Persuasion was written between August, 1815 and August, 1816, the last novel fully completed by Jane. It was published at the end of 1817, just six months after her death. All of Austen’s novels revolve around a relatively small, elite social microcosm of eighteenth century English society, social pecking order are keen observations as to the pretensions of all who consider themselves superior to others by virtue of perceived status, wealth and privilege. Persuasion is centred around the lives of three sisters, Elizabeth, Ann and Mary, the daughters of widower, Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall, his wife, Lady Elizabeth having died some 13 years previously. The family boasts some minor nobility, but has fallen into financial straits caused by Sir Walter’s lavish spending in order to ‘keep up appearances’. Austen introduces us to Sir Walter, a man for whom “vanity was the beginning and end of [his] character” by confirming that his favourite book is Debrett’s Baronetage, a chronicle of the titled families of England, and, most importantly to him, records The Elliot’s aristocratic heritage. ‘Rank is rank,’ Sir Elliot opines to Anne in Persuasion, explaining why the company of her father’s cousin, the vacuous Lady Dalrymple, and her awkward daughter is important. (ch. 16).
Kellynch is leased to the newly rich Admiral Croft and his wife and the Elliots, namely Sir Walter, his two unmarried daughters and godmother, Lady Russell, decamp to Bath, where he believes he can retain some grandeur of lifestyle and status. As coincidence would have it, the brother of Admiral Croft’s wife, is the recently returned from foreign shores, Navy Captain, Frederick Wentworth, once engaged to Anne some several years prior, in 1806. Now they meet again, both single and unattached, having had no contact since the engagement refusal. Captain Wentworth is Austen’s prototype of the ‘new gentleman.’ Maintaining the good manners, consideration, and sensitivity of the old school courtesies, he adds the qualities of a self made independence and bravery honed as a serving man in the Napoleonic wars. Learning that Ann declined an offer of marriage from Charles Musgrove, now married to the self absorbed and hypochondriacal Mary, Frederick’s interest is once again piqued.
Whilst the eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is deemed the family beauty by her father, her haughty pretentiousness leaves much to be desired and the youngest, Mary, equally the snob, is already married. Anne, the middle daughter, is kind, thoughtful and self effacing, but already 27, which was certainly passed the customary ‘marriageable’ age. The termination of the relationship with Wentworth, then only ranked as a Commander, had been driven by Lady Russell, who stepped into a maternal role on the death of Ann’s mother and it is her ‘persuasion’ that to be engaged at 19 to “a young man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, … uncertain profession, and no connections.” was less than Ann deserved. Now, as fortune would have it, they meet again. What happens next? Watch this delightful 1995 version, starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root, and see the plot unfold against the glorious backdrop of Bath.