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Themes and Colors
Status and Social Class Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Persuasion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Persuasion, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Marriage Theme Icon

Written in the last years of Austen’s life, Persuasion is arguably the author’s most mature and sober marriage plot. The novel critiques the heady impulses of youth displayed by Louisa Musgrove in favor of the more quiet and prudent considerations of Anne Elliot in matters of marriage and romance. For women, who were often barred from owning property and faced significant limitations in employment, marriage was particularly critical as both the expected social norm and the often necessary means of attaining financial security and social status. Even the arrogant and beautiful Elizabeth Elliot, who is secure in her fortune and her father’s love, finds herself unsettled and anxious over becoming a spinster at the age of twenty-nine; nonetheless, her pride rules out all potential suitors and she remains the only single Elliot daughter at the novel’s conclusion.

Unlike many of Austen’s other novels of youthful first romance, the focal drama of the narrative revolves around Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, whose early romance was ended under the persuasion of prudence, yet which rekindles seven years later after deeper consideration and appreciation of their suitability for each other. The passing of these seven years also changes the reality of Anne’s marital prospects (she’s no longer young) and perspective, even as it renders this novel one of Austen’s more mature narratives. At the same time, Anne’s prudent concerns about social class and wealth in marriage by no means disappear during these years, yet the passage of time allows Wentworth to rise to Anne’s fortune and status. Nonetheless, those concerns are put into perspective, as Anne and Wentworth’s match is ultimately one of developed love and recognition of each other’s merits—Captain Wentworth, in particular, learns to prize the very prudence and humility that he once resented in Anne.

Austen’s view of marriage is both romantic and realistic, prudent and nuanced, rather like her character Anne. Austen in the novel illustrates how marriage is an agent of social change for both men and women. Options are influenced by the characters’ status and class (as when characters reject or pursue matches to consolidate their social standing), even as marriage also influences status and class. Sir Walter Elliot approves of his daughter Mary Elliot’s marriage to Charles Musgrove, because he regards the latter as from the best family in the county second only to his own. Yet although Sir Walter Elliot believes Mary’s lineage places the advantage of the match to be on Charles’s side, we see that Charles’s superior good nature and patience with his wife’s pettiness render the real advantage to her: Austen affirms the greater importance of character qualities over status in marital happiness.

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Marriage Quotes in Persuasion

Below you will find the important quotes in Persuasion related to the theme of Marriage.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Anne Elliot, with all her claims of birth, beauty, and mind, to throw herself away at nineteen; involve herself at nineteen in an engagement with a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and no connexions to secure even his farther rise in that profession; would be, indeed, a throwing away, which [Lady Russell] grieved to think of! . . . It must not be, if by any fair interference of friendship, any representations from one who had almost a mother’s love, and mother’s rights, it would be prevented.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Lady Russell
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Austen describes how Lady Russell, the close friend of Anne's late mother, endeavors to break off a possible marriage between Anne and her lover, Captain Wentworth. Wentworth was a likable, talented man, but he was also relatively poor, and didn't have a reliable career track--therefore, he wasn't a suitable match for Anne. Lady Russell loves Anne, but she thinks of herself as a businesswoman, one could say: her goal is to ensure the survival of Anne's family name and reputation, and to ensure that Anne is provided for over the course of her entire life. Wentworth, with his low income and uncertain future, can't give Anne what she deserves.

Austen gives us a great example of "free indirect discourse" in this passage. Austen is writing in the third person, but she's clearly writing from the point of view of one of the characters, namely Lady Russell (you can almost hear her voice, offering excuses for breaking off the engagement). The effect of this free indirect discourse is to give us a window into Lady Russell's mind: we see that she's a sincere character who genuinely loves and is looking out for Anne, even if she's perhaps a little too reliant on the myths of aristocratic superiority--and if her role of motherly "persuasion" ultimately ends up hurting Anne.


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More than seven years were gone since this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close, and time had softened down much, perhaps nearly all of peculiar attachment to him,--but she had been too dependent on time alone; no aid had been given in change of place . . . or in any novelty or enlargement of society.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Austen summarizes the significance of Anne's failed engagement to Captain Wentworth: over the seven years that have passed since Lady Russell broke off all possibility of their getting married, Anne has grown rather despondent. When she met Wentworth, she was a young, energetic woman--now, because she's been stuck in the same place surrounded by the same people, she feels dull and tired. She's mostly gotten over Wentworth, but nobody else has come along to propose to her, and so she's beginning to despair that she'll never find a husband.

The passage is a sad reminder of the limited options available to women during Austen's lifetime. Anne is clearly a bright and intelligent woman, but her current purpose in life is to get married to a talented, wealthy man, perpetuating her family's genealogy and assuring that she'll be provided for as she grows older. As a result, Anne is imprisoned in the same place, forced to watch as her sister gets married and her own beauty fades. As ever with Austen, it's not clear what, exactly, Austen would do to help Anne if she could, but there's still an undeniable sadness that hangs over this passage, suggesting that Austen sees the injustice of Anne's situation, and of all English women's situations.

Anne, at seven and twenty, thought very differently from what she had been made to think at nineteen.—She did not blame Lady Russell, she did not blame herself for having been guided by her; but she felt that were any young person, in similar circumstances, to apply to her for counsel, they would never receive any of such certain immediate wretchedness, such uncertain future good. . . . She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Lady Russell
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

Austen describes the supposed "unnaturalness" of the chronology of Anne's concept of love. Anne wanted to get married to a handsome, likable man when she was only 19 years old, but because Lady Russell persuaded her to break off the engagement, the result of the interrupted courtship is that Anne learned the hard rules of marriage early on, and is only now learning about love and romance. As a teenager, she saw the economic rules that governed marriage--only now is she coming to feel truly romantic on account of her loneliness.

The passage is interesting because it suggests a central problem that the novel will have to correct: there's a basic disagreement between the characters' notions of love and their notions of what is practical. Furthermore, the passage might suggest that in this society, it really is important to understand finance and the "hard rules" before falling in love--most people fall in love too early and then have to wise up about money and real estate (particularly women, who in Austen's world have few other options of making money or rising in class). Anne, on the other hand, wised up early--but now that the groundwork has been laid, she is learning to focus on romance.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove were a very good sort of people; friendly and hospitable, not much educated and not at all elegant. . . . Anne always contemplated them as some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance; but still, saved as we all are by some comfortable feelings of superiority from wishing for the possibility of exchange, she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments; and envied them nothing but that seemingly perfect good understanding and agreement together, that good-humoured mutual affection, of which she had known so little herself with either of her sisters.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Mr. & Mrs. Musgrove
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, we meet the Musgroves, the second-most prestigious family in the parish where the Elliots live. Anne knows the Musgroves well, and secretly admires them because they're down-to-earth and seem not to care particularly about aristocracy or marriage. Where Anne has to be bossed into marrying the "right man," the Musgroves' children seem to get few if any real directions from their parents.

Anne's attitude toward the Musgroves is fascinating: she admires them but would never, ever switch places with them. Anne sometimes wishes that she could think of her own happiness instead of focusing on economics and honoring the family name. And yet she's also conscious of her "noble burden"--she has to find a suitable husband in order to honor her family's history, even if doing so makes her life a little sadder. Furthermore, she subconsciously assumes that her own mind is more "elegant and cultivated" because of her birth and heritage. Anne isn't free from her father's selfish, aristocratic bias, however much she might want to be.

Chapter 7 Quotes

O; the years which had destroyed [Anne’s] youth and bloom had only given [Captain Wentworth] a more glowing, manly, open look, in no respect lessoning his personal advantages. . . . It was now his object to marry. He was rich, and being turned on shore, fully intended to settle as soon as he could be properly tempted; actually looing round, ready to fall in love with all the speed which a clear head and quick taste could allow.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

When Captan Wentworth and Anne reunite, the difference between their lives over the past few years couldn't be clearer. Anne has felt herself to grow less beautiful and vivacious, while Captain Wentworth has only become handsomer and more energetic. The gender double standard here is clear: Anne is a woman, and therefore has to remain with her family, growing old and lonely (and, presumably, less attractive), while Wentworth is a man, meaning that he gets to pursue a career and travel around the world.

There's also an amusing feature of this passage--the fact that Austen makes it clear that Wentworth wants to fall in love as soon as he can manage to. It's odd to imagine someone planning to fall in love, but the fact that Wentworth plans to do so reinforces the businesslike, regular nature of romance and courtship in Austen's society. Wentworth is of age, newly wealthy, and he has some downtime: therefore he must marry someone.

Captain Wentworth had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill; deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given him up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Austen plays with the differences between free indirect discourse and third person narration to create a genuine ambiguity around Captain Wentworth's personality. Wentworth, we're told, has returned to Anne's life behaving coldly and distantly: he seems not to forgive her for breaking off the engagement. In Wentworth's mind, it would seem, Anne has proven herself unworthy of him because of how easily she relented to Lady Russell's persuasion--she chose to please others rather than follow her heart.

Some ambiguity then arises over whether the passage is Anne's impression of what Wentworth must be thinking, or whether it's Austen's description of what the Captain is thinking. it's genuinely difficult to tell: Austen uses both free indirect discourse and regular third-person narration, and therefore it's unclear whether or not we should "trust" the passage. The ambiguity in Wentworth's character in crucial to the plot of the novel: in essence, we'll spend the next 200 pages deciding whether or not to trust this quotation--is the Captain really angry with and disappointed in Anne, or is he still in love with her, or both?

Chapter 8 Quotes

Once so much to each other! Now nothing! . . . With the exception of Admiral and Mrs. Croft, who seemed particularly attached and happy, (Anne could allow no other exception even among the married couples) there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Austen allows the distance that's grown between Anne and the Captain to truly sink in. As always, it's hard to tell if what we're reading is the "truth," or if it's only Anne's personal impression of the truth. Anne seems to believe that when she and Wentworth were younger, they were as close as two human beings could be: they shared all the same dreams and secrets. Now that the engagement has long been broken off and the Captain is angry with Anne, they're cold and distant with one another.

The passage is a deft example of the phenomenon Austen described in a previous quote: Anne has learned the "hard rules" of marriage early on, and it's only now that she's learning about love. One wonders if Anne loved Wentworth as much when she was 19 as she does now--her loneliness and isolation have made her desire the Captain all the more strongly, and she wishes that he could forgive her for ending the engagement so unexpectedly.

Chapter 10 Quotes

It is the worst evil of too yielding and indecisive a character, that no influence over it can be depended on. . . . Let those who would be happy be firm.—Here is a nut. To exemplify,—a beautiful glossy nut, which blessed with original strength, has outlived all the storms of autumn. Not a puncture, not a weak spot any where.

Related Characters: Captain Frederick Wentworth (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Anne overhears Captain Wentworth talking to Louisa about the importance of resolution and firmness of opinion. Wentworth, a Navy man through and through, believes that Henrietta should commit to her potential suitor, Charles Hayter, more decisively. He compares a good, firm human being to a strong nut: like the nut, a firm person can't be "cracked" or whittled down, and therefore survives over the years.

Wentworth's analogy tells us a lot about his character and his relationship to Anne. Wentworth can't understand how somebody could promise to get engaged to a man and then break off the engagement suddenly; thus, he can't forgive Anne for ending their engagement because of the "persuasion" of another. While Wentworth frames his decision in terms of decisiveness and firmness, his male bias is also clear. Wentworth has a lot more freedom than his female contemporaries, and therefore it's easier for him to commit to one thing; he has nobody else to please, no second opinions to consult, and far fewer economic and social boundaries to consider. Anne, on the other hand, simply can't be firm with anyone: too many other people control her destiny. It's Wentworth's failure to understand the realities of women's lives that makes him unable to forgive Anne.

Yes—he had done it. She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it, that she owed it to his perception of her fatigue, and his resolution to giver her rest. . . . It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded with pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Captain Wentworth is passing by Anne in a carriage, and he generously offers to give Anne a lift, recognizing that Anne looks tired from walking. Anne is flattered by Wentworth's offer: she interprets it to mean that Wentworth still has some feelings for her, even if he hides them beneath a facade of coldness and sternness. Austen doesn't tell us if Anne is right or wrong (on the surface of things, it seems that Wentworth just does the right thing; just because he offers Anne a ride doesn't mean that he's still in love with her). Wentworth's behavior in this passage is ambiguous, then, suggesting that he may or may not still love Anne; as the novel goes on, Austen throws out more and more overt hints of about his real feelings, creating a suspenseful mood.

Chapter 12 Quotes

It was evident that the gentleman admired her exceedingly. Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance,—a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, “That man is struck with you,—and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again.”

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth, Mr. William Elliot
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Anne lays eyes on the handsome William Elliot, her potential suitor. Yet because Captain Wentworth is also in the vicinity, he seems to give Anne a look that shows that he's still attracted to her.

The passage is curious because it suggests, very subtly, that Captain Wentworth's feelings for Anne are reignited because she now has another suitor; it's as if he's only interested in Anne when he can't have her. The famous French philosopher Rene Girard has a saying for such a dynamic: "there is always a third person in the room"--in other words, people are more attracted to one another whenever there's a competition for love. Wentworth seems to desire Anne in part because William Elliot also desires her. In such a way, Austen sets in motion the events of the second half of the book: Wentworth and Elliot compete for Anne's affections, forcing Anne to make a difficult choice.

Chapter 17 Quotes

A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from Nature alone. It was the choicest gift of Heaven; and Anne viewed her friend as one of those instances in which, by a merciful appointment, it seems designed to counterbalance almost every other want.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Mrs. Smith
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to Anne's old friend Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith has had a tough life: she lost her husband, and also developed a crippling illness that's left her without control of her lower body. And yet Mrs. Smith doesn't allow her life's tragedies to make her sad: she seems incredibly cheery and optimistic at all times--it's as if the universe's woes have changed her external condition, but not the nature of her soul.

Mrs. Smith is an important character because she seems to stand outside the rules of the novel--the rules of marriage, courtship, money, aristocracy, etc. She's "lost," by most definitions--she has no money, no husband, no mobility (literally), etc.--and yet she seems not to care. Because she doesn't let the stakes of marriage and courtship affect her happiness, she seems utterly free--free in a way that the younger, more eligible Anne is not, paradoxically. Mrs. Smith is, one could say, the only character without a personal stake in the events of the plot: she has nothing riding on Anne's engagement except her own friendship with Anne. Therefore, she's a trustworthy character and good advice-giver.

Chapter 23 Quotes

We [women] certainly do not forget you, so soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. You have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions. . . . 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.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot (speaker), Captain and Mrs. Harville
Page Number: 173-175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this illuminating passage, Anne has a playful argument with Captain Harville about whether men or women are more constant and devoted in their love for other people. Anne argues that woman are more devoted, because they have to reside at home, and have nothing to nourish their spirits except for their feelings for the people they care about. Men, on the other hand, have jobs and careers to distract them from their true feelings; therefore, they can get distracted by other things, and forget about their loved ones.

The debate that Anne and Captan Harville have is, of course, highly relevant to the plot of the novel and to Austen's social criticism of gender inequality. Anne is remembering her love for Captain Wentworth, and suggests that Wentworth has found it easier to forget about Anne than vice versa, since he's had a long and fulfilling career as a Navy man. In such a way, Anne subtly makes herself the real victim of the broken engagement with Wentworth. Over the course of the novel, Anne has become a lively and witty young woman, discovering the courage to disagree with her male companions, asserting her agency in doing so--even if she still has little real social power or independence as an unmarried woman.

I will not allow it to be more man’s nature than woman’s to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of being most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather.

Related Characters: Captain and Mrs. Harville (speaker)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Captain Harville disagrees with Anne about whether men or women are the most devoted in their love for other people. Where Anne insists that men are inferior to women as lovers, Harville that because men have stronger bodies than women, they must also have stronger emotions and willpower than women.

It's important to notice that Harville's argument is simply worse than Anne's--more poorly constructed, not as well thought-out, and more bullying in its presentation. In such a way, Austen subtly forces the debate toward Anne's position: reading the passage, the reader easily concludes that Anne is right: women (at the time, at least) really are better and more devoted lovers, since they don't have professions and careers to distract them. Nevertheless, Harville has a point, at least in this individual situation: his observations have obvious relevance to Captain Wentworth's feelings for Anne. Over the years, it's implied, Captain Wentworth has actually continued to love Anne, even if he sometimes hides his feelings beneath a mask of formality and curtness.

There [Anne and Captain Wentowrth] returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Wentworth affirms his love for Anne; he admits that he's loved her all along, even after she broke off their engagement. Wentworth and Anne, having acknowledged that they love each other, find themselves transported to the past; they rediscover their former feelings for each other. Moreover, Austen suggests that Anne and Wentworth are actually more in love now than they were years before.

Austen's purpose in the rest of Chapter 23, as we'll see, is largely to show that Anne and Wentworth were right to wait before getting married: breaking off the engagement the first time around wasn't a mistake, just as it isn't a mistake for them to get married now. It's as if Anne and Wentworth's feelings for one another have matured over the years, resulting in a love that's stronger for having already withstood the test of time. Unlike most marriages in Austen's lifetime, Anne and Wentworth's marriage is already rooted in genuine, powerful love: the fact that Anne and Wentworth have continued to love each other over so many years virtually proves that they'll continue to love each other for the rest of their lives.

If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty; but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred, and all duty violated.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Anne and Wentworth work out some of their feelings for each other. Anne tries to explain why she turned Wentworth down so many years ago: others persuaded her to do so for practical reasons. Yet Anne no longer seems not to regret her decision altogether: on the contrary, she believes that duty and prudence really are important in achieving happiness. Notice the way that she alludes to the possibility of marrying Mr. Elliot: such a decision would have been a bad one, she explains, because it would have violated her duty to her family (demonstrating that Anne continues to place a lot of stock in the concept of duty itself). Asserting one's will blindly isn't always the best course of action, essentially--often it's necessary to take other, more complicated factors into consideration when making decisions.

I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot (speaker), Lady Russell
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Anne continues to talk with Captain Wentworth about her decision to beak off their engagement years ago. While Anne has gone through a lot of sadness in the years following her decision, she now seems not to regret her decision anymore; she took the advice of a good mentor, Lady Russell, and she's now happy she did.

The point of the passage seems to be that Anne was right to wait so many years for Wentworth, and to allow herself to be persuaded by her trusted friends. The years between her first and second engagements have strengthened Anne's character and strengthened her love for Wentworth, and the same is true of Wentworth. The moral, one could say, is that being completely headstrong and impulsive is just as bad as being completely obedient to other people; in Anne's character, we see the compromise between duty and freedom, persuasion and independence--Anne is a mature young woman, but her independence doesn't compel her to ignore others' advice; she marries Wentworth now because it's the practical and the romantic thing to do.