Thoughts on Persuasion by Jane Austen

I finished Jane Austen’s Persuasion almost a month ago now, and I’ve been putting off writing my thoughts simply because I didn’t like it.

Before you attack me with incredulity, you should know that I read it in the midst of stressful and busy time of year, during a whirlwind trip to my grandmother’s funeral, and as I was also reading War and Peace in a rush. I honestly don’t think I was in the mood for Jane Austen at the time. I need to reread Persuasion, and will do so in a few months, before I read Mansfield Park.

Saying that, here are some comments on why Persuasion ddin’t work for me. I found some discussions questions online to respond to. This is not a “normal” post for me, but as I’ve said, I fully intend to reread Persuasion in a few months and give it another chance. I hope I can write a more “normal” post about it at that time.

This post contains spoilers of Persuasion.

1.    Is Anne Elliot Austen’s most perfect heroine? Do you like a perfect heroine?

Are you serious? Are we supposed to like Anne Elliot?  I thought she was anything but “perfect” and rather weak. She sat there and didn’t say anything for most of the beginning. Yes, she got a bit stronger as the book progressed, but at the end, she was still the silent stoic type. I don’t like that type. I much prefer the gutsy, honest Eliza Bennett.

2.    Is Wentworth Austen’s most perfect hero?  Are you persuaded that his entanglement with Louisa Musgrove was unintentional? What do you suppose the impact of Anne’s presence as spectator had on his attentions to the Musgrove girls?

How on earth was Wentworth a hero? It seemed to me that because Anne was visiting with the Musgroves he was trying to make her jealous by flirting with them. He wanted to see a reaction from Anne, and he didn’t seem sincere until the very end

Confession: Before I began reading, I knew that Amanda from The Zen Leaf didn’t like Wentworth, so I wonder if that colored my reading of his character from the start? Given all that was going on in my life when I read this novel, I wonder if I gave him a fair chance to prove himself.

3.    Mansfield Park is a book that seems to regret change, to value stasis, and the traditional. What about Persuasion? What values do the men of the navy bring to the society of the book? What value is placed on titles and the aristocracy? Is the society of Persuasion in flux? Does Austen approve of its direction?

I have not yet read Mansfield Park, so I can’t comment on that one, but I did think Austen was commenting on the ridiculousness of the aristocracy. Sir Walter was a ridiculous man, and I liked how by the end Anne was the only one of the Elliott’s who did not look ridiculous. Away with aristocratic silliness!

4.    In a particularly famous passage Anne Elliot says that men have had the pen in their hands when assigning strengths and weaknesses to the sexes. Now that the pen is in Austen’s hands, what does she use it to say about men and women?

Austen is saying that men are just as fickle as women, that women can be just as consistent in their love. Each gender has similar strengths and weaknesses. Although, that said, it does seem Austen finds the men more ridiculous. Interesting coming from her perspective.

5.    Captain Wentworth has doubts about the marriage of Captain Benwick and Louisa Musgrove. How do you rate their chances of happiness? Will they be happier than Charles and Mary Musgrove?

Charles was on the rebound. I don’t think they’ll be any happier than Mr and Mrs Bennett. But then, how many relationships described in Austen are happy? Although her books are all about hooking up, the marriages depicted in the midst of the stories all seem rather doomed or miserable.

6.    In Bath Anne begins to believe that Wentworth still cares for her. Why can’t she simply tell him she is uninterested in Mr. Elliot? Does this drive you nuts? Would you say something to him if you were Anne? Is it still the man’s job to pursue, the woman’s to be pursued?

This is what drove me crazy about Anne. I hated how she just let things be. Even at the end where I’m supposed to find her a stronger woman, I thought she was weak and stupid for just remaining silent. Again, I wish she were the Elizabeth Bennet of the novel. But no, she was the silent type, waiting to be pursued. Blah!

7.    Explain the title.

Apparently, Austen died before naming this novel. I’m not sure about the title. Wikipedia’s commentary on Persuasion says Austen was fascinated by the import that other people’s persuasions had on a young woman’s decisions. I can see the implications in the novel: Anne’s family convinced her not to marry Wentworth, Wentworth had to be persuaded that Anne still loved him.

8. Unlike Austen’s other heroines, Anne is almost entirely isolated. She lacks close sisterly relations, friendships or respectable mentors. She is instead relegated to role of listener, advisor, patient carer, alienated from her own family where her word has no weight (“she was only Anne”), she is a quiet heroine (“her convenience was always to give way”) and she moves from community to community. Do you ever just want to tell Anne to stop being so self-sacrificing, already, and just tell everyone that Captain Wentworth was in love with her once? And, to apologize to him and be reconciled?

Yes! This may be the reason I disliked her. Maybe this goes back to the previous question: Is she too “perfect”? But no, I don’t think never considering yourself is strong or perfect. I think it’s a fault.

9.      Who is your favorite non-Anne character? Least favorite? The one you love to hate?

I don’t think I really liked any of the charcters in this novel.

10.  In all of her novels, Austen casts a gentle, satirical eye on English society. In Persuasion, her gaze seems more critical: what might she be saying in this work about rank and property—and about the possible rise of a middle class?

I think this is the reason I did keep reading: I find the development of class in England to be fascinating (and I just read a Gaskell novella that likewise explores the issue). Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliott were old school upper class, while the navy men were new middle class, self-made men. Austen obviously find the old school ridiculous. I liked her subtle commentaries.

And finally, I found this comment somewhere:

It is a love story that starts in the middle.

I didn’t like this about the novel. I wanted to fall in love with Wentworth, I wanted to see why they loved each other. And I couldn’t see any of that, since it started years after that initial attraction. Instead, I didn’t see any attraction. I was disappointed.

Maybe upon my reread (which I’ll do at a less stressful time!), I’ll see more of the attraction and the humor. Maybe I’ll find the characters less frustrating and more honorable. Maybe I’ll see Anne Elliott as a selfless woman getting stronger.

Maybe I won’t dislike it next time.

What classics were you disappointed to dislike? Do you think  Persuasion will improve for me on rereading?

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Well said. I agree. I need to reread it but don’t really want to. I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gaskell (or rather listening) but I’m in a bit of an Austen fix.

  2. I also didn’t enjoy Persuasion, I didn’t find that enough happened and I agree with what you said about Anne. Her relations with Wentworth didn’t really go anywhere and that happened for too long. I’m reading Villette at the moment that I’m also finding disappointing, with Lucy being weak not dissimilar to Anne.

    I read Persuasion at an ok time for me so if you weren’t keen on it first I’d say that might not change.

    1. Charlie, I guess the “not going anywhere” relationship is realistic, but yeah, it was too slow for me too! I haven’t read Villette yet, sorry to hear it is somewhat like PERSUASION. Sorry to hear this book might not change for me. I wanted to LOVE all of Jane Austen!

  3. Wow, this is my favorite Austen!! I really love it. I think one of the reasons I love it so much is just the idea of waiting and hoping and desiring that is finally fulfilled by the end.

    You do bring up some good points, but I do hope you enjoy it better on a re-read sometime!

    1. 1morechapter, I think it’s so interesting that people either love this one or not! from the comments, it doesn’t seem like there is much in between. I guess I just felt that Anne didn’t do enough for herself — sitting around doesn’t usually get you want you want….

      I do hope I enjoy it more next time too!

  4. Sorry it didn’t work for you- it’s actually my favorite Austen, with my least favorite being Pride & Prejudice- I think I have exactly the opposite reaction to Elizabeth Bennett! such a goody-goody. I like Austen’s less perfect heroines- they’re more like real people. I think it’s fine to say you don’t like Anne but it’s hard to fault a character because they’re not a different character. Elizabeth Bennett in this book would have done EVERYTHING differently- she probably wouldn’t have been interested in Wentworth at all, LOL.

    1. Marie, I don’t think I dislike Anne because she’s not Elizabeth Bennet. I dislike her because she came across as weak and boring, and completely non-self-serving to a fault. I find it interesting that you see Elizabeth Bennett as a goody-goody. I love her because she’s faulty: judgmental, rude, outspoken, and generally not a goody goody! How strange that we see the characters in such opposite ways! (I didn’t like Wentworth at all either, so maybe that’s why I couldn’t see him as a romantic interest!)

  5. Persuasion is my friend Leah’s very favorite Austen, which is somewhat surprising to me but I haven’t read it in so long that I can’t really comment. HOWEVER, Leah’s sister Rose read Persuasion on Leah’s recommendation and also disliked it. In response, she wrote a series of haikus on how Pride & Prejudice is better. Enjoy.

    have read Persuasion
    respected you less each page
    Anne and Wentworth suck

    reads like a rough draft
    Anne is blah Wentworth is too
    Elizabeth wins

    main character weak
    Persuasion didn’t persuade
    better luck next book

    how can you like best
    no dialogue and no spark
    Bennetts’ are better

    personality
    where is it in Persuasion
    Darcy can spare some

    Pride and Prejudice
    sins show personality
    Persuasion shows none

    

    1. Emily, I love the poems. So very in line with my reaction. Interesting that many of us find PERSUASION to be full of personality-less characters…While others just LOVE it.

  6. I’m sort of glad to hear someone else say they didn’t think Wentworth was a hero, even if you knew I thought that before you started. I do wonder what you’ll think on reread. Funny thing is, I didn’t really dislike Wentworth the first time I read the book. It was only a few years later when I thought back on all his actions that I really started to grow angry and resentful towards him.

  7. I have to admit Persuasion is one of my favorites. I like it because the characters aren’t perfect. I relate to Anne a lot – I was a pushover often as a teen and couldn’t bring myself to speak up often, so when she finally did I was inspired. Wentworth, definitely not a hero, but a guy who has faults, but we can still love him. I am really glad you noted that part of your reason for not liking it is due to stuff going on when you read, since I just posted about mood affecting what we think of books. Definitely it will improve on second reading, but probably not a ton (hey, the things you mention will still be true). Great analysis though!

    1. melissa @ 1lbr, I was a quiet teen too. I wonder if I’d have liked it better when I was younger? I guess I never really felt like I knew Wentworth, so I kept wondering why he was a romantic interest…

  8. (Sorry for the double post.)

    I used to not like Anne and Persuasion, but the book has grown on me over the years. I thought it read a lot like a rough draft and would have be much more polished has Austen been able to finish it. The commentary on class divisions is the best part of the book, I think.

    1. Christina, I think you make a fair point. It really need more depth to it. Maybe Austen only had the plot outline and was going to flesh out the characters, details, personalities more. Disappointing we’ll never know.

  9. I didn’t think much of Persuasion at all on first reading it in college close to 20 years ago. It was just kind of boring. But when I reread it a couple of years ago, I fell in love with it. I don’t think I like it more than P&P, but it ranks pretty highly among Austen’s for me. What I love about it is the idea of getting over our past mistakes and having a second chance. I think it’s knowing what a terrible mistake Anne made (and spending years brooding about it) that makes both Anne and Wentworth so reticent to make a move. It makes sense to me (and I can relate to it as well). That scene with the letter kills me, just kills me.

    1. Teresa, I’ll definitely have to revisit it. I’m glad to hear it improved for you at a different stage in your life. All the things you point out are things to try to enjoy about it next time.

  10. It’s been ages since I read Persuasion, I need to give it a reread and see what I think. I didn’t know that Jane Austen didn’t give this one its title! I wonder what she’d have really called it.

  11. I’ve actually gotten more and more interested in Persuasion as a novel. Anne lives in a world where the role of unmarried women is extremely circumscribed and I always hate the position into which she is forced. But I really don’t hold that against Austen. And the idea of writing about a mature (in years) woman was fairly remarkable for its time, I think.

    Have you seen an film/tv version of the book? There are two that came out very recently and while they are very different from each other, both struck me as excellent. You might enjoy trying them out.

    1. LifetimeReader, I haven’t watched the movies yet. I may have watched one in high school, because as I read, I had this image in my mind of a woman sitting and looking a window, reading a letter…..

      I do need to give the context more consideration as I read.

  12. Even though you didn’t have a great experience with Persuasion, your post makes me want to reread it! I just downloaded it so I can read it on my ereader 🙂

  13. I can’t wait to hear what you think about Persuasion after you’ve reread it. Maybe you’ll like it more?

    I’m a big Austen fan, and, while Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite, I liked Persuasion well enough. I thought Anne was a more subdued heroine, because Jane Austen was a little older when she wrote Persuasion.

  14. Most of the Austen fans I know are absolutely nuts about Persuasion, especially the letter, and I admit, somehow that made me like it less! I wrote on my blog recently, about how I began thinking that until the endings of most of Austen’s novels, the ‘heroes’ are sort of jerks sometimes. Then suddenly, ta-da, here’s a beautiful letter, I’m not bad after all! It’s a very sudden change and I think it’s a bit unrealistic. I know people can change, but Wentworth deliberately ignores Anne and is resentful, but nobody pays attention to that because of the letter. I’d never thought of Anne being weak and passive before (but it’s a good point), I thought she was the portrayal of this perfect person (which is perhaps a bit annoying). The thing I do love about Persuasion is the autumnal mood of it, it feels very elegiac, especially on their autumn walk and the poetry Anne thinks of.

    I also don’t think it’s fully finished, all of Austen’s other later novels, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma, are all about 400 pages long, while her early novels, Northanger Abbey and S&S, plus Persuasion, the last one, are closer to 200 pages. I wish it would have been longer and more developed and I’ve often thought that a movie version of it should start with a brief scene of their previous courtship, just to show the intensity and meaning of it!

    1. Carolyn, I think starting with the previous courtship would take away some of the depth of the in medias res (spelling?) but I’m with you on wanting it to be more polished. I have a hard time seeing Anne as a sample perfect heroine, just because I felt she was too passive. But I’m with you on Wentworth at this point.

  15. I have to admit to not caring for Persuasion that much either. I don’t necessarily dislike the book, but it’s certainly not my favorite Austen. I think it’s odd that many people consider it more literary than her other works – I think the writing is actually weaker. My main issue was simply not liking Anne. She annoyed me and just seems so weak. She lets others control her destiny and doesn’t seem capable of acting on her own. I know that was probably Austen’s intent – to show that a woman in that society isn’t really free to act as she wishes – but since the person persuading her would have probably given in if Anne had stood up to her this just didn’t work for me. I’ve never had an issue voicing my opinion though, so perhaps I just don’t understand what it’s like to be that way! I agree that Elizabeth is much more likeable and her weaknesses are much more relatable to me. I think the comment about her being a goody-goody is funny – I see Elizabeth as having a troublesome streak and Anne as a goody-goody!

    1. Lindsey, I’m with you on Elizabeth NOT being a goody-goody. And your thoughts on Anne are similar to mine. Actually, I have found it interesting hearing ALL of the thoughts about Anne. We all see her a bit differently and some like the things I consider faults, and vice versa. I love these discussions. Will help me have a more open mind upon my reread.

  16. Wow, what a lot of comments this post generated! I think it’s interesting you set through the points of why you don’t like it, to justify yourself 🙂 I haven’t read it for almost ten years now (yikes!), I think, but I remember loving it SO MUCH when I did. I don’t know if it will have the same effect on me now as it did then.

    1. Aarti, oh, I don’t think I was justifying myself, I was just trying to put my emotions about the novel into words so I’ll be able to revisit it. Especially since so many people have commented, like you, that they LOVED IT SO MUCH when they read it.

  17. I loved this book and actually rank it near the top of my all-time favorites. I appreciate your honest thoughts about it, though. I felt like it was a more mature love story, being about second chances and all and having been written shortly before her death. I wish Austen would have included more about Anne and Wentworth’s initial relationship; not necessarily starting the book there, but giving more than just they were engaged and then broke up. I love Wentworth, but I think I was understanding of his actions, thinking about how hurt he must have been after their engagement ended and wondering how I would feel in his position. People who loved and have been hurt do stupid things sometimes, and no one is perfect, so I am pretty forgiving of the flaws in their personalities. I would have liked to see Anne before; maybe their break up was part of the reason she was so timid. It certainly gives you a lot to think about and discuss!

    1. Anna » I think the lack of details about their relationship was what was hard for me. I just never felt I understood them as “in love” so I missed the entire obsession with Wentworth himself….I will need to reread it. I rank P&P as one of my favorites, so I guess Austen has disappointed me because none of the others are that book…not fair, I know.

  18. I liked Persuasion the first few times I read it, but now, I hate it. Its popularity doesn’t even make sense to me; readers as a rule have shown that they (foolishly) hate works that advocate duty, propriety, reason, and goodness over passion and the insane lengths passion drives people to, yet they praise Persuasion while continuing to berate other novels that do the same, like Mansfield Park.

    I started disliking the novel when I realized the resolution is a complete cop-out. The book is an awesome tale of a woman learning that standing by someone through the trials of a difficult engagement and/or marriage without vast, limitless wealth is still preferable to trying to live practically and logically without them because true love makes life without your other half unbearable… and then advocates the exact opposite at the end! In Chapter 4, Anne regrets her decision and has learned she was wrong to yield to the persuasion to break the engagement. In the 2nd-to-last chapter, she tells Wentworth explicitly that she does not regret breaking up with him, that yielding to her best friend was her “duty” no matter how wrong the advice in question, and that she “would have suffered more” had she stayed engaged to him “because I would have suffered in my conscience.” If she were in a truly horrible moral situation like Jane Eyre or Helen Huntingdon where entering a relationship would be completely wrong, I could understand that sentiment, but the only moral issue at stake is respecting the opinion of a friend! Being unwilling to risk the displeasure of a friend with your marriage to someone you truly love *is* “weak.” Anne’s “I have nothing to reproach myself with” speech undermines everything about the book’s awesome portrayal of undying love because, apparently, a woman’s “duty” to “submit” (Anne’s own words) trumps everything. The book ultimately goes out of its way to acquit Anne of any wrongdoing requiring character development; she is perfection and did the right thing, not because it was prudent or practical or reasonable, but because it was a woman’s “duty.” Ugh!

    So I don’t blame you. 😉

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