Places: Persuasion

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1818

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedKellynch

Kellynch. PersuasionElliot family estate in southwestern England’s Somersetshire, where the novel opens, with the spendthrift baronet Sir Walter Elliot reading the “Elliot of Kellynch-Hall” entry in a list of baronets. Jane Austen rarely describes buildings in any physical detail and devotes scarcely a single word to Kellynch Hall itself. The house can, however, be imagined to be a fairly impressive structure, probably a manor house dating back to the seventeenth century, as the Elliots are an “ancient and respectable family.”)

During Austen’s lifetime, the country gentry–prosperous landowners living on estates similar to Kellynch and serving as local landlords and civil magistrates–constituted the backbone of English society. However, Sir Walter, selfish, shallow, hopelessly vain, and near financial ruin, is forced by his circumstances to rent out Kellynch Hall and move to less expensive quarters in Bath. In so doing, he forsakes his social responsibilities as manor lord, leaves his tenants to fend for themselves, and makes of Kellynch Hall and its “deserted grounds” a kind of socially purposeless derelict that his daughter Anne can only think of in pain.

Uppercross

Uppercross. Musgrove family estate, located three miles from Kellynch Hall. It includes both the Great House that is the home of the elder Musgroves and their daughters, Henrietta and Louisa, and Uppercross Cottage, the home of Anne’s sister Mary and her husband, Charles Musgrove. The senior Mr. Musgrove is very much an English squire in the traditional sense–one of which Austen approves. His estate is well managed, prosperous, and generally happy. At the same time, however, Uppercross is in the midst of ongoing renovation. Uppercross Cottage (“elevated” from a farmhouse) now sports a “veranda, French windows, and other features. Even the Great House’s old-fashioned parlor has been modernized to such an extent by Henrietta and Louisa that its paintings of Musgrove ancestors seem “to be staring in astonishment.” Austen, a social conservative in most ways, nevertheless recognizes that change, when undertaken within reasonable limits, is both a necessary and a healthy process. The Musgroves change, and their estate thrives; Sir Walter does not, and Kellynch is left barren.

*Lyme

*Lyme. Dorset town on the southern coast of England, some twenty miles from Uppercross. Well known as a seaside resort and for its Cobb, a massive stone breakwater enclosing its small harbor, Lyme becomes the temporary home of Captain Harville and his family. When Anne visits Lyme, she is impressed both with the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside and with the “picture of repose and domestic happiness” within the Harville’s small house–a telling contrast with the cold, vacant grandeur of Kellynch Hall.

One of the novel’s key events occurs on a walking tour in Lyme, when Louisa Musgrove is badly injured in a fall from the Cobb. Significantly, Austen’s descriptions of the local landscapes in this section of the novel, with an emphasis on “high grounds” and “dark cliffs,” are among her richest and most deeply felt, suggesting an imaginative identification with nature that would seem to connect her with her literary contemporaries, the Romantic poets. Certainly, Anne’s appreciative response to Lyme’s natural beauty points to her own reawakening after eight years of heartbreak and emotional dormancy–a reawakening outwardly symbolized by her renewed “bloom.”

*Bath

*Bath. Early nineteenth century England’s premier resort town, located near Bristol, about fifty miles from Kellynch Hall. Named after its famous hot springs, which are supposed to have curative powers, Bath is fashionably elegant and offers a lively social agenda, including theatrical performances, concerts, dances, and the Pump Room, in which visitors can drink its famous water.

Bath was attractive to most classes of English society, but Anne’s impoverished friend Mrs. Smith can only afford to live in Bath in a humble way, “almost excluded from society.” Anne herself, however, sincerely dislikes Bath, as did Austen (who is said to have fainted when she found that her family was to move there in 1801). She finds little there but despair: The rain seems unending; the streets are crowded, muddy, and full of mindless clamor; and her snobbish family’s evenings are often passed “in the elegant stupidity of private parties.” Only the presence of the Crofts (the admiral hopes that “taking the waters” will help his gout) and, later, Wentworth, makes life bearable for her.

BibliographyDwyer, June. Jane Austen. New York: Continuum, 1989. Dwyer offers readings of each of Austen’s major novels, including Persuasion, and in separate chapters discusses the writer’s life and her literary techniques and concerns.Gard, Robert. Jane Austen’s Novels: The Art of Clarity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Gard writes what he calls a corrective to criticism that has moved readers too far away from the texts of Austen’s novels into theoretical concerns. His chapter on Persuasion discusses Austen’s mature ability as a novelist.Johnson, Claudia. Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Johnson considers the political dimension of all Austen’s novels, showing how the writer integrates her own voice and views subtly within texts that seem conservative on casual reading.Kirkham, Margaret. Jane Austen, Feminism, and Fiction. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Kirkham places Austen’s work within the feminist tradition, showing that the writer’s concerns are those of her feminist contemporaries. She includes a chapter on eighteenth century feminism. The chapter on Persuasion shows how Austen uses the novel as a feminist critique of society.Paris, Bernard J. Character and Conflict in Jane Austen’s Novels: A Psychological Approach. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1978. Analyzes the characters of Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth and makes a case for Persuasion as Austen’s most romantic novel. Evaluates the roles played in the novel by such secondary characters as Lady Russell, Mrs. Musgrove, and Mrs. Croft.Scott, P. J. M. Jane Austen: A Reassessment. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble Books, 1982. Contains a full assessment of Persuasion, which the author sees as the culmination of Austen’s work. Examines the egotism and idleness of the entire Elliot family save Anne.Tanner, Tony. Jane Austen. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. Examines Austen’s novels in relationship to society, education, and language. Shows Persuasion to be a new form of novel for Austen in that it is a negation of her previous works; the action arises from Anne Elliot’s denial of her love for Wentworth.Thompson, James. Between Self and World: The Novels of Jane Austen. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988. Considers late eighteenth century views of courtship and marriage in Austen’s novels. Shows Persuasion’s place in the Austen canon which, as a whole, revolves around reading or interpreting the sentiments of others.Todd, Janet, ed. Jane Austen: New Perspectives. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1983. Nineteen essayists explore Austen’s novels from varying perspectives, most of them inspired by poststructuralist theory or feminist ideology. Recurring themes are highlighted; each of the major novels is discussed in at least one essay.Williams, Michael. Jane Austen: Six Novels and Their Methods. Houndsmills, England: MacMillan, 1986. Williams examines Austen’s means of shaping her novels; a chapter is included on each of the six major works, including Persuasion; Williams believes that its complex plotting and characterization give the novel a richer texture than those of earlier works by the novelist.
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