Persuasion

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Persuasion Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Anne renews her acquaintance with a former school friend, Miss Hamilton. Lately widowed, the now Mrs. Smith had married a wealthy man whose death left her impoverished. In addition, she has been crippled from a severe rheumatic fever and has arrived in Bath for health reasons. Unable to afford even a servant, she is excluded from society.
Mrs. Smith is the first impoverished character in the novel, and she illustrates the extent to which women are dependent on numerous factors (primarily men) for their health, wealth, and rank. Further, as an impoverished and crippled widow, she is a social pariah.
Themes
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Inequality Theme Icon
The twelve years since they last saw each other have transformed Anne from a blooming, silent girl to an elegant woman with gentle and kind manners, while they have transformed Mrs. Smith from health and confidence to poor, infirm widowhood. She now sells needlework for a living and attended by a nurse, who brings her gossip. Nonetheless, Mrs. Smith’s trials have not dispelled her good sense and spirits. Anne marvels at her resilience and attributes her joy to an “elasticity of mind,” which enables her to find comfort, positivity, and employment even in the midst of hardship.
As women in patriarchal England, both are indebted to factors outside of their control or merit for their current situation. Mrs. Smith was once wealthy, married, and healthy; her fall in fortune has precipitated from the disaster of her husband’s death and illness. Yet Austen also suggests that elasticity of mind such as Mrs. Smith’s may cultivate resilience in all circumstances—another tribute to the virtue of flexible dispositions over fixed wills.
Themes
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Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Inequality Theme Icon
When Anne turns down a dinner invitation with the Dalrymples because of a previously arranged visit to Mrs. Smith, Sir Walter and Elizabeth discover their renewed friendship with disdain. They feel such a connection to be degrading.
That Sir Walter and Elizabeth include Mrs. Clay in their intimate circle but scorn Mrs. Smith, both widows, reveals a degree of inconsistency and lack of discernment in assessing good company, privileging wealth merely for wealth’s sake.
Themes
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
Lady Russell later reports to Anne that Mr. Elliot displayed the highest regard for her during dinner. He finds her a most extraordinary young woman, and admires her compassionate visits to Mrs. Smith. Lady Russell has become convinced that his interest is in Anne, not Elizabeth; she is greatly pleased by the suitability of such a match and would love to see Anne succeed her mother as Lady Elliot of Kellynch Hall. However, while Anne finds Mr. Elliot agreeable and sensible, she distrusts his past; he is neither open nor warm, and is too generally pleasing to everyone.
Lady Russell’s persuasive power over Anne has diminished with time, as Anne in her maturity trusts her own discernment more. Although the pull of duty and love embodied in the vision of holding her mother’s aristocratic title is still strong for Anne, she also perceives qualities in Mr. Elliot that make her reluctant to marry him.
Themes
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
Persuasion Theme Icon
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