Redefining Jane Austen’s Idea on Class in her book of Persuasion
Jane Austen is one of the classic literary writers who incorporate her social observation from ordinary circumstances to produce extraordinary works of English literature. Her masterpieces have a subtly subversive or rebellious style that explore complex class system and gender relations which dominated early 19th century in the English society. Her narrative focuses on marriage plots and happy endings, which is inevitable because marriage is not only a celebration or consummation of a love affair but marriage allows the society to compare social classes and titles.
The courtship and engagement allows relatives and friends to scrutinize the appropriateness of the match. Apparently most of Austen’s literature often depicts social relations of a particular class of people and how the central characters function within the society around them. Her novel Persuasion is no difference in relation to the setting’s mood and atmosphere. Persuasion was Jane Austen’s final completed novel written between 1815 and 1816, and just like her other literary masterpieces, Persuasion concerns the social issues of her time particularly in the matter of class.
Persuasion however “is a significant shift in Austen’s attitude toward inherited wealth and rank” (Tanner 208), wherein the fate and salvation of her heroin will be obtain in the form of marriage to a self-made man gentleman who have risen from humble beginnings to affluence and status on the strength of merit and luck, not by inheritance. Basically this novel is different because the hero this time is not a well born gentleman but a man who earned respect and high social status because of his own strength of character.
The narrative of the novel is basically about perseverance and patience due to delayed romance. Apparently this is a book of second chances and with characters that are more open minded since the tone is less conservative. The novel particularly asks whether it is better to be firm in one’s conviction or to be open to the suggestions of others. In this novel, the readers will meet Anne, the main protagonist, who concludes that it was right for her to allow herself to be persuaded because “a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.
” Though she wanted to have an independent mind and strong character, she believes that she has to conform and be receptive to her sense of obligation and duty, which during that time is very much significant for a woman like her. In the end of the novel however, Jane Austen allows the readers to judge whether persuasion is a positive or negative force in the novel. It is very much important to note that Jane Austen opens her novel with a description of a man looking at a book in which he reads the same words as her book open with ‘Elliot, of Kellynch-hall’.
This kind of opening already reveals many realities in the novels particularly on the characters. In Austen’s novels, many of her characters from the upper class are readers. Sir Walter, Anne’s father for example, reads his family lineage in the Baronetage and Captain Wentworth reads his naval records. But Jane Austen wants to convey that the meaning of the readings lies not in books but on the psychological aspects of the readers.
“It alerts us to at least two important considerations the dangers involved in seeking validation and self justification in book as opposed to life, in record rather than in action, in name as opposed to function; and the absolutely negative ‘vanity’ in looking for and finding one’s familial and social position, one’s reality, in an inscription rather than in a pattern of behavior, in a sign rather the range of responsibilities which it implicitly signifies” (Tanner 209)
Seemingly, Sir Walter and Captain Wentworth read in order to confirm his title and indulge in self-satisfaction. The text that affirms their name and social position, especially for Sir Walter who perceives rank and its consequence are everything, gives them inexhaustible pleasure. Meanwhile, Captain Benwick can also recite lines and lines of romantic poetry which illustrates the common conception towards romantic nature of the English gentlemen and that those naval men, though tough in the battlefield can be very romantic in the name of love.
Similarly Anne also has read a great deal. Poetry for Anne seems to increase her appreciation of nature and also serves as an occasional form of distraction to escape the pressures, rules and limits due to the issues of class rigidity and social mobility that are part of the natural order of things in her setting. The characters are remarkably reliant on dialogues over description as well.
The expressive nature of the characters due to their social class and due to their knowledge immediately predicts the story’s plot. Language became an important tool to perceive the social superiority and inferiority of a character. Moreover, language maintains and displays social standings and the character’s authenticity. Jane Austen in this novel highlighted the importance of diction and rhythm to showcase the character’s personality.
A single phrase or a single sentence mentioned either by the writer or a particular character will guide the readers on the succeeding events. The main actions of the novel are based solely on the interaction of attitudes, ideas, and opinions expressed in rich language. Since most of Austen’s novels explore the themes of courtship and marriage, there is a big probability that the story will revolve in a fascinating chase: either a husband in search of a wife or a woman in pursuit of a husband.
Marriage during 18th century was a challenging and debatable social issue since marriage with love was not a necessity. At that time, marriage consisted of rules and standards that often ignore emotions or feelings. Moreover, community and family were major participants in establishing marriage. “Both sexes often turned to marriage as a means of securing wealth and livelihood, while simultaneously raising their social status in the classiest society that harbored them” (Crester-Hartenstein).
Marriage in this novel is obviously a complicated negotiation because of the important participation of family who judged marriage from a financial perspective and who considers greatly the social and financial benefit of one party. However the narrative pattern of in some previous novels of Jane Austen is that, “the heroine marries a son of the gentry, one destined for, or already enjoying, the responsibility of land ownership or of the Anglican priesthood”.
But this novel Persuasion makes a different narrative strategy, a radical departure from those previous ones. This novel represents the maturity of Austen’s works bringing satire in the titled upper classes. “Austen’s own social position, as the daughter of a parish clergyman, placed her firmly in the respected middle-class, but as an author she was free to step outside her sphere and write about the personal flaws and mistakes of the proud gentry” (Collins xx), as she illustrates their judgment can also be a mistake.
In this novel where marriage is the main theme, there is an absence of common gentry’s hero and its need for the social recognition. But the heroine’s future husband is instead a navy whose place and location in the society is placed in an admirable light since Austen’s writes this novel when the navy was rising as the Second British Empire was being built up. “The navy’s very “national importance”, as demonstrated by its role in the defeat of Napoleon, guarantees them a respected place in the British society by other means” (Irvine 82).
In the story, the supposedly marriage was originally proposed eight years before the novel begins by Captain Frederick Wentworth to the 19 year old Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall, Somerset. Anne, though in love with Wentworth has been persuaded by Lady Russell not to as Anne’s social position is not compatible to the man. Lady Russell, the best friend of Anne’s deceased mother, is a woman of considerable birth and wealth who serves as advisor to the Elliot family.
A practical woman, Lady Russell is conscious of class interactions and finances. Though Anne is being misguided initially because of her flaw of being persuaded by others, she has an independent, clever and considerate mind as she rebels against the pride and prejudices of his father and sister. But Anne balances passion and practicality as she understands and respects the significance of making a “suitable” match. Captain Wentworth though being once refused overcome his pride and shame and thus prepared to find another suitable partner.
However in his again encounter with Anne, the passion and love rekindles as he is often impressed with the calmness and compassionate nature of Anne. “For the course of the novel, then, the heroine’s marriage figures in the narrative not as an end towards which it works, but as an event which has not happened, a non event in the past which continues to shape Anne’s perspective on the world and her relationship to Captain Wentworth when he walks back to her life.. The plot of this novel will be a counter-plot to put that failure right (Irvine 81).
In the novel the participation of the navy as the main protagonist reflects changing views of class and rigidity. Wentworth in the beginning when Anne refused to marry him is not eligible still because as a non navy, he is just an ordinary person. But after joining the naval force, his identity and sense of individuality has been redefined making him more pleasing to be an eligible husband. The narrative’s “goal” of securing Captain Wentworth for Anne suggests that a bright future lies with navy.
This can be only on a symbolic level that may mean that the social importance of a person change overtime. It may come a time that money and property are not already the standards to be in the community’s higher position but rather one’s sense of character, purpose and accomplishments. Jane Austen seemed intent on “persuading her readers on persuading her readers that marrying an officer in the Royal Navy was a very wise decision for a smart and spirited young woman of the landed English gentry” (Enloe 153). The novel is apparently a salute to the self-made man.
Captain Wentworth is just one of several naval officers in the story who have risen from humble beginnings to affluence and status on the strength of merit and luck, not by inheritance. It demonstrates a time where the very roots of the society and standards of class decorum are changing. Jane Austen in this novel reflects her keen observation with her society and her willingness to redefine her characters and settings adjusting to present reality. During the time when Jane Austen created this book, Navy is in their heights of defending British interest throughout the world.
Such Navy heroes in the novel introduce a new, fresh and rougher ideal of manliness into Austen’s world. Austen herself during the time she created the masterpiece recognizes that as time passes by, the traditional views towards social classes that are often based on financial perspective will be changed. She herself knows that it is more than that. The judgment of character often wins than basing one’s judgment to one’s eloquence and properties. Work Cited Page: Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, the parson’s daughter. London.
Continuum International Publishing Group, 1998. pp. xx-xxi Crester-Hartenstein, Jessie. “Introduction. ” Marriage in the 18th Century. Humboldt State University. 17 February 2009 <http://www. humboldt. edu/~jbd2/Eng350/MarriageCD/website/Marriage. htm>. Enloe, Cynthia. Maneuvers: the international politics of militarizing women’s lives. California USA. University of California Press, 2000. PP. 153-154 Irvin, Robert. Jane Austen. Britain Routledge, 2005. pp. 81-83. Tanner, Tony. “In Between: Persuasion”. Jane Austen, Harvard University Press, 1986, pp. 208-249Sample Essay of PapersOwl.com