Jane Austen’s novels are set in early 19th century England, and the main characters usually belong to a high rank in the “landed gentry,” such as a Baronet, Knight, Esquire, or simply a Gentleman. A woman in this society, regardless of her wealth or rank, had few rights. Women in England could not own land, so in the absence of a male heir, their father’s estate would pass along to the next closest male relative. So, many of Austen’s female characters rely on a good marriage match to be made for them (i.e. a good financially provident marriage match; love was of secondary importance). Women could, however, inherit someone’s fortune, which then sometimes made them an object of prey for some unrespectable men.
In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is the second daughter of three belonging to Mr. Elliot, a man as obsessed as he can be with his own good looks and rank in society, in that order (he is a Baronet). Anne’s mother died years ago, and she finds little comfort in her father’s presence and that of her older sister, Elizabeth, who is a carbon copy of Mr. Elliot. Anne’s younger sister, Mary is married to a man name Charles Musgrove. So, Anne is left to be the sensible one of the family, often relying on the advice of her mentor and mother’s dear friend, Lady Russell.
Anne is now twenty-seven, an age at which a woman was already considered an old maid. She once had an offer of marriage (eight years ago) from a man named Frederick Wentworth, but her father and Lady Russell both advised against marrying a man who was nothing more than a member of the Navy. Anne truly loved Wentworth, and she still wishes she would have married him. She has followed his career in the Navy and knows that he has made his fortune while rising to the rank of Captain.
So, when Sir Elliot’s debts force the Elliot family to rent out Kellynch Hall, their estate, they relocate to Bath (the last place that the simple Anne would like to spend her time). And just who is coming to rent and occupy their home? None other than Captain Wentworth’s sister and husband. Anne is both mortified and elated by this news, wondering but almost afraid to find out whether he still thinks of her as she thinks of him.
As the story progresses, Anne is thrown into the company of Captain Wentworth, but along with other younger eligible ladies in addition to an attitude of disdain from her former lover. Then, Anne meets a young Mr. Elliot, the man who is to inherit the Elliot estate upon the death of Anne’s father, and he shows great interest in her. If she were to marry this Mr. Elliot, she wouldn’t have to leave her beloved Kellynch Hall. The timing of the plot keeps the reader in suspense until the very last page, wondering which way the powers of persuasion will swing. Jane Austen uses plot twists to persuade the reader to keep reading to see which way the powers of persuasion will swing. I think that this novel gives Pride and Prejudice (my all-time favorite) a run for its money. The characters are just as exciting, real, and sometimes ridiculous. The plot moves a bit faster, and once again, Austen showcases not only the human tendency of trying to manipulate others for one’s own good but also the human tendency to achieve peace in life by being humble, loving, and kind.