Sunday, April 10, 2011

Passion versus Persuasion


Many of the themes seen throughout Austen’s works come together in Persuasion, the last novel published before her death in 1817. Parenting and social boundaries have been two of the major themes discussed in previous blog posts and throughout this semester in class, both of which are evident in Austen’s final novel. Sir Walter is not only indifferent towards Anne but genuinely uncaring, setting him apart from Emma’s humorously aloof Mr. Woodhouse. Lady Russell serves as Anne’s mother figure of the novel, counseling her on marriage opportunities, attending social events with her, and serving as her general confidant. Like the characters of many Austen novels, social etiquette takes absolute precedent for Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot who value appearances of wealth and material richness despite the family’s failing finances. In Persuasion, parental influence and social etiquette play a major role in the life of protagonist Anne Elliot who finds herself persuaded out of a marriage to Captain Wentworth as a young nineteen year old girl by Lady Russell who disapproves of his poverty. As the novel progresses, it is clear that both Anne and Captain Wentworth have harbored feelings for each other in the eight and a half years they were separated and are eventually united again.

One of the major questions that arise in Persuasion is whether persuasion has the ability to overcome passion. Out of the many Austen’s novels, this is perhaps the one where the passion and true emotions of the two lovers can truly be felt by the reader. Austen spends pages and pages describing Anne’s responses to seeing Captain Wentworth again, responses that are rather passionate compared what we see in Austen’s other novels. Thinking of Captain Wentworth, Anne’s “happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed, - but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half hour” (Austen 150). When Anne is the in the same room as him at the end of the novel when Captain Wentworth is unknowingly professing his love to her in a letter, Anne “tried to be calm, and leave things to take their course” (Austen 178). Upon reading Captain Wentworth’s letter Anne she felt an “overpowering happiness” (Austen 191). Austen makes it obvious that when Anne is around Captain Wentworth she is flustered, happy, and just generally exhibiting typical signs of being in love.

Despite this renewed passion for Captain Wentworth, it is evident that passion has not always been above the powers of persuasion. When Anne learns the truth about her cousin Mr. Elliot from her friend Mrs. Smith, she “could just acknowledge within herself such a possibility of having been induced to marry him…It was just possible that she might have been persuaded by Lady Russell!” (170). And of course, the reader knows that Anne was persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Captain Wentworth eight years previously when he was only a poor sailor with no distinctive social rank. When Anne is discussing “constancy” with Captain Harville she claims that women have a stronger constancy in love: “We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us” (Austen 187). This is certainly interesting, for despite these claims, she was still persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Captain Wentworth. While it’s obvious that she never fell out of the love with him, she was still persuaded out of the original marriage. It seems as though parental influence and social etiquette were enough to convince Anne not to marry someone she clearly cared greatly for. Do you view this as problematic? What statement does this make about the larger historical picture? Does persuasion trump passion in this novel, or is all righted because Anne eventually marries the man she loves? How important in the role of parents and the social beliefs of the time in the determination of one’s future? At the end of the novel, Anne states that “I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided…I was right in submitting to her” (Austen 198). Was she right in submitting to Lady Russell? Although she does marry Captain Wentworth in the end, there is doubt throughout much of the novel that this will in fact happen. With “persuasion” as the title of this novel, one must ask: does persuasion have the power to overcome passion?

6 comments:

  1. I feel like much of the reason Anne was persuaded out of the original marriage with Captain Wentworth was because of her parenting. Sir Walter did not act as a father to her, but Lady Russell did act as a mother, so I think Anne took her opinions very seriously and looked up to her as an important and very influential figure in her life. Despite regretting her earlier actions, looking back, she thinks she was right in submitting to Lady Russell at the time, which shows the respect she has for this maternal figure. She believes that Lady Russell had her best interests in mind, even if they did not turn out to be for the best.

    I think that persuasion can have the power to overcome passion, but it depends on the circumstances. Persuasion by Lady Russell overcame her passion for Captain Wentworth in the original case of their marriage, but by the end, once Anne had matured and realized that she had been persuaded by Lady Russell, passion overcame the persuasion. In addition to parenting, I think age plays a huge role. After 7 years, Anne has learned a lot more about the world, and has realized that despite everything that has happened, she still loves Captain Wentworth. She has recognized that she was initially persuaded, and she has seen the happy marriage of the Crofts as an example of what her life could be, and so in this case, she has learned to avoid the people trying to persuade her to do or feel certain ways, and has learned to follow passion instead.

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  2. I am unsure if either personal passion or parental and societal persuasion dominate in the novel, for Anne seems to have conflicting opinions of persuasion in regards to the choosing of marriage partners.

    In Volume I Chapter IV, we learn that “Anne, at seven and twenty, thought very differently than what she had been made to think at nineteen. – She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good” (29). While Anne does not feel any ill will towards Lady Russell, her belief that she would not give the same advice to someone else suggests that she now disagrees with such strict, rank-focused judgments. The narration continues, “How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been, - how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! – She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older – the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning” (29-30). Indeed, Anne seems to reject the overly prudent judgments of society and her parental figure in favor of a faith in the power of romance and destiny.

    However, when Anne actually renews her engagement with Captain Wentworth, she expresses a seemingly different view on such persuasion. She states, ““You should not have suspected me now; the case is so different, and my age so different. If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty; but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated’” (197). Here, while Anne still entertains the idea of being wrong in allowing Lady Russell to persuade her, she also seems to defend the persuasion and the caution criticized in Volume I. She further rationalizes her refusal to marry Mr. Elliot by claiming that it would actually have been a risk, for he did not actually care for her and was attempting to manipulate her family. Thus, even though she has genuine romantic feelings for Captain Wentworth that contribute to her decision to marry him, Anne seems to support making decisions based on caution and duty.

    Looking at these two passages, it almost seems as though passion and persuasion coexist in Anne’s mind, for a sense of romance emerges in Anne in response to eight years of respecting the demands of societal duty, yet rationality and a support of persuasion arise in her mind during a time seemingly ruled by passion. I therefore think that her marriage to Captain Wentworth represents a combination of both her attachment towards him and his current rank and wealth. I feel it is worth noting that Anne’s expression of regret in Volume I Chapter IV is followed immediately by a discussion of Captain Wentworth’s achievements, which suggests that had he not fulfilled his claims of future wealth, Anne may not have come to value “early warm attachment” or a “cheerful confidence in futurity.”

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  3. When Captain Wentworth initially proposes to Anne Elliot, she is persuaded out of marrying him. Although her father is against the marriage, it is not his persuasion that forces her to decline Wentworth's proposals; Lady Russell's persuasion is the true cause of Anne's refusal. Lady Russell did not approve the match for a multitude of reasons: Anne was too young, Captain Wentworth did not have a fortune, and Lady Russell generally disliked Wentworth; "He was brilliant, he was headstrong. - Lady Russell had little taste for wit; and of any thing approaching to imprudence a horror" (27). Lady Russell's personal judgement and dislike of Wentworth's character created a prejudice against him that led her to persuade Annd out of marrying him. Therefore, Anne was persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Wentworth, in which case her deep love and passion was overcome by persuasion.
    Nevertheless, when Anne accepts Wentworth's proposal eight years later, persuasion is not necessarily overtaken by passion, like Lauren suggests in her comment. Instead, perhaps persuasion subsides, with the passing of years, Captain Wentworth's changed situation, and Lady Russell's altered opinion of him. The most important of all these factors of past persuasion is the change of Lady Russell's view of Wentworth, more fully developed as a result of her incorrect view of Mr. Elliot. As in previously persuading Anne out of marrying Wentworth, Lady Russell tried persuading her into marrying Mr. Elliot. First, she discovers that she was wrong to encourage Anne to marry Mr. Elliot, when Anne unravels to her the true Mr. Elliot with his dishonerable intentions. Then, she begins to understand that she was also mistaken about Wentworth; "because Captain Wentworth's manners had not suited her own ideas, she had been too quick in suspecting them to indicate a character of dangerous impetuosity [...] There was nothing less for Lady Russell to do, than to admit that she had been pretty completely wrong, and to take up a new set of opinions and hopes" (200). Therefore, Anne's passion did not overcome persuasion, but rather persuasion disinterated and gave way to love and passion. Austen suggests that persuasion, like prejudice, is often a mistaken representation of the truth.

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  4. While I do agree with Polina that Austen is perhaps suggesting that persuasion is often misinterpreted as a representation of truth, I also think that Austen may be making a commentary on the idea of fate in association with love and relationships. To make a throwback reference to the days of Christina Aguilera (this is terrible and embarrassing) she sings, “They say if you love something let it go, if it comes back it’s yours, that’s how you know it’s for keeps…” Often a contrived “theme” in Austen’s novels, her heroines are always able to overcome domestic or economic hardships and by chance or happenstance marry their respective love interests in what appear, on surface level, to be fairytale endings. Perhaps, through the use of persuasion and passion, Austen is doing either one of two things: offering the idea that fate propels romantic relationships OR that the concept of destiny in terms of love is a false reality. Anne’s situation seems almost too good to be true; she denies her true love thanks to the influence of Lady Russell, yet eight years later Wentworth reappears not only in the same area as Anne, but with his sister residing in Anne's former home. Furthermore, Wentworth is still single, and fortunately has ascertained a large amount of wealth. The chances of all of these events culminating at the same time seem slim to none, yet Austen consciously chooses to craft her story this way. Is she proposing that the clichéd idea of love overcoming all obstacles is true, or is she producing stories that follow said formula as a means to critique societal thoughts and imaginations on love? I’m conflicted on my own thoughts as to what Austen’s aims were in creating such plot lines, yet she does seem to be offering the idea that fate trumps persuasion. Though Anne once shut Wentworth down because, as stated in previous posts, she relied heavily on the opinions of her literal and figurative parental figures, her error in judgment and ability to be so easily persuaded does not, in the long run, diminish their passion and impede them from ultimately getting together.

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  5. The fact that the act of persuasion is such a decisive role throughout the novel is extremely significant and does undoubtedly reflect the social standards in the historical context. Almost every character is persuaded in one way or another by someone else in their lives. There are no restrictions and while the focus is generally on Anne, even her father is easily persuaded as we see in the very first chapters. Because of their meager funds, Lady Russell and Mr. Shepherd are able to persuade Sir Walter not only to retire from Kellynch Hall but even to relocate to Bath over his preferred London. In conversation with Anne, Lady Russell remarks, “I hope we will be able to convince him that Kellynch Hall has a respectability in itself which cannot be affected by those reductions; and that the true dignity of Sir Walter Elliot will be very far from lessened in the eyes of sensible people, by his acting like a man of principle.” (Austen 13). Thus, even the vain and pompous Sir Walter can be persuaded to relocate by the artful Lady Russell who uses this vanity to her advantage and as a tool in her persuasion.

    As even the parents in the novel are able to be persuaded, it is not easy to say that they set the determination for one’s future. On the contrary, social standards seem to be the determining cause of all the characters’ fate. In the case mentioned above, it is not necessarily the persuasion of a superior or “parental” figure, but it is more so Lady Russell’s approach. She and Mr. Shepherd infer that Bath is a desirable and reputable place where they will be able to uphold their elevated status, as status seems to be one of the most important aspects of Sir Walter’s life.

    The characters persuade each other according to what is socially acceptable and desirable. In the case of Anne, she is convinced not to marry the love of her life because he in inferior in status and wealth; Thus, persuasion has trumped passion. Although at the close of the novel, Anne does marry Captain Wentworth despite her family’s lingering disapproval; yet this is only after a significant elevation in his material wealth. He has been successful as a naval officer and although lacing a baronetcy, he has elevated his status, thus he is more easily accepted by society.

    Historically, this novel seems to represent a nation that is in the midst of an epistemic shift. The characters seem to be stuck in between shifting ideals of what it means to be a respectable gentleman. This is embodied in the character of Wentworth; He lacks a dignified lineage, yet through marriage, education and wealth is able to have upward social mobility. As stated before, social standards determine the future for the characters and as social standards are changing, so is the eligibility of Wentworth. He transforms from completely ineligible to a gentlemen because he has transgressed his inferior birthplace through gaining wealth in the navy. It is not Anne’s passion but his newfound acceptability that makes him marriage material.

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  6. I agree with Briana's assessment that the majority of the persuasion of the heroine is based upon existing social standards and expectations. When Ann is initially persuaded into rejecting Wentworth, it is a result of the stigma that had existed for Naval officers before the war. As the novel is set during a time of great sociopolitical change in Britain, Wentworth begins to gain social standing of his own accord. I believe that in rethinking Wentworth as a potential husband Ann is merely being "persuaded" again by the new outlook on the Military.

    Although it may seem initially that Ann's marriage to Wentworth is an example of the heroine succumbing to her passion, I believe that this is never actually the case. She may have felt passionate feelings for Wentworth, but her eventual marriage is still a result of persuasion as much, if not more, than passion.

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