What do these two moments have in common?
1. Read up to Chapter 10 in Jane Austen’s Persuasion
2. Read my Lecture on Persuasion (try to read this before AND after the book so it makes sense and puts things in perspective) located at the bottom of this.
3. Write a 400-600 word discussion post answering any two of these questions (think about a paragraph answer each) (due Monday, 2/7):
What qualities seem to characterize Sir Walter, Elizabeth, Anne, Mary, and Lady Russell? How does Austen convey their characters to us?
How does each character view the need to move away from home? What do their views show us about their values? Whose values does the novel seem to endorse?
What social and historical changes are reflected in the Elliot family’s situation? Can we discern the narrator’s attitude toward these specific changes, and/or toward change in general?
At this stage, does it appear to you that Anne was right to refuse Wentworth? Was Lady Russell right to dissuade her from marrying him? Was it a legitimate exercise of authority?
Wentworth and Mrs. Croft discuss the propriety of having women on board navy ships. What light does this conversation shed on both characters? Overall, what assumptions about women or femininity does the novel seem to challenge, or not challenge? What assumptions about men or masculinity does it challenge, or not challenge? What values seem applicable to both genders?
Near the end of Chapter X, Anne witnesses the Croft’s “style of driving.” Is this a metaphor for their marriage? How do the Crofts compare to other characters or couples?
This section contains two memorable physical interactions between Wentworth and Anne . What do these two moments have in common? What do they reveal about the relationship? As a reader, do you find these scenes effective? Why or why not?
Brief Notes on Jane Austen’s Persuasion
Jane Austen, an English writer, is likely one of the most prolific—and popular—writers of the 18th-early 19th century. While she was not particularly popular during her lifetime, she was became wildly popular in the late 19th century. Most of her books focused on English landed gentry, a group of people who were wealthy and part of what we might call part of the “upper crust” of society. Some held minor titles, but they were not aristocrats or nobility.
Persuasion is a text that was published after her death by her brother Henry. Critics agree that Austen herself would have likely called the book The Elliots, but her brother’s title certainly brings to light one of the themes of the book. Readers across the world would call Persuasion her “most beautifully written” book with elements of humor, nostalgia, and melancholia. Others might call the book an active response to her opinion on marriage and love. While most in this social group would marry for wealth, “a name”, and to strengthen family ties, clearly Austen believes in love as the root of marriage as is shown by Anne and Wenworth’s eventual union. Most importantly, Austen wanted to convey how easily young folks were persuaded by others into even such important decisions like marriage—and how problematic that could be.
While clearly social rigidity and the effect of social persuasion are two key themes in the book, it’s also important to note that Austen’s novel was her first to pose a woman who was not exceptionally young as the main character. Anne Elliot, at 27, was considered “older” especially for marrying, and this is important as we look at Austen’s work as a feminist novel. Moreso, the fact that Wentworth was a man who was not an heir, but “self-made” is important in the changing landscape of social norms in the English gentry.
Literary and Historical Information helpful as you aim to understand Persuasion
Free indirect discourse (also called “free indirect style”): Austen pioneered this technique, which is now quite common; it was one of her most important contributions to the development of the novel as a genre. In free indirect discourse, the narrative adopts the perspective, sentiments, or ideas of a character, while remaining in the third person. Essentially, the narrative replicates the character’s thoughts or perceptions. The use of this technique allows us to see the character from the distanced, objective point of view of third person narration, while also seeing how and what the character thinks.
On the morning appointed for Admiral and Mrs. Croft’s seeing Kellynch-hall, Anne found it most natural to take her almost daily walk to Lady Russell’s, and keep out of the way till all was over; when she found it most natural to be sorry she had missed the opportunity of seeing them. (Persuasion, Norton p 22)
The passage reflects Anne’s thoughts and perceptions: her rationalization and then her regret.
Often, free indirect discourse leads readers to understand that the character’s perception is incomplete, erroneous, deluded, or based on faulty assumptions. In other words, free indirect discourse allows the reader to understand not only what the character is thinking or perceiving, but also what she is failing to think or perceive. For example:
Their house was undoubtedly the best in Camden-place; their drawing-rooms had many decided advantages of all the others which they had either seen or heard of; and the superiority was not the less in the style of the fitting-up, or the taste of the furniture. Their acquaintance was exceedingly sought after. Every body was wanting to visit them. (Persuasion Norton p 90).
Here we see the limitations and egotism of Sir Walter and Elizabeth’s style of thought. To the extent that we do not take these passages at face value (believing straightforwardly that they live in the best house), the narrative becomes “ironic” (we see more than the character sees; we gather a meaning that is at odds with what is literally stated).
In some of Austen’s other novels, such as Emma and Pride and Prejudice, the heroine’s perceptions are incorrect at first: we see that she is making mistakes, which she herself is later brought to recognize. In Persuasion, Anne’s perceptions are less frequently undercut: from the beginning, she has a higher degree of insight into herself than some of the other heroines, and her perspective is more closely aligned with that of the narrator.
Focalization: in a third-person narrative, when the narration is given from the perspective of a particular character, the narrative is being “focalized” through that character. The first example quoted above is “focalized” through Anne; the second through Sir Walter and Elizabeth (often lumped together as “they” in the novel).
Much of Persuasion is “focalized” through Anne. As a result, Anne has the most fully developed “internality” (we see more of her psychology and feelings).
In England, social class has always played an overtly important role in social life. From the establishment of the English monarchy in the Middle Ages through the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, class was almost inevitably determined by birth. You would belong to the social class into which you were born. The rise of capitalism in the eighteenth century produced both new “middle classes” and a greater degree of social mobility (both upward and downward). New opportunities for making money also meant that wealth no longer corresponded exactly with social class. A “nobody” like Wentworth makes a fortune in the wars; Mr. Elliot marries a “rich woman of inferior birth”; Sir Walter’s income is no longer adequate to maintain his aristocratic lifestyle on his country estate.
Marriage: During this period, marriage was an important tool of class mobility, and also social security, for both men and women. Since middle and upper class women had almost no job opportunities, marrying well was women’s main avenue for achieving domestic comfort and financial security. If a woman did not marry, she might remain in her parents’ household as a “spinster.” Single women with no other source of income might become governesses or companions in an aristocratic household, open a school, or try to write for profit (like Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and a number of lesser known women writers).
Women had very limited civil and legal rights. For the most part, their security depended on the good will of their male relatives. In some cases, a widow and her children could be evicted from the home they had occupied upon the death of the husband, who would have no legal means of protecting their financial future (this happens to the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility).
The British Baronage: The reigning monarch could bestow a title (Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron) and accompanying lands (“estate”) on a man. For example, if the King “creates you” Baron of Portage, the whole estate of Portage is now yours, and you are called Lord Portage. You also get a seat in the House of Lords, in Parliament. When you die, your eldest son inherits your title and estate; the rest of your children are mere commoners. Under most circumstances, women could not directly inherit property or titles (exception: a woman could inherit the throne). The eldest living son was always the heir, unless he committed an egregious crime and was legally “dispossessed.” In the absence of a son, an estate might pass to a younger brother of the deceased lord, a more distant male relative (such as Mr. Elliot), or in some cases to the husband of a married daughter. Legal restrictions governed how much of an estate one could sell. Austen tells us that “only a small portion” of Sir Walter’s estate is sellable (p 8), but estates could be rented out, often to “new money” (such as that of the Crofts).
You were not required to live on your estate. Most estates were located in rural areas. If you were wealthy, you might find the country boring and spend most of your time traveling abroad or living in your London “townhouse.” If you were going broke, like Sir Walter, you might find it cheaper to live in a spa town (Bath or Bristol), or on the continent (Paris or Rome).
These titles could only be inherited or granted by the monarch. However, in 1611 the monarchy created a new category: “baronet.” This title, which did not come with estate or seat in parliament, could be purchased for about £1000. It was a money-making
ploy on the part of the monarchy. Snobs would not consider baronets to be genuine nobility. It is therefore significant that Sir Walter (a baronet) takes his title so very seriously. Knighthood was (and remains) an honorary title bestowed by the monarch, ranking below baronet. Lady Russell’s husband was a Knight; having respect for traditional categories of rank, she therefore looks up to Sir Walter. Traditionally, the aristocracy lived lavishly on the fortune they had amassed from agricultural profits, generated by the dependent people who farmed their lands. In the 18thtand early 19th centuries, this older agricultural economy was replaced by a capitalist market economy—a shift facilitated by the industrial revolution. As a result, the aristocracy was, as Austen puts it, “growing distressed for money” (p 7). During the nineteenth century, the aristocracy engaged in various political maneuvers designed to protect its income, including the controversial Corn Laws (kept prices of domestic corn high and supply low) and “enclosure” (closing off and privatizing land that had been communally farmed). Other methods of trying to stay afloat included investing in domestic or imperial ventures (for example, buying plantations or gold mines in the colonies; investing in the East India company). The money economy was extremely volatile, and investments were risky (as illustrated by Mrs. Smith’s situation in Persuasion).
Gentry: This term generally referred to untitled but wealthy upper middle class families living in the country, who did not have to work for a living. Their fortune might have come from inheritance, marriage, or past success in business. Their estates were clustered around small villages. Like the aristocracy, they enjoyed luxuries and participated in a highly ritualized round of social activities, but typically spent most of the year in the country and did not quite parallel the aristocracy’s extravagant standards for entertainment, dress, or travel.
Middle Classes: Untitled men and their families who were or had been engaged in trade or the professions, but lived comfortably. During this period, successful middle class families often had more liquid funds than did the aristocracy. Once the money was made, the middle class often sought to ally themselves with the aristocracy, though marriage or purchasing an estate. However, the aristocracy looked down upon anyone who had been involved in trade, and resisted accepting the middle class into their social milieu. The codes of dress and manners became highly significant indicators of one’s class background, often preventing the middle class from “passing” in upper class circles.
Working Class: In Austen’s time, the Industrial Revolution was still predominately rural. Mills needed fast-running streams for power; the steam engine was not yet widely used. Railways were not yet widespread; transportation improvements centered on canals, steamboats, ships, and road travel (improving carriages and road surfaces). Ships, in particular, were a source of great national pride.
This was a period of high prices and low wages; the vast majority of the English population was living in poverty. But conditions were not as bad as those that came later, during the economic downturns of the 1830’s and 40’s.
Traditionally, it had been incumbent on the aristocracy to provide “welfare” measures for the peasants attached to their estates. The Lady of the Manor might, for example, send soup and medicine to a sick child living on the estate. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, however, the aristocracy had begun to abandon its traditional social responsibilities (something frowned upon throughout Austen’s novels). Among the upper classes, the problem of poverty was not widely believed to be solvable; it was not viewed as an issue that required action. The “Speenhamland System” was put in place, providing tax-based parish funds to supplement low wages, keeping workers at subsistence level. The system was inadequate but probably helped prevent the level of desperation that might have issued in revolutionary action on the part of the working class. In some cases, the rural working class protested
industrialization, engaging in demonstrations or “machine breaking.” These groups came to be called the Luddites. Fear of a working class revolution prompted exceedingly violent suppression of working class activism; for example, after 1812 tampering with machines carried the death penalty. Working class conditions did not significantly improve until the late nineteenth century.
One rarely sees the working class in Austen’s fiction, but one does see concerns with the moral and social responsibilities of the upper classes. Some critics see Persuasion as the novel in which Austen finally abandons hope for the reform of the aristocracy, and puts her faith instead into the new middle class (modeled by Wentworth and the Crofts).
Adapted from Edward Copeland, “The Economic Realities of Jane Austen’s Day” (in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, ed. Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997, 131-48.)
It is difficult to convert the British pound (£) of Jane Austen’s day into a 21st century American dollar value. However, one can arrive at an approximation by multiplying £1 x $80. In Persuasion, Austen rarely gives us exact sums of money, though she does so in her other novels. In Pride and Prejudice for example, Mrs. Bennett is understandably excited when Bingley moves into the neighborhood: “a single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year” (1). According to this formula, Bingley has an annual income of at least $320,000. Darcy, the wealthiest character in Austen’s fiction, has an income of about £ 10,000 ($800,000) a year, plus large assets (Pemberley).
In Austen’s day, much of the gentry’s annual income came from interest-earning investments. Money was most often invested in the “National Funds” (loosely comparable to today’s government savings bonds), earning either 4% or 5% annual interest. The money to be invested might have come through inheritance (for the true aristocracy: “old money” like Darcy’s) or from trade (for newly minted gentry: “new money” like Bingley’s). It was also possible to for men to acquire an annual “living” (salary) by being appointed to a permanent position in the government or the church.
Marriage Settlement: the sum of money a woman would bring to a marriage. The amount of investment capital a woman could contribute to a family was an important factor in her marriage-ability. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet has £1,000, which would bring only £40 per year in income (about $3,200). She certainly cannot live independently on this income, and must marry in order to have any security.
Servants and Carriages: In addition to their practical value, servants and carriages served as outward signs of a family’s wealth (or lack thereof). Sir Walter refuses Anne’s plan of retrenchment: “’What! Every comfort of life knocked off! Journeys, London, servants, horses, table…. No, he would sooner quit Kellynch-hall at once, than remain in it on such disgraceful terms’” (p. 10).
In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennets have an annual income of £2,000 (about $160,000), which is enough to maintain a carriage, though not enough for dedicated carriage horses (they must borrow the farm horses). Austen’s own family had £600 ($48,000), which was not enough to keep a carriage.
Without owning a carriage, you could still be considered respectable if you had at least one servant. Having no servants would be like having no furnace, no hot water heater, no dishwasher, no vacuum, no oven, no refrigerator, no lawnmower and no laundry machines. The fact that Mrs. Smith is “unable even to afford herself the comfort of a servant” (101) indicates her seriously impoverished state.
To keep a servant, you would need an income of at least £100, preferably £200. Having one servant would be comparable to living in a studio apartment that has hot water, a small stove, and a vacuum cleaner.
An income of £400-500/year enabled you to live comfortably. You could keep three servants and hire a boy to help with the garden (comparable to having a small house with a decent kitchen, central heating, and a lawnmower). You would have some leisure time to visit friends. You would not be able to entertain, keep a carriage, or travel.
On £2,000/year, the Bennets keep 6 women servants and 5 men, which is proportionate to their income. They probably have a cook, a housekeeper, two housemaids, a scullery maid, a footman, a butler, a coachman, a groom and stable boy, a gardener and a gardener’s boy (to care for the “small park”).
Darcy’s income would enable him to keep at least 26 servants, which would be quite necessary for maintaining a large estate like Pemberley. Some aristocratic estates required 40 or even 60 servants (!).
Parliament: During Austen’s time, the British parliament consisted of the Sovereign (head of
state), the House of Commons (elected statesmen), and the House of Lords (peers and high-ranking Anglican clergymen). The Prime Minister was selected and appointed by the Sovereign. Before 1832, only male Anglican (Church of England) aristocrats could vote. The Reform Act of 1832 granted the vote to male property owners (upper and upper middle classes).
Tory: Political party comprised mainly of aristocrats and country gentry who were closely identified with the Church of England. The party protected the commercial and political interests of the aristocracy against the rising middle class, as well as the working class, and strongly supported imperialism. The Tory party was consistently in power from 1793-1832. For the most part, Austen was Tory in her political views. This party later evolved into today’s Conservative Party.
Whig: Political party supported mainly by middle class landowners and merchants. This party asserted the interests of the middle class against the aristocracy, and upheld the power of parliament against the crown. In the early 19th century, the Whigs became identified with religious dissenters, the interests of industry, and the push for social and parliamentary reform. This party later evolved into today’s Liberal Party.
Radical: Stance of support for political, judicial, and social equality among all (or all male) citizens of a country, including advocacy for the rights of the working class. The “Chartist” movement, which advocated sweeping reform of parliament and the electoral system, began in the early Victorian period (1838), but did not succeed in winning the vote for working class men until 1867. The secret ballot was finally adopted in 1872, and women gained the vote in England in 1918.
George III, King of Great Britain, 1760-1820
George IV, the Prince Regent, became King in 1820 and ruled until his death in 1830. After his
death, the throne passed briefly to William and then to Victoria in 1837.
The Regency: This term refers to the period from 1811-1820, when George the Prince of Wales acted as monarch on behalf of his father, George III, who had gone mad. This was a period of political instability and uncertainty. Jane Austen strongly disapproved of the Prince Regent, who was something of a libertine, and felt he had mistreated his wife, Princess Caroline. However, he admired her work, and she was compelled to dedicate Emma to him.
Period Prime Ministers
William Pitt (Pitt the Younger), 1783-1801 (resigned)
Henry Addington, Viscount Sidmouth, 1801-1804 (replaced)
William Pitt (“second ministry”), 1804-1806 (died)
William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland, 1807-1809 (resigned) Spencer Perceval, 1809-1812 (died)
Robert Banks Jenkinson, Earl of Liverpool, 1812-1827 (retired)
The French Revolution: a more significant event in British history than the American Revolution, in part because France was just across the channel. The Revolution is usually dated from the “storming of the Bastille” (king’s prison) in 1789. A complicated and uneasy alliance of revolutionary parties aimed to overthrow the monarchy and institute a Republican system of government. The British had accomplished the same kind of change in the 17th century, executing King Charles I, abolishing the absolute power of the monarchy, and beginning a long process of shifting political power to an elected parliament. At first, the English supported the French revolutionaries. As the war went on, however, the tide of feeling turned. The French revolutionary parties included working class radicals who advocated the abolition of property rights, threatening the values of the English middle class. Fear of revolution spread in England, leading to harsh, repressive measures: habeas corpus was suspended, public meetings were prohibited, and advocates of even moderate political change were charged with treason. British radicals (including the Romantic poets) protested such measures, but even to them the war in France began to appear so bloody and chaotic as to be unsupportable. In 1793, British support for exiled (or executed) French aristocrats led France to declare war against Britain (and then Britain against France). This war ended with the Treaty of Amiens in 1802; however, Napoleon was crowned emperor in 1804, and the Napoleonic Wars ensued, lasting until 1815. Britain was also at war with the United States from 1812-15 (“War of 1812”). In short, Britain was at war for most of Jane Austen’s life, though Persuasion is the only novel that deals directly with war.
Napoleonic Wars: The military characters in Persuasion, including Wentworth and Admiral Crofts, had been fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. Wentworth was “made commander in consequence of the action off St. Domingo” (p. 18), a battle that took place in February 1806. We can infer that Wentworth probably fought in the Battle of Trafalgar (October 1805), an important sea-battle between the British Royal Navy and the combined forces of the French and Spanish navies, in which the famous Admiral Lord Nelson was killed. 1807-1812 were famine years in England, made worse by French economic embargoes.
When the novel opens in 1814, Wentworth comes home to England because France had been defeated (or so it seemed). Napoleon had abdicated on April 6, 1814, and was exiled to the island of Elba. Persuasion ends in late February of 1815: that is, just before Napoleon escaped from Elba and Britain once again went to war. The so- called “Hundred Days” began on March 1, 1815 and ended with the Battle of Waterloo in June, 1815, followed by Napoleon’s final surrender on July 15, 1815.
Persuasion reflects Austen’s admiration of the British Navy, in which two of her brothers had served. The British naval forces were crucial in protecting England from invasion by Napoleon. The wars also provided an opportunity for men like Wentworth to make their fortunes, particularly through capturing enemy ships. Thus, Admiral Croft remarks, “There comes old Sir Archibald Drew and his grandson. … Ah! the peace has come to soon for that younker” (112), meaning that the grandson will not have the same opportunity for financial advancement through his naval career.
British Imperialism: The British merchant presence in India in the early 18th c. was small and totally focused on trade. The British engaged in a genuine if self-interested attempt to maintain good relations with the Indians. Inter-marriage was common, and the British did not yet have a sense of moral or religious mission.
In 1754, British troops were deployed to India as a result of Franco-British rivalry in the region. At this point, British merchants and military leaders began to interfere in local politics for private financial gain. The British East India Company wielded greater and greater political power both in India and in England. The prospects of making a fortune in India became increasingly attractive to young men of limited means. Some politicians expressed moral concern about extorting the Indians, but were largely overruled.
By the 1790’s the whole Indian subcontinent was under British control. The “native” people were now denigrated, despised, and abused; the British “Raj” formed exclusive social circles. Less and less contact with the Indian people resulted in greater and greater bigotry, until the Indians occupied the status of animals in the British mind.
Church of England (“Anglican”): Conflicts between the Pope and the English monarchy in the Middle Ages led to the establishment of the Church of England in 1534. King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England, and Catholic practices were vilified and violently suppressed. His act roughly coincided with a broader movement in Europe for reform of the Catholic Church (“the Reformation”). In theology, the Church of England stands midway between Catholic and reformed (protestant) traditions, though it is almost identical to Catholicism in much of its liturgy and ecclesiastical structure.
The Church of England was very closely linked to the government. The monarch was “Supreme Governor” of the church; the monarch or his “peers” appointed the clergy; the clergy had civil authority and often held office. Bishops and Archbishops sat in the House of Lords, and almost always supported the monarch. A position in the Anglican clergy was accompanied by a house and an income (called “a living”). Entering the clergy was considered a socially respectable career for younger sons of the gentry or aristocracy: in Persuasion, Charles Hayter, for example, is a curate (p. 49.) Often, this career was planned for a son from an early age, not a result of choice or strong religious convictions. In the eighteenth-century, the British clergy acquired a reputation for idleness, social climbing, and indifference to their religious duties.
Dissenters (also called “nonconformists”): This category included Catholics as well as protestant sects such as Methodists, Quakers, and Unitarians—anyone who “dissented” from the official beliefs and practices of the Church of England. In general, the protestant dissenters objected to the need for an intermediary (a priest) between the individual and God. Some placed a greater emphasis on the personal emotional component of religious experience (Methodists), others placed a greater emphasis on reasoning and liberal social philosophy (Unitarians). Some of these groups were also influenced by John Calvin’s beliefs in predestination and in the bible as the sole source of truth. By Austen’s time, dissenters were no longer subject to imprisonment or execution, and were permitted to worship under certain regulations. But they did not have full civil rights, and were barred by the “Test Act” of 1673 from holding public office. In 1787, a controversial motion to repeal this act was introduced in parliament. The motion remained a “hot button issue” until it was passed in 1828.
Members of the new middle class were likely to be religious dissenters (in part because of the strong alliance between the Church of England and the aristocracy). As the middle class gained power, the stigma attached to protestant dissent subsided. Catholicism continued to evoke suspicion and prejudice in England throughout the nineteenth century.
Evangelicalism: a movement within the Anglican Church. Evangelicals placed greater emphasis on the personal emotional component of religious experience, and introduced a much stronger and more open expression of feeling into religious texts and services. Evangelicalism was increasingly connected to social reform movements, including the abolition of the slave trade (1807) and slavery (1833), and attacked the moral laxity of the appointed clergy and the peerage. Austen, whose religious practices were traditional and conservative, disliked Evangelicalism.