Engaging with the text

Working with a literary text, whether it be a novel, play or poem, requires more than simply reading it and knowing ‘what happens' or what it is ‘about'. If you are to write good essays and be successful in examinations, it is important that you should engage with the text – in this case Persuasion – as deeply as possible.

Reading and working with Persuasion

  • Remember the kind of novel that Persuasion represents – that it tells the story of a woman whose bloom has faded during the eight years following her refusal to marry her true love. She endures the pain of separation from him, knowing it was the result of giving in to persuasion. She has to experience eight years of sorrow and isolation before she learns to trust and act on her own instincts, in order to become independent of her family and find happiness with him
  • Allow yourself time to become accustomed to the language: the novel was written almost two hundred years ago and linguistic forms have inevitably changed, so don't worry if you read slowly at first
  • Put yourself into the novel: try to imagine what it might be like to be Anne, isolated and unappreciated within her own family, or Captain Wentworth, returning much wealthier and with more professional status, looking for a wife who will live up to his ideal woman, as embodied in Anne herself
  • Set aside time for reading: identify blocks of time when you can read without interruption
  • Make notes as you read: this is the best way of keeping your reading alert and active – note down such things as the relationships between people, perhaps in a diagram form, and the locations of various parts of the story
  • Make links with other books, films or TV programmes with similar plots and themes – about the return of a lost love and the enduring nature of love.

Get to know the text   

  • Read Persuasion at least twice: this is essential if you are to develop a well-informed response to the novel
  • Follow up advice on reading given by your teacher or in study guides.
  • BUT don't rely on plot summaries
    • They tell you nothing about language and style
    • They don't identify themes and motifs in the text
    • However detailed, they are intended as reminders not substitutes
  • Read the text in different ways; once you have a firm grasp of the overall narrative you may wish to
    • Re-read a particular section, such as Louisa's fall or Anne's conversation with Captain Harville
    • Concentrate on a theme or motif, such as society and the individual, or books and reading
    • Trace the development of a character, or a relationship between characters - such as Anne and Sir Elliot or Mr. and Mrs. Croft.

Know the complete text

This requires a separate section because examiners often report that students know the start of a play or novel well, but not the end. Classroom study often emphasises the beginning of a book or play, where the author introduces characters, themes and imagery, and is then less detailed about the remainder of the text. So:

  • Do not ignore the impact of significant scenes or episodes in the later chapters of Persuasion
  • Remember that themes, motifs and images may be developed and modified as the book goes on
  • Remember that characters change and develop and that the reader's attitude towards them may also change.

Keep a record of your reading

  • Make notes under headings, with page references to particularly useful passages
  • For major topics, you may find it helpful to have separate pages: one for Anne, say, or for Lady Russell, or for ideas about the use of settings:
    • But don't let your notes become too separate and take care to comment on links and relationships
    • Use specimen essay questions to give you ideas for headings for your notes.
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