2022 book club

may book

Persuasion by Jane Austen

historical · literary · romance | 200-300 pages

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen's most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?


next club meeting date: Thursday, June 2 @ 7:30pm

discussion questions (spoilers):
  1. Persuasion is Austen's last completed novel and was only published posthumously. It is often described as "autumnal," and sometimes as a work over which debilitating illness and approaching death has cast a pall. Do you see Austen's own shadows in the book?
  2. In a letter, Austen described Anne Elliot as "almost too good for me." Do you find Anne "too good" to be true? Is her goodness cloying and sentimental? Or is her goodness something different—an integrity combined with strength and acceptance? How do you see the heroine of this novel?
  3. How are Anne Elliot’s values displayed through her words and actions? Is Anne Elliot a passive or an active character? Does Anne become more independent near the end of the novel?
  4. The characters are subject to different types of persuasion. Who is persuaded by rank/class/family connections? Who is persuaded by self-interest? Who is persuaded by self-importance? What distinguishes good uses of persuasion from bad ones?
  5. The characters are constantly on the move in Persuasion (from Kellynch to Uppercross to Lyme to Bath, etc). How do the rural or urban surroundings affect what’s happening with the story and character?
  6. What does the navy represent in the novel? Compare and contrast the two worlds of the novel: the aristocracy and upper class on one hand and the British navy on the other.
  7. Does Wentworth go through a process of self-discovery? Does he change? If so, how?
  8. How would the novel be different if we got the story from Captain Wentworth’s point of view? What effect does focusing on Anne’s perspective have on the way we get the story?
  9. 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?
  10. At the end of the novel, Anne’s family is somewhat more accepting of Wentworth than they were the first time she wanted to marry him. Have they changed, or has Wentworth changed (or both)? What are these changes, and why do they make a difference?

    Questions adapted from here, here, here, here, and here.

member reviews/GIFs


The Office facepal GIF - Michael Scott pinches the bridge of his nose in exasperation.



Anne Elliot watching through the hedgerows.



Persuasion is thus far my favourite of the Jane Austen I've read (which also includes Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and half of Pride and Prejudice—the one I can't seem to finish). When I first encountered it, the book struck me as surprisingly relatable, funny, and finely tuned to appeal to me. Despite the fact it begins with a lengthy description of Sir Elliot's vanity, it generally sticks close to Anne's perspective, giving us an intimate portrait of her thoughts and feelings. Which is why it is an exquisite torture to read about her and Captain Wentworth occupying the same room, eight years removed from their broken engagement. For “there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.”

Anne is sometimes described as "too good" a heroine. In our discussion, the consensus seemed to be not that Anne was especially good—though she is intelligent, attentive, thoughtful, etc.—but that she acted reasonably while surrounded by unreasonable, silly people: her family. Her attentiveness is matched by Frederick's: he removes a child from around her neck and puts her into a carriage when she's tired from walking. He admires her, acknowledges how capable she is when Louisa is injured. Anne and Frederick aren't Lizzie and Darcy; they don't banter. They like each other so much, and even when they are broken up, they have mutual understanding and respect between them.

A romance in which all the "getting to know you" is essentially over and done with before the book begins has huge appeal for me. I am more interested in the "us" than in the individual characters in any romance—I want to see who they are together. In one of my more recently-published favourites, A Discovery of Witches, I don't find it particularly convincing that Matthew and Diana fall in love so quickly, hardly knowing one another. Yet, once it is understood that yes, they're in love, they're inseparable, blah blah blah, the whole second book, Shadow of Night, is spent testing their relationship and seeing how they build a life together. A family together. I bring this up because so many romances begin when the characters meet and end when they commit to one another, but there are so many other stories to tell. What happens after a breakup? What happens during a marriage? These are the questions that drive my curiosity.

And I mean...that letter!