Persuasion by Jane Austen | Book Summary

Persuasion is the last novel fully completed by Jane Austen. It was published at the end of 1817, six months after her death.

The story concerns Anne Elliot, a young Englishwoman of 27 years, whose family is moving to lower their expenses and get out of debt. They rent their home to an Admiral and his wife. The wife’s brother, Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth, had been engaged to Anne in 1806, and now they meet again, both single and unattached, after no contact in more than seven years. This sets the scene for many humorous encounters as well as a second, well-considered chance at love and marriage for Anne in her second “bloom”.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

The story begins seven years after the broken engagement of Anne Elliot to then Commander Frederick Wentworth. Anne, then 19 years old, fell in love and accepted a proposal of marriage from the handsome young naval officer. He was clever, confident, ambitious and employed, but not yet wealthy and with no particular family connections to recommend him. Her father, Sir Walter, and her older sister, Elizabeth, maintained that Wentworth was no match for an Elliot of Kellynch Hall, the family estate. Lady Russell, acting in place of Anne’s late mother, persuaded her to break the engagement, which Lady Russell saw as imprudent for one so young. They are the only ones who know about this short engagement, as younger sister Mary was away at school.

The Elliot family is now in financial trouble. Kellynch Hall will be let, and the family will settle in Bath until finances improve. The Baronet Sir Walter, the socially conscious father, and daughter Elizabeth and her new companion Mrs. Clay look forward to the move. Anne is less sure she will enjoy Bath. Mary is married to Charles Musgrove of nearby Uppercross Hall, the heir to a respected local squire. Anne visits Mary and her family, where she is well-loved. The end of the war puts sailors back on shore, including the tenants of Kellynch Hall, Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia, who is the sister of Frederick Wentworth, now a wealthy naval captain. Captain Wentworth visits his sister and meets the Uppercross family, including Anne.

The Musgroves, including Mary, Charles and Charles’s sisters, Henrietta and Louisa, welcome the Crofts and Captain Wentworth. He tells all he is ready to marry. Henrietta is engaged to her clergyman cousin Charles Hayter, who is away for the first few days that Captain Wentworth joins their social circle. Both the Crofts and Musgroves enjoy speculating about which sister Captain Wentworth might marry. Once Hayter returns, Henrietta turns her affections to him again. Anne still loves Captain Wentworth, so each meeting with him requires preparation for her own strong emotions. She overhears a conversation where Louisa tells Captain Wentworth that Charles Musgrove first proposed to Anne, who turned him down. This is startling news to Captain Wentworth. Anne realises that Captain Wentworth has not yet forgiven her for letting herself be persuaded years ago.

Anne and the young adults of the Uppercross family accompany Captain Wentworth on a visit to two of his fellow officers, Captains Harville and James Benwick, in the coastal town of Lyme Regis. Captain Benwick is in mourning for the death of his fiancée, Captain Harville’s sister, and he appreciates Anne’s sympathy and understanding. They both admire the Romantic poets. Anne attracts the attention of a gentleman passing through Lyme, who proves to be William Elliot, her cousin and the heir to Kellynch, who broke ties with Sir Walter years earlier. On the last morning of the visit, Louisa sustains a serious concussion in a fall brought about by her impetuous behaviour with Captain Wentworth. Anne coolly organises the others to summon assistance. Captain Wentworth is impressed with Anne, while feeling guilty about his actions with Louisa. He re-examines his feelings about Anne.

Following this accident, Anne joins her father and sister in Bath with Lady Russell, while Louisa and her parents stay at the Harvilles in Lyme for her recovery. Captain Wentworth visits his older brother, Edward, in Shropshire. Anne finds that her father and sister are flattered by the attentions of Mr Elliot, recently widowed, who has reconciled with Sir Walter. Elizabeth assumes that Mr Elliot wishes to court her. Although Anne likes Mr Elliot and enjoys his manners, she finds his character opaque.

Admiral Croft and his wife arrive in Bath with the news that Louisa is engaged to Captain Benwick. Wentworth comes to Bath, where his jealousy is piqued by seeing Mr Elliot courting Anne. He and Anne renew their acquaintance. Anne visits an old school friend, Mrs Smith, who is now a widow living in Bath in straitened circumstances. From her, Anne discovers that beneath Mr Elliot’s charming veneer, he is a cold, calculating opportunist who had led Mrs Smith’s late husband into debt. As executor to her husband’s will, Mr Elliot takes no actions to improve her situation. Although Mrs Smith believes that he is genuinely attracted to Anne, Mrs Smith feels that his first aim is preventing Mrs Clay from marrying Sir Walter. A new marriage might mean a new son, displacing him as heir to Kellynch.

The Musgroves visit Bath to purchase wedding clothes for Louisa and Henrietta, both soon to marry. Captains Wentworth and Harville encounter them and Anne at the Musgroves’ hotel in Bath, where Wentworth overhears Anne and Harville conversing about the relative faithfulness of men and women in love. Deeply moved by what Anne has to say about women not giving up their feelings of love even when all hope is lost, Wentworth writes her a note declaring his feelings for her. Outside the hotel, Anne and Wentworth are reconciled, affirm their love for each other and renew their engagement. William Elliot leaves Bath, and soon afterwards Mrs Clay joins him in London as his mistress, so the danger of her marrying Sir Walter is avoided. Lady Russell admits she was wrong about Wentworth, and befriends the new couple. Once Anne and Frederick marry, he helps Mrs Smith recover her lost assets. Anne settles into life as the wife of a Navy captain, who is to be called away when his country needs him.

Cited From: Wikipedia

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