Persuasion was Jane Austen’s last completed novel. She started to write it on 8 August, 1815, but family problems such as her brother Henry’s serious illness and his bankruptcy, probably slowed its composition. Then in 1816 Jane Austen herself was ill. She originally finished the book on 18 July, 1816 but, unsatisfied with what she had written, she re-wrote the ending. The novel was finally completed in August 1816. The original ending, known as ‘the cancelled chapter’ is now in the British Library, London, and is sometimes published as an appendix in some editions of the novel. Jane Austen died in July 1817 and it was published in December 1817 by John Murray (in a four volume set which included Northanger Abbey), though the publication date printed in the book was actually 1818. It was Henry who gave the novel its title. Jane Austen, according to family tradition, called it The Elliots.
The novel covers nine months from 1814 to 1815, but also refers to a time eight years before when the heroine Anne Elliot was engaged to Captain Frederick Wentworth, a naval officer. It is set in Kellynch Hall in Somerset and in its neighbouring village of Uppercross, in the seaside town of Lyme Regis, and in Bath.
Persuasion is usually considered to be Jane Austen’s most romantic novel. It is perhaps more sombre, or ‘autumnal’ in tone, than her earlier works. There are more passages describing scenery, several references to Romantic poetry, and the heroine is older, wiser and sadder than the heroines of the other novels.
It is in many ways this is Jane Austen’s most autobiographical novel. She refers often to the Navy in which two of her brothers served with distinction; she sets it in places she herself had visited or lived in; she gives her heroine her own love of walking and natural beauty – ‘Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn – that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness – that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling’.
Persuasion is one of the most beautiful, tender love stories ever written and has remained one of the most loved of Jane Austen’s novels.
Caption: Illustration from Persuasion by C E Brock, 1922