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All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.
—Anne Elliot, Persuasion
Jane Austen's last completed novel, published posthumously. A much more contained, simple story than some of her more popular novels, it has as its heroine Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old spinster. Keenly intelligent, sweet, and selfless, Anne was considered very pretty in her youth and fell deeply in love with a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, seven years before the novel began. However, she was influenced by family friend Lady Russell to reconsider her engagement with Wentworth on the grounds of imprudence — Wentworth being merely an ambitious young stripling with no social status, no money and no sure prospects. Anne was thus persuaded to break it off.
When the novel opens, Anne is much reduced: unable to find love after Wentworth, and having rejected a match without love, she has grown faded and isolated, and frustrated by the machinations of her grasping, petty-minded family. Her father Sir Walter Elliot having squandered their fortune trying to live up to his inflated conception of a baronet's prestige, the family are forced to lease out their estate Kellynch to the Croft family. In so doing, Wentworth is reintroduced to Anne's social circle — he is Mrs Croft's brother. It turns out that Wentworth is now a captain in the navy and has amassed a considerable fortune through prize money (the novel is set in a lull between engagements with Napoleon).
Anne is forced to realise that she is still very much in love with Wentworth — and that he still harbours deep resentment towards her.
Ironically enough, having established himself comfortably both professionally and socially, Wentworth now has nothing more to wish for than to settle down and marry. Anne is forced to stand by and watch as he focuses his attentions on her brother-in-law's sisters, who are seemingly as lively and strong-willed as Anne once seemed weak and inconstant... but appearances can be deceiving, and as the autumn wears on everyone has something to learn about tempering romance with reason.
Meanwhile, Anne's cousin William Elliot, who will inherit her family's estate upon her father's death, has insinuated his way into her family circle and seems set on courting Anne, much to Lady Russell's approval; after all, he is charming, correct, the perfect paragon of respectability... everything Wentworth wasn't, all those years ago. So why does Anne never feel like she really knows him?
Though short, Persuasion is a thoughtful treatment of lost love, family fidelity, ambition, gender differences, and constancy in spite of adversity. Written toward the end of Austen's life during the advent of her fatal illness, it is tempting to read some authorial self-reflection into the story, and especially into Anne's character. Regardless, it is a subtle, emotionally sophisticated, and deeply affecting novel.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Wentworth gets one of the most gorgeous in literature: "You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope..."
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Averted: both adaptations thus far make sure Anne is exactly as plain as she's described in the novel, despite Amanda Root and Sally Hawkins being very attractive actresses in reality.
- A Lady on Each Arm: Captain Wentworth with the Musgrove sisters, for a while.
- Black Sheep: Anne, in her family.
- The Captain: An abundance of them. Wentworth, Harville, Benwick, and (formerly) Croft.
- Cool Big Sis: Mrs. Smith to Anne in their schooldays after Anne lost her mother.
- Double Standard: Anne pointing out to Captain Harville that the reason all the poems and books he knows speak of women's inconstancy is... because all those books were written by men.
- Expy: Many critics, ex. CS Lewis, see Anne as a better-written version of Fanny Price.
- Foil: Louisa Musgrove
- Foregone Conclusion: Well, this IS an Austen novel...
- Green-Eyed Epiphany: Mr. Elliot's recognition of Anne's beauty at Lyme strongly contributes to the renewal of Wentworth's attraction to her, by his own admission.
- Happily Married: The Crofts
- Hope Is Scary: Wentworth confesses this when he realizes he might win her after all.
- Idiot Ball: It takes clear-headed and intelligent Anne Elliot much too long to understand that she is freely encouraging Mr. Elliot's attentions with her semi-flirtatious behavior during the walk in the rain and at the concert, when all such interactions between eligible men and women were put under a social microscope.
- Though it's possible Anne did have some slight attraction to Mr. Elliot and so did it subconsciously and when he made his feelings clear, she realized just what she was doing.
- He is also very charming and till Mrs Smith told Anne about his true character nothing to be worried about and he was genuine in his attraction to her. Also Anne is often ignored over Elizabeth so it's possible that she was enjoying the attention too much to realise the problem it would create with Captain Wentworth.
- Ill Woman: Anne's best friend Mrs. Smith.
- Impoverished Patrician
- I Regret Nothing:
Anne: I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Lady Russell's primary motivation in the final chapter for finally approving of the marriage is that it will make Anne happy.
- Kissing Cousins: Henrietta Musgrove and Charles Hayter.
- Licensed Games: It's one of the three Austen novels that gets mashed up in the PC game Matches and Matrimony; Captain Wentworth is one of the suitors that the player character can potentially marry.
- Love Dodecahedron: Mary's husband Charles was originally in love with her sister Anne, who is in love with Captain Wentworth, who flirts with Henrietta (whom Charles Hayter is in love with) and Louisa Musgrove, who eventually marries Captain Benwick, who also showed interest in Anne before Mr. Elliot did, and Anne's sister Elizabeth has always planned to marry Mr. Elliot, but he ultimately runs off with Mrs. Clay, whom Lady Russell and Anne feared had intentions of marrying Sir Walter Elliot. Whew — Austen, you really outdid yourself this time.
- Love Hurts: Basically the whole novel consists of this.
- The Matchmaker: Lady Russell — she has a similar success record to Emma Woodhouse.
- Missing Mom: Anne's mother is long dead before the novel opens.
- New Old Flame: Anne and Wentworth are this to each other.
- Old Retainer: The Musgrove's old nursemaid goes to nurse Louisa.
- The One That Got Away: Likewise.
- One Steve Limit: Averted with Charles Musgrove and Charles Hayter.
- Only Sane Man: Her family (both immediate and extended) being what it is, Anne gets to play this role a lot.
- Pair the Spares: Louisa Musgrove marries Captain Benwick.
- Parental Abandonment: Captain Wentworth was orphaned, which led to his staying with his brother, and so to his original meeting with Anne.
- Parental Marriage Veto: A Parental Substitute marriage veto, anyway. Lady Russell was an emotional stand-in for Anne's dead mother - and she did think she was acting in Anne's best interests.
- Playing Sick: Mary Musgrove, constantly.
- Plot Induced Stupidity: Even fans of the novel have trouble understanding how everyone except Anne loses the ability to function when Louisa Musgrove falls off the wall, especially since all of the men in the party are military men that have been to war.
- Poor Communication Kills: How fast does the rumor of Anne's engagement to Mr. Elliot spread, and to the people it can make the most miserable...
- Proper Lady: Anne
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Anne claims Lady Russell's advice was wrong, but she (Anne) was right to yield to the advice of a friend regardless. Wentworth doesn't contradict her.
- Regency England: The Napoleonic Wars provide the historical backdrop.
- Romantic False Lead: Mr. Elliot for Anne; Captain Wentworth also threatens Charles Hayter's relationship with Henrietta for awhile.
- And then there's the fact that half the book is spent trying to convince the reader that Wentworth has fallen in love with Louisa, which Anne is completely sure of until she is informed that Louisa is marrying Captain Benwick.
- Scenery Porn - The Georgian architecture at Bath in the adaptations is to die for.
- Self-Made Man: Wentworth perfectly exemplifies this trope, going from a young officer without status or fortune to a celebrated captain with the equivalent of several million bucks in today's money solely by working his way up through the ranks of the navy. He earns his position through his own merit — a marked difference from some of Austen's other romantic heroes like Darcy or Knightley.
- Fair for Its Day: It's not quite correct to class Wentworth as a 'self-made man' in the modern sense of having started from nothing. While promotions in the Navy were earned, to get in as a midshipman - the starting rank for an officer - you had to be put forward by the right people. Wentworth isn't a commoner, he was born into the family of a gentleman; the usual background for a midshipman was that of an Impoverished Patrician (see Mansfield Park for more detail).
- Sir Walter, however, objects to the navy in general as causing this.
- Settle for Sibling: Charles Musgrove did this.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: The Musgrove sisters — Henrietta has a reputation as the prettiest and gentlest of the two, while Louisa has a reputation for being stubborn, spirited, and lively.
- Suddenly-Suitable Suitor: the fact that "suddenly" takes seven years doesn't prevent this trope from occurring.
- Temporary Love Interest: Mr. Elliot and Louisa Musgrove for Anne and Wentworth - though it's half-hearted in both cases.
- The Unfavourite: Anne plays this role in her family, as she happens to be a lot less shallow and a lot more intelligent than her father or her sisters.
- Title Drop: People get persuaded to do stuff a lot.
- Weddings for Everyone: Three by the end.
- Will They or Won't They?: Don't worry. They will.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: These elements are peripheral, but they're definitely mentioned.
- Yamato Nadeshiko: Anne