Persuasion. The name alone implies conflict.
It implies a difference of opinions.
A clashing of wills.
A distinct disagreement where one person is forced or coerced to cave to the thoughts and opinions of the other.
And yet, there is something that draws the reader to a book of this name. It’s interesting how so many times people are so afraid of being persuaded to do anything. You want to make your own choices. You want to stand on your own two feet. And yet, the title ‘Persuasion’ pulls you in, it nags at your mind, begging you to come and take a closer look at what persuasion looks like and how the simple act of persuasion can create a gripping story.
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One of the things that endears Jane Austen’s readers to her is the very fact that she wrote about common, everyday things. There is this sense that what happens in her books could very easily happen to anyone, which lends her books a grounding factor, a realness that is sometimes hard to find in other literature.
As I was re-reading this incredible book just recently, something very interesting struck me: Austen places a huge emphasis on making sure that you know the characters in this story. From Sir Walter Elliot and his excessive vanity to Lady Russell and her refined yet level-headed polished poise; From Mary and her selfish, manipulative ways to Mr. Elliot and his varnished, perfect-looking exterior; From Mrs. Croft and her open, welcoming, engaging manner to Anne and her goodness, her servant’s heart, her desire to do the right thing, the reader is given the opportunity to know each of the characters in this book on a very deep level.
And, not surprisingly, most of the characters act without fail according to how they present themselves. Sir Walter presents as an excessively vain, conceited, titled land owner who will spare no expense for his pleasure and enjoyment. And throughout the book, he acts according to this character that is presented. The further you read in the book, the more you can almost begin to guess what Sir Walter might do based on the character that you have become acquainted with.
But what makes this story so intriguing is that even thought most of the characters act according to their character, there are a few that surprise you. There is Mr Elliot who presents a varnished, refined, pleasing exterior that hides a conniving, selfish, scheming heart. Lady Russell presents a loving, generous, gracious, proper, level-headed approach to living and to mentoring Anne while underneath she struggles with her own ideas of prestige and not downgrading her honor with just a hint of manipulation thrown in.
And then there is Captain Wentworth. A man whose heart and feelings are so closely guarded and hidden – almost hidden from himself – that you can never be exactly sure what he will do. Oh, to be sure, he is honorable through and through and will stick by his friends no matter what, but to know the inner workings of his heart and his mind, Captain Wentworth must go on a journey of self-discovery.
Anne Elliot seems the least controversial. She is that one that you come to know on an incredibly deep level as the story is told primarily from her perspective. Anne is all that is kind, good, modest, economical, loving, level-headed, always willing to lend a hand, and greatly values others. And yet, the Anne Elliot that you meet when the book first begins is not the Anne Elliot that she once was. It is almost like Anne has had to go on her own journey of self-discovery to find out what she truly values, what she will stand for, and what she will fight against. And yet, Anne’s internal journey happened for the most part before the book opens. Instead, you get to see the working out and the results of how Anne’s internal journey become a part of her daily attitudes and actions through many trying situations.
Taking all these different personalities into consideration, how desperately so many of the characters want to exercise control over others, it is surprising how few true disagreements are a part of the book.
The persuasive battle is not an all-out battle of words, but rather a subtle careful maneuvering to bring one person around to the other’s point of view without the other noticing that they are being manipulated. It is less a battle of heated words and ultimatums and more a dance of flattery and persuasion.
Oh, there are some characters who are much more obvious in their scheming games than others. Mary Musgrove incessantly badgers her husband, Charles, to get him to cave in and give her what she wants. And if Mary does not get what she wants, she pretends to be ill so that others must wait upon her and do her every bidding. Louisa and Henrietta are seen whispering together before one suggests a plan that the other is quick to carry out over the protests of others. And yet, these more overt types of persuasion seem to make up but a small sampling of the persuasive action.
This persuasive power is felt in so many ways and, indeed, from the title alone you, dear reader, are put on your guard to watch for the persuasive power that is exerted by one person over another again and again throughout the pages. It is seen when Sir Walter and Elizabeth are persuaded to move to Bath. It is seen in Lady Russell’s council to Anne. It is seen in Mrs Clay’s flattery and constant companionship. It is seen in Mr Elliot’s attempt to capture Anne’s affections.
And yet, through this tangled web of persuasion, manipulation, love lost, love misunderstood, and flattery set against a backdrop of everyday circumstances that two characters rise above the rest and become almost larger than life. Two characters that no one might suspect at first, but ones who continue to show themselves true friends to others. Ones who have gone through struggles in the past. Ones who have caved to persuasion in the past and who are unwilling to simply cave to the pressure of others, no matter the conflict that may arise.
And yet, even with this new resolve to follow their own heart and to not allow the desires and opinions of others to sway them, Anne and Captain Wentworth must take their own journeys. They must come to the point where they realize where they were wrong in the past and own their mistakes. They must be willing to not only acknowledge their innermost feelings to themselves, but to be profoundly brave and risk sharing their feelings with the one that matters most to them.
There is risk. There is a risk inherent in going against the popular opinion of others – particularly when those you are going against are family and close friends, people whose opinions matter deeply to you. And yet, this risk must be weighed against the risk of not being true to yourself.
Perhaps this very fact is what makes Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth so endearing to each person that reads their story. Underneath Anne’s sweetness, gentleness, good sense, and heart to serve others lies a resolve to stay true to herself, to make her own judgements, and to act on those decisions. Yet, she does not do it out of spite, but out of a firm and gentle resolve. Captain Wentworth is strong, capable, loyal, honorable, well-traveled, and would do anything and everything for one he calls a friend. Yet, under that chivalrous exterior lies a heart of a man who is vulnerable and searching for one who will be his best friend and companion for life.
Persuasion comes in many different forms. One of the most beautiful things in Jane Austen’s writing is that, if you look, you can find glimpses of yourself in one or more of the characters in her books.
Which then begs the question: Are you being persuaded? Are you allowing others to make your decisions for you? To manipulate you, cajole you, and persuade you from one way of thinking to another?
Or are you taking the council of others into consideration while you seek to make wise decisions? Not simply making a decision because someone says that is what you should do, but listening to the thoughts and opinions of others and weighing them against your own, seeking to find the truth and acting upon the truth?
Or are you the persuader? Are you a Mary Musgrove, pretending to be ill so that you can get your way in everything? Or are you Sir Walter, knowing that you hold a great deal of power and not many would dare challenge you? Or are you a Lady Russel, taking a more subtle approach but still not willing to relent until others see things your way and take the action that you think is correct?
What character reflects you? What character do you wish resonated the most with you?
So now, my Friend, only one question remains: What are you going to do about it?
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Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.