a hobby rather than a profession. Jane had been writing stories and poems from an early age. Her first published novel was Sense and Sensibility - it appeared in 1811, with the author named as 'A Lady'. Pride and Prejudice appeared in 1813, followed by Mansfield Park in 1814 and Emma in 1816. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously in 1818 (Jane died in 1817 and was buried at Winchester Cathedral).


The story begins with the family history of Sir Walter Elliot. His wife Elizabeth died in 1800, leaving him with three daughters. He is supported in the care of his children by Lady Russell, a widow. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is very like her father, and takes on much of her mother's role in the family.

Elizabeth is not able to prevent her father from spending more than he received in income. It is decided that their family estate Kellynch Hall should be rented out, and they would move to Bath. Admiral Croft moves into the Hall with his wife. Mrs Croft is the sister of Captain Frederick Wentworth, a man who had proposed marriage to Anne when she was 19.

Both Sir Walter and Lady Russell had disapproved of the match, as they hoped that Anne would find someone nobler and richer than him. He went abroad soon after. Charles Musgrove proposed to her three years later, but she turned him down and he married her youngest sister Mary instead.

Captain Wentworth (now wealthy thanks to a distinguished career in the navy) visits his sister and meets Anne (now 27) briefly. He found her 'so altered he should not have known her again'. He has not forgiven her for being persuaded to turn down his marriage proposal. He decides to take an interest in other women instead.

Captain Wentworth begins spending more time with Charles' sisters Henrietta and Louisa. Anne is introduced to Captain Benwick, an intelligent young man grieving for his fiancée who died just before he gained the promotion that would have enabled him to afford to marry. Anne's cousin William is also recently bereaved. He meets Anne and her family in Bath and seems to be a perfect gentleman, but are appearances deceiving? Will Captain Wentworth settle for an 'amiable, sweet-tempered girl' or does he still have feelings for 'excellent creature' Anne?

Main Characters

The characters in the novel include the Elliot family and their network of friends and acquaintances.

Anne Elliot

A few years before, Anne Elliot had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.

Of the three sisters, Anne is the most like her mother. Her family see her as 'only Anne' but they benefit from her sensible manner and ability to make decisions in difficult circumstances.

Elizabeth Elliot

It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is Sir Walter's eldest daughter. It had been hoped that Elizabeth would marry Sir Walter's heir, William Elliot, a distant cousin. However, William married 'a rich woman of inferior birth' instead.

Mary Elliot - Mrs Charles Musgrove

Though better endowed than the elder sister, Mary had not Anne's understanding nor temper. While well, and happy, and properly attended to, she had great good humour and excellent spirits; but any indisposition sunk her completely. She had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used.

Mary is Sir Walter's youngest daughter. 'Mary had merely connected herself with an old country family of respectability and large fortune.' She now has two sons, Charles and Walter.

William Elliot

William is Sir Walter's heir by dint of being his nearest male relative. However, he had not had contact with that branch of his family for several years after having 'spoken most disrespectfully of them all, most slightingly and contemptuously of the very blood he belonged to, and the honours which were hereafter to be his own. This could not be pardoned.'

William's wife died in 1814, the year in which the novel is set. He fears Sir Walter might marry again, and is keen to ensure he does not lose his place as Sir Walter's heir. While Elizabeth was not of interest to him, 'he had many years ago received such a description of Miss Anne Elliot as had inspired him with the highest idea of her merit, and excited the warmest curiosity to know her'.

Captain Frederick Wentworth

When Captain Wentworth had first met Anne, he 'had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession; but spending freely, what had come freely, had realised nothing'. However, eight years later, 'Captain Wentworth, with five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, was no longer nobody'.
He demonstrates himself to be kind and thoughtful towards his colleagues, family and friends, and he is good with children.

Lady Russell

She was a benevolent, charitable, good woman, and capable of strong attachments, most correct in her conduct, strict in her notions of decorum, and with manners that were held a standard of good-breeding.

Lady Russell lives in Kellynch Lodge. She is a kind godmother to Sir Walter's children. However, her judgement about what is best for them is clouded by her biases towards people with noble titles (her husband was 'only a knight' whereas Sir Walter is a baronet). She was partly responsible for persuading Anne to turn down Captain Wentworth's first proposal, but grows 'to love Captain Wentworth as she ought'.

Mrs Penelope Clay

'The daughter of [lawyer] Mr Shepherd, who had returned, after an unprosperous marriage, to her father's house, with the additional burden of two children.' She becomes friends with Elizabeth, and also begins to have influence over Sir Walter. Initially her freckles 'disgust' Sir Walter. However, later he notes that Gowland (a lotion containing mercury or lead) 'has carried away her freckles'.

Captain Benwick

A former colleague of Captain Wentworth, he had been saving up to marry Fanny Harville, but she died just before he gained promotion.
Bereft and injured, he has been living with Fanny's brother and reading poetry in between doing crafts such as gluing and toymaking. He is 'a little man. He had a pleasing face and a melancholy air, just as he ought to have.'

Mrs Smith

Anne's former schoolfriend, who is staying in Bath to help her to recover from rheumatic fever. Aged 30, she is a widow in difficult financial circumstances. She makes knitted items for poorer families and to earn a bit of money for herself. William Elliot was her husband's friend. However, when Mr Smith died, Mr Elliot refused to help Mrs Smith with the will or the sale of property abroad. Captain Wentworth, in contrast, does help and becomes 'a determined friend'.


Persuasion includes several themes of interest to modern readers as well as to readers in the 19th Century. It highlights the risks involved with persuading and being persuaded. There is also consideration of the differences and similarities between men and women - When Captain Harville says, 'Songs and proverbs all talk of woman's fickleness', Anne notes, 'the pen has been in [men's] hands'. Much to Captain Wentworth's delight, she also says: 'I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman'.

Since 1818, Persuasion has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times. Television miniseries include: a BBC production in 1960-61 and an ITV production in 1971. Film-length adaptations have included: a 2007 production featuring Sally Hawkins1 as Anne and Anthony Head as Sir Walter, and a 2022 production with Dakota Johnson2 as Anne and Richard E Grant as Sir Walter.

1Sally Hawkins went on to play Mrs Mary Brown in the Paddington films of 2014 and 2017.2Dakota Johnson came to fame as Anastasia Steel in the Fifty Shades of Grey films (2015, 2017, 2018).

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