Structure by plot

A Cinderella story

CinderellaOne of the basic underlying structures of Persuasion is that it follows the outline of the Cinderella story:

  • Anne Elliot is the heroine, alienated and unappreciated by her family, expected to be a helper of others
  • The Ugly Sisters are Elizabeth and Mary who only notice and use Anne to benefit their own ends
  • Although Lady Russell loves Anne, and is shown to possess some admirable qualities, she functions as the wicked step-mother, since it is her influence which has resulted in Anne's unhappiness
  • Mrs. Croft, of whom Anne senses she is a favourite, is the fairy godmother. Although she does not actively reintroduce her brother to Anne, they would not have met again if Mrs. Croft had not moved into Kellynch
  • Like Cinderella, Anne goes against social standards and the expectations of her family in marrying Wentworth.

The heroine becomes active

Cinderella is essentially about what is done to a passive protagonist. In Persuasion, Austen shows what can happen when Cinderella stops being the tool of others;

  • Unlike Cinderella, in the end Anne takes an active role in securing her prince
  • She uses her intuition and good sense to help her decide whom she should marry, rather than a glass slipper.

The appearance of the anti-hero

Anne's relationship with Captain Wentworth anchors the plot, but as with all Jane Austen's novels there are two suitors competing for the heroine. Their appearances and interactions with Anne add to the structure of Persuasion.

Although William Elliot is mentioned beforehand, Anne does not meet him until the middle of the novel. His appearance is well-timed:

  • Elliot's initial looks of admiration towards Anne at Lyme prompt an admiring glance from Wentworth (Ch. 12)
  • Although we never doubt the constancy of Anne's love for Wentworth, Mr. Elliot's manners and charisma provoke enough interest from her to set him up as Wentworth's competitor for her affections
  • Mr. Elliot is referred to, or appears, in each of the last eleven chapters of the novel
  • Jane Austen ensures that enough interactions occur between Anne and Mr. Elliot in Chapters 3-8 of the second volume, to support the ‘look and manner of the privileged relation and friend' that sparks Wentworth's jealousy (Ch. 19 / Vol. 2, Ch. 7)

As with Wickham and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, or Willoughby and Col. Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, Mr. Elliot's interactions with Anne provide a complete contrast to Captain Wentworth's. It is the heroine's role to discern the true worth of each suitor's character:

  • While William Elliot converses with Anne in a smooth and agreeable manner, Wentworth is awkward around her and his speech often falters
  • William Elliot finds it easy to dissemble, but Wentworth is not able to feign what he does not feel
  • Anne finds William Elliot difficult to fathom, but she already knows Wentworth well as someone who operates with consistent integrity.
Investigating Anne's suitors
  • Make a list of any further parallels and contrasts you can find between Wentworth and Elliot
    • Compare these aspects with other Austen suitors
      • What moral patterns emerge?
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