Jane Austen's Persuasion: Summary & Overview

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  • 0:01 About Jane Austen
  • 0:34 Persuasion Plot Summary
  • 4:28 Important Aspects of…
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Herrin

Michelle has taught high school and college English and has master's degrees in eduation and liberal studies.

Learn about Jane Austen's final novel, 'Persuasion,' which was finished just before her death in 1817. We'll examine the plot of this novel and talk about its most important literary elements.

About Jane Austen

Jane Austen was an English novelist best known for her novels criticizing the social institutions of her time, such as marriage and wealth. Some of her most famous novels include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and the novel we'll be talking about today, Persuasion. Persuasion was a novel written in 1816 and published after Austen's death in 1817. Let's review the plot of the novel and its most important literary devices.

Persuasion Plot Summary

The main character of the novel, Anne Elliot, is a 27-year-old 'spinster' who is intelligent and warm. Her father, Sir Walter Elliot, is a very vain man who, though a baronet, holder of a hereditary title, finds himself in dire financial straits and in risk of losing their home, Kellynch Hall. Anne has an older sister, Elizabeth, who is silly and also unmarried. Their anxious younger sister, Mary, is married to Charles Musgrove of Uppercross Hall, the son of a local squire, or village leader.

Anne was once engaged to a sailor, Captain Frederick Wentworth, but she broke off the engagement because her family and friends disapproved of the match. Because of her father's spending, the family must rent out their home to Captain Wentworth's sister and brother-in-law, Sophia and Admiral Croft. Sir Walter and Elizabeth move to the resort town of Bath, while Anne remains at Uppercross with Mary and the Musgroves, Charles's family.

Captain Wentworth appears in Uppercross to visit his sister and interacts with the Musgroves, and, inevitably, Anne. Anne's feelings toward Captain Wentworth are complicated, and he is distant with her at first. Charles's sisters, Henrietta and Louisa, flirt openly with Captain Wentworth, and everyone is sure he will marry one of them, even though Henrietta is already engaged to Charles Hayter, a local clergymen, and her cousin.

The group takes a trip to Lyme, a city by the sea, to visit one of Captain Wentworth's old shipmates, Captain Harville. While there, Anne meets Captain James Benwick, a dark man who recently lost his fiancée. Anne and Captain Benwick share a similar love of poetry and become friends. In Lyme, Anne also briefly meets Mr. William Elliot, her cousin and the heir to Kellynch Hall. Anne's flirtation with both men is noticed by Captain Wentworth, who continues his own flirtation with Louisa. One day, Louisa is joking around with Captain Wentworth and has a serious fall, which results in a concussion. She has to stay behind in Lyme to recover, and Captain Wentworth, who blames himself for encouraging her, stays with her, while Anne travels to Bath to be with her father and sister.

In Bath, Anne reconnects with Mr. Elliot, who is there to seemingly reconcile with Sir Walter. Elizabeth thinks Mr. Elliot is in love with her, but Lady Russell, a long-time family friend, knows that he is in love with Anne. Anne, however, does not like Mr. Elliot and is suspicious of him.

Sophia and Admiral Croft also come to Bath and tell Anne that Louisa is engaged to Captain Benwick, which surprises and also relieves Anne, who believed Captain Wentworth and Louisa would marry. Captain Wentworth arrives soon after and tries to renew his friendship with Anne, although he is jealous of Mr. Elliot's flirtation with her.

Anne also visits an old school friend who lives in Bath, Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith tells Anne that her husband's debt and eventual death was caused by Mr. Elliot. Mrs. Smith cautions Anne that Mr. Elliot's real interest in coming to Bath was not to reconcile with Sir Walter but to ensure he did not marry again and, perhaps, produce a son and cheat Mr. Elliot out of his inheritance.

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