Persuasion Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss the significance of the title "Persuasion." Which instance of persuasion could be in question—and what does the novel say about the it?

    One of the most importance instances of persuasion occurs "before" the novel, when Anne is persuaded by Lady Russell to reject Captain Wentworth's marriage proposal. At the end of the novel, Anne suggests that the decision was not so bad in retrospect. In a novel that often shows one's persuasions to be mistaken, however, such retrospective reasoning remains suspect.

  2. 2

    Why do the Sir Walter and Elizabeth tolerate and even support Mrs. Clay?

    It is ironic that Sir Walter speaks of Mrs. Smith so dismissively and yet reserves praise for Mrs. Clay. Although the Elliots are a respectable family, their financial troubles have made them insecure. For this reason, perhaps, they are unable to see the true form of Mrs. Clay, an unabashed sycophant.

  3. 3

    Most of the novel is set in autumn and winter. What role do the seasons play in the novel?

    When the Musgrove party visits Lyme, Anne indulges in the romantic pleasure of reciting poetry about "that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness" (56). It appears ironic that she recites such poetry while Captain Wentworth and Louisa grow more intimate by day. But the season itself becomes a device of dramatic irony, as Anne and Captain Wentworth are reunited in winter — the least romantic of all seasons.

  4. 4

    The Elliots are in many ways a troubled family. Are their troubles specific to the plot of the novel or do they suggest a larger story?

    The Elliots have their own specific troubles: the lack of money, to begin with, and the lack of a proper heir (both in the sense that Sir Walter has no male children and in the sense that Mr. Elliot lacks integrity). More generally, however, the upper class are often portrayed in a satiric manner, whereas the men of the navy are all praised highly. The novel thus appears sensitive to the changing times and the shift of social power in England.

  5. 5

    Sir Walter shows contempt for the navy officers who are born with no distinctions and make large fortunes at sea. Evaluate his perspective from a modern point of view.

    Modern society is generally suspicious of those who make their fortunes through legacy and nepotism (from Sir Walter's perspective, men who have a "right" to their fortunes). And yet, modern society also renounces the colonial exploitations that made the British navy so rich. Captain Wentworth's fortune is honorable from Anne's perspective, but not necessarily from ours.

  6. 6

    What is the effect of narrator's free indirect discourse? Whose perspective does it appear closest too?

    The narrator's perspective is very close to Anne's, but the free indirect discourse allows for a "distancing" from her thoughts. This distancing allows Austen to develop the great subtlety that marks Anne's character.

  7. 7

    Men of society, such as Sir Walter and Mr. Elliot, view the navy men as lacking in polish and refinement. Do the naval officers in the novel corroborate or disprove this view?

    With the possible exception of Captain Wentworth, all of the naval officers are characterized by more openness and less politeness than the men of society. Even if they lack "polish" in a strict sense, however, they are by no means incapable of great finesse. In different scenes, both Admiral Croft and Captain Harville seem to intimate subtly to Anne that a marriage to Captain Wentworth might still be desirable.

  8. 8

    What is "polite" in the context of the novel? What connotations does the word carry?

    What upperclass society values is closer to politesse than politeness. Anne, for one, does not think highly of such formalized etiquette. Her initial objection against Mr. Elliot is that he is too polished. The scene in which Sir Walter and Elizabeth arrive at the White Hart in Bath is also telling of how formalities become oppressive.

  9. 9

    Lady Russell is an extremely sensible woman and a good friend to Anne, yet she does not understand Anne's attachment to Captain Wentworth. Why might this be?

    Lady Russell's apparent fault lies in her attachment to family and fortune. More importantly, however, she is not disposed to change her ideas and opinions — perhaps her Achille's heel. Her persuasions are at once too firm and lacking in moral authority.

  10. 10

    Everyone is surprised by the news of Captain Benwick's engagement to Louisa. The engagements serves an important role in the plot of the novel, as it prompts Captain Harville and Anne to dicuss the nature of attachment, which in turn prompts Captain Wentworth to write his love letter to Anne. How else might the engagement be seen or understood?

    After receiving news of the engagement, Anne speculates about the how an attachment could have formed between the very different Captain Benwick and Louisa. On the one hand, Louis was probably moved by Captain Benwick's kindness as she recovered; and on the other hand, Louisa probably filled the gap left by Fanny Harville in Captain Benwick. In the larger scheme of the novel, however, the engagement also counterbalances Anne's marriage to Captain Wentworth. The wheel of fortune is at play in Louisa's case, whereas the opposite is true in Anne's.

  11. 11

    The novel opens with Sir Walter reading from a book. Many of the characters are in fact readers. What is the significance of reading? Why do they read and what effect does reading achieve?

    Reading cultivates the mind and deepens one's sensibilities — at least, one would think. Yet Mary and Captain Benwick are both readers; Mary is not particularly enlightened, and Captain Benwick's romantic readings do not lead him to remember Fanny Harville for a very long time. The most "successful" readers, at least ostensibly, seem to be Captain Wentworth and Sir Walter, who take pleasure in finding their own names in print. Perhaps there are different "types" of reading in the microcosm of the novel.