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The novel begins and returns repeatedly to the question of whether it is wise to be influenced by the concerns and counsel of others, or to remain fixed in one’s convictions and impulses. Anne Elliot reveals her disposition for the former when she dissolves her relationship with Captain Wentworth on the advice of her good friend and mentor Lady Russell. Seven years later, Anne experiences unrelenting regret over her decision and becomes convinced that she would have been happier marrying Captain Wentworth as his predictions for his fortunes come true—suggesting that she has learned to favor romance over her initial prudence at her friend’s persuasion.

However, the narrative ultimately complicates the virtues of a headstrong conviction in favor of the value of persuasion. When Captain Wentworth returns, he extols the virtue of a woman who will not listen to others but forges her own way—alluding with some bitterness to his experience with Anne’s willingness to be persuaded from marrying him by Lady Russell. After observing Louisa Musgrove’s disregard for the advice of others lead to great distress, though, he revises his opinion: such heedlessness reflects not only a foolish and arrogant inattention to the wisdom of others, but also fails to prove any true steadfastness in love. Ultimately, Anne’s receptivity to others comes to seem as a complement to her persevering love for Captain Wentworth, who in turn becomes persuaded of Anne’s merit.

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Persuasion ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Persuasion appears in each chapter of Persuasion. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Persuasion Quotes in Persuasion

Below you will find the important quotes in Persuasion related to the theme of Persuasion.
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 7 Quotes

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 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.

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.

Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him, that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel, that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness, as a very resolute character.

Related Characters: Anne Elliot, Captain Frederick Wentworth
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Louisa Musgrove tries to jump from the high stairs into Captain Wentworth's arms; Wentworth naturally drops her, and Louisa injures her head. The incident seems to be a metaphor for the dangers of "hardness," the virtue that Captain Wentworth has previously extolled. It is Louisa's determined nature that impels her to jumps to Wentworth's arms, and it is the literal hardness of the floor that injures her.

As Anne sees it, the incident should prove to Wentworth that being determined and hard are often overrated virtues. Sometimes, it's better to be cautious and indecisive: indecisiveness can be a powerful survival mechanism. By the same logic, Anne seems to be hoping that Captain Wentworth will see why she broke off the engagement; why, sometimes, it's important for a woman to be cautious and indecisive because of her own best interests--in this society, women don't have as much freedom to be firm and decisive as men do.

Chapter 23 Quotes

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.