University of Wisconsin Oshkosh


hms victory

English 350: Literary Study Tour:

  Spring Interim 1998
Prof. Julie Shaffer

 visit the Jane Austen Study Tour Index
for more information on the class;
see also links at bottom of page

Important Background Information
and questions to make up
part of your writing journal on this novel

(answer too those questions
pertinent to all the novels)

1 royal crescent

Composition and Publication History:

This was the last work she finished; it was begun to 1815 and finished in July, 1816, with its first ending. Austen revised the novel, apparently finishing doing so in March of 1817, changing the ending. Some think that she did not finish revising it in other respects, but her letters suggest to me that she felt she had. Others think the novel not as polished as her others, therefore thinking she did not finish revising it for style, perhaps for content. Austen died in July and this novel, along with Northanger Abbey, was published posthumously in 1818, with a biographical notice by her brother Henry; this is the first any of her novels are identified as penned by Austen, the others published ostensibly anonymously, "by a lady," or "by the author of..."


The French Revolution! Review the information provided. Otherwise, consider this: the problem to some - the point of celebration to others - was that the French Revolution did away with a class-based system, supposedly instituting equality for all and, presumably, an aristocracy. Obviously this was threatening to the aristocracy, but to others, it offered a way out of the corruption that might come with aristocracy, and to some of those and to others still, it offered a way to rise socially, economically, and politically even if one were not born to high social and economic position. It should be noted that in many respects, England in this period was not nearly as power-bound by hierarchy as was France because royalty was no longer seen as divinely empowered, and because the populace (at least those elements that likewise had some power - the landed, propertied classes) realized it could choose its sovereigns and make choices about sovereigns on the basis of religion, for instance. Although England was in fact hierarchical and class-based at this period, the English saw themselves as having more liberty than the French - in part because not ruled by the Catholic church, an institution it saw as tyrannical, which led to seeing the French and other Europeans as ruled by tyranny, worshipping tyranny, and left with its mind in shackles in part from the superstition by which this tyrannical force kept its minions enslaved. It had to be seen by the British as a move forward that revolutionary France eradicated the control of the church, however temporarily (the country is still by and large Catholic), although the disempowerment of Frenchmen [sic] born to power and wealth must have been seen as wrong-headed to those Britons born to power and wealth.

Even those who celebrated the Revolution became disillusioned once the Reign of Terror set it, and once Napoleon upset the power balance of Europe and threatened to invade England, it became yet harder to remain sympathetic to France and its revolutionary achievements. Keep in mind that Britain was at war with France for most of the period from 1793 to 1815, when Napoleon was finally defeated and sent off to St Helena. The military's victories over Napoleon, brought about in great part through the navy's prowess, was widely celebrated; Lord Nelson was a national hero, and the military - again, especially the navy - was seen as having protected Britain and the British way of life. Members of the navy might have gained great wealth during the war and may have risen to heights of power and recognition from valor in battle, as was the case with Lord Nelson, for instance.

It has remained a truism - a false one, I would say - that Austen limited herself and the focus of her novels to "women's issues" - love, relationships with men and children, the need for an establishment through marriage, proper female behavior. She has been widely seen as avoiding social and political issues, in part because she really primarily limits herself to one social class, the landed gentry (although we will have seen that she shows both ends of that class, through depicting characters such as Knightley and Darcy on the one hand, and the female Dashwood family on the other). She does not look at the "oppression of the working class," for instance; nor does she overtly discuss political issues, such as those raging around other authors, such as Jacobins (revolutionary sympathizers) Thomas Holcroft, William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Smith, and Elizabeth Inchbald, to name just a few (Wollstonecraft and Smith, for instance, explicitly discuss the French Revolution). She does not overtly argue, as does Wollstonecraft, that women are kept foolish, weak, and dependent from inadequate education, nor that their position is one of slavery or imprisonment through (potentially bad) marriages and the marriage laws giving them no powers.

We will hopefully already have discussed ways in which Austen subtly perhaps offers means of social change in her novels that suggest dissatisfaction with the social status quo. That Austen brings in Antigua in Mansfield Park suggests her awareness and possible disapproval of the wealthy classes' dependence on slavery for its luxuries. That Austen consciously begins Persuasion at the end of the war with France suggests that however much she may have gone along with notions that women were incapable of discussing politics intelligently - notions that discussing politics was not aligned with true femininity - suggests that part of her purpose in this novel is political, to reflect on the kinds of issues brought forward by the French Revolution, issues both celebrated and found threatening.



To what extent do you see Austen picking up on such issues in Persuasion? To what extent does her doing so follow on her project in previous novels? To what extent does she take new strategies or foci here?


To what extent do we get new beginnings in this novel, by its conclusion? How much change (at the level of character, and beyond the level of character) does the novel make it possible for us to imagine? Here you'll probably want to think about things like class, social structure, and consensual definitions of personal value.


To what extent is Anne's quietness and or persuadability good? How does the text show us this? What can exist along with these "passive" qualities? To what extent is this a gender issue? Might it be good for men likewise to be persuadable, at least? What does the novel suggest?


Choose one scene and examine how the narrative voice works there; do we see switches from an absolute view to characters' views? Why might this be significant? What might the thematic significance be, in the scene which you examine, and in the novel as a whole?

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last updated 28 January 1999