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Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity 2021

Navigating States of Mind in Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Stacey Sparks

Junior, English Education


Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818) presents, in Anne Elliot, a heroine who is easily misunderstood. The novel is frequently approached as a courtship narrative, and scholarship has often faulted Anne for being persuaded to part with the man courting her, Frederick Wentworth. Anne’s decision to be persuaded is routinely seen as an indicator of weakness or passivity in her character, which she must regret and overcome for redemption in the reader’s eyes. However, I will argue that to interpret Anne in this way is to fail to see that her courtship with Wentworth is secondary to Persuasion’s foremost preoccupations, namely, Anne’s mind and her courting herself mentally through adversity. This essay explores the way in which Anne navigates others’ states of mind from the beginning of the novel, when first introduced as being possessed of “an elegance of mind,” and examines how she courts herself mentally, preserving her independence of mind. Persuasion can be considered a courtship narrative which primarily portrays not a suitor’s courtship of a woman but a woman’s courtship of her own mind.

Project Background 

I encountered Jane Austen’s 1818 novel Persuasion in a nineteenth century literature class facilitated by my mentor, Dr. Manning. This text presented a portrait in its heroine, Anne Elliot, that provoked questions and a need for further research. In my first readings of the novel, Anne appeared passive. However, as I continued to study and consider this text, I became increasingly convinced this was not a full portrait. So decided to research this text in further detail.

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  1. Sam Looker-Koenigs

    Brilliant as always, Stacey!

    • Stacey Sparks

      Thank you so much Dr. Sam 🙂


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