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Persuasion and resolve
The pros and cons of persuasiveness
Although Jane Austen did not give Persuasion its title, it's a fitting one for a novel that probes the meanings of this concept. Austen's use of a wide variety of nouns and verbs related to the idea of persuasion and constancy indicate she had a broad understanding of the concepts and their effects on individuals and society. She shows that persuasion is an inherent part of communication that can be used for good or ill.
The most obvious meaning of persuasion is when someone is influenced by someone else to do or think something. The chief example of this in the novel is when the young Anne is persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Captain Wentworth. Anne suffers a great deal, although it is primarily her sense of duty and prudence, not her weak will, which lie behind this decision. There are other instances of persuasion:
- Anne sometimes uses her own influence on others to good effect. For instance, she cajoles Mary off her sickbed to eat, get up and feel well enough to take a walk (Ch. 5)
- Anne often persuades herself to think things that keep her emotions under control
- Vanity makes people like Sir Walter vulnerable to the persuasive flattery of people such as Mr. Shepherd and Mrs. Clay. This is probably why Anne has no persuasive power over him, as she does not use flattery.
After being hurt by Anne's decision not to marry him, Captain Wentworth seeks out a strong-willed woman. However, when Louisa's strong will drives her to jump off the Cobb, Captain Wentworth reconsiders the value of compliancy. Also negative is Elizabeth's stubbornness in not listening to Anne when she tries to convince her of Mrs. Clay's threat to Sir Walter (Ch. 5).
However, there are positive examples of resolve:
- Anne's ability to resist persuasion to marry Charles and William Elliot are signs of her growing confidence
- It is Anne's resolve that enables her to keep her head in a crisis, as at the Cobb
- The constancy of the hero and heroine is upheld and duly rewarded.
As Anne says, persuasion can ultimately be judged good or bad depending on the outcome (Ch.23 / Vol. 2, Ch. 9).
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