Thursday, April 3, 2014

Persuasion by Jane Austen

The Elliot family (Sir Walter, a widow and 3 daughters; Elizabeth, Anne and Mary) are a respected, titled landowning family.  Mary is married to a wealthy man (Charles Musgrove) and Elizabeth and Anne are single.  Sir Walter loves his lavish lifestyle and has brought his family into massive debt with his overabundant spending. A friend convinces him that he must rent out his estate and relocate to a less expensive town (Bath) and a smaller house where his expenses will be less in order to save the financial situation of his family. Sir Walter rents his house to Admiral and Mrs. Croft, wealthy Navy people who earned their wealth rather than inherited it unlike Sir Walter.  Mrs. Croft is the sister of Anne’s former love.  Anne, now 27 was in love at age 19 with Captain Wentworth. They were engaged, but Anne was persuaded by family and friends that the Captain was not of “high enough consequence” and not rich which lead to Anne breaking off the engagement and regretted the decision for 9 years.  During that time, Captain Wentworth worked hard in the Navy and growing in both status and wealth.  After several meetings and finally discovering that they both still loved each other, Anne and Captain Wentworth renew their engagement.

Marriage and family
Having a historical setting of early 1800’s England, the plot involving an early marriage society perfectly coincides with the themes discussed in the class this semester. The theme of marriage and family is ever present in the novel, specially encompassing the issue of influence between marriage and family members. A potential spouse with a title and money was deemed superior to a mate without these things and family members felt an obligation to ensure their daughters, sisters, son, etc would marry someone of equal status. Sir Walter did not feel that traits such as; good character, hard work, good sense, or independence that Captain Wentworth possessed and dismissed him as a husband for his daughter Anne, even though they loved each other.  It was not until Captain Wentworth came back a wealthy Navy man that Sir Walter considered him and gave Anne his blessing.  Another facet is how much weight should a person give to others opinions when deciding who to marry in the early marriage society.  In 19th-century England, Anne followed the norm of the day and broke off her engagement to the Captain whom she loved because family and friends persuaded her to do so.  She was raised in the traditions of the wealthy titled family and though it was difficult because she loved the Captain, she followed her sense of duty, allowing herself to be influenced by her family and friends, rather than to her heart.  This leads to another facet of marriage and family—that of the plight of a single woman in 19th century England.  Women of the upper middle class didn’t have many choices---marry an approved man or become a spinster.  Anne, still single at age 27 was considered unlikely to marry due to her age.  She would not inherit from her father because she was a woman and therefore was doomed to a dismal future. Another facet of the marriage and family theme of the book is looking at an unconventional marriage that Admiral Croft and his wife had.  Typically the man would be responsible for things outside the home with the woman taking care of running the household and taking care of the children.  The Admiral and Mrs. Croft did things differently with Mrs. Croft sailing with her husband and the Admiral sharing the chores when they were home. 

In Persuasion, Jane Austen examines the topic of marriage and family through the looking glass of the upper middle class in Old England.  We see that tradition and the way in which a person was raised greatly affected the decision that Anne made to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth. She sees in the 9 years until she meets him again examples of marriages that work and don’t work—her sister’s difficult marriage, the good example of marriage in the Croft’s, the unsavory nature of marriages made for social gain in the events involving Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay, the Musgrove sister and Anne herself when she is pursued by her cousin William Elliot the heir to Sir Walter’s estate and title.  By the time she reconnects with the Captain at age 27, she is wiser, more mature, knows what she wants even though she may not have the approval of her friends and family, but she knows that her heart is the most important factor.  

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