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|Persuasion in Persuasion (chapters 1-4, long)
Written by Tracy W
(9/19/2005 8:47 p.m.)
Well I have picked for my focus for this group read of Persuasion, the theme of persuasion. More precisely, how and why the characters in the book persuade each other to do as they wish, or fail to do so.
On thinking about this focus and remembering earlier readings, I made up in my head a tentative hypothesis that JA viewed her good, rational characters as being moved by rational arguments, while her fools were moved by flattery and indirect means. But as you can see further down, I'm starting to have some doubts about the first part of my hypothesis.
In the first four chapters we are provided with a number of examples:
Lady Russell and Mr Shepherd were called on to advise the Elliots on how to retrench. Chapter 2
Lady Russell draws up a serious plan of economy which appears to have involved considerable effort on her part. We are told that she make exact calculations, she consulted Anne, she appears to have spent considerable time on this plans.
Behind this is another example of persuasion. Lady Russell consults Anne, and were are told was in a degree influenced by her... We do not see Anne persuading Lady Russell as clearly as Mr Shepherd does Sir Walter, but it is implied that Anne presents her principles firmly and by her rational statement and defense of them draws Lady Russell to a firmer set of regulations than she would earlier have reached. So, open persuasion works on a rational mind, not on foolish snob's?
We are also told that Mr Shepherd dissaudes Sir Walter from living in London. Not by rational arguments about money and expense, but by reference to more side issues: its more convenient distance from Kellynch, ... and Lady Russell's spending some part of every winter there. Mr Shepherd seems to be carefully avoiding confronting Sir Walter with his financial condition. He uses carrots and not sticks.
Mr Shepherd persuades Sir Walter to have a naval tenant. Chapter 3
In the next chapter we see Mr Shepherd at work again, and Mrs Clay. He's trying to persuade Sir Walter to let his house to a naval tenant, and lavishes it with flattery again:
When Sir Walter starts making problems about any tenant having the use of the shrubberies, Mr Shepherd neatly ducks the question, referring to established usages and not making any explicit opposition, or any agreement to Sir Walter's view.
And then after some more conversation, Anne puts forward a rational argument:
When an actual candidate, Admiral Croft appears, Mr Shepherd turns along the same line. He repeatedly talks about the benefits of the Crofts, tries to find family connections and promptly drops that when it doesn't work, and succeeds.
Again JA does not appear to think that rational arguments have any effect on Sir Walter, flattery and misdirection is the way to go.
Anne is persuaded by Lady Russell to break her engagement to Captain Wentworth. Chapter 4
In the next chapter, Lady Russell's persuading Anne to break off the engagement is described, unfortunately not through such quoted text as Sir Walter and Mr Shepherd's interactions. So I can't check my tentative hypothesis that persuasion might be portrayed by JA as working by rational arguments on rational, intelligent people.
It does seem, however, against my hypothesis, that Lady Russell's persuasion worked as much on Anne's feelings as on her reason.
I wish we could have seen the conversations between Anne and Lady Russell at this point.
Still, even if I must give up my first hypothesis, there does appear to be a difference between how the fools are worked on and how the rational people are. Lady Russell's persuasion works on Anne and completely fails on Sir Walter and Elizabeth.
There are of course a number of other situations mentioned that may have provided examples of persuasion, from Sir Walter persuading his wife to marry him, to Elizabeth and Sir Walter attempting to attach Mr Elliot, but they are not presented in any detail and I can't think of anything interesting to say about them at the moment. I hope someone else can.
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