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?