Often regarded the most political of all her novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1816) explores various aspects of social and personal order within the context of Regency England. Through the use of character, in particular character foil, and the development of Anne Elliot in her relationship with Captain Wentworth, Austen examines the themes of class, gender relations and personal persuadability. Her critique of the complex tensions between the aristocracy and meritocracy, changing gender relations and an ideal personal order are what lends the novel its radical elements.
At the height of the British Empire and in the wake of naval victories at the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo, notions of meritocracy began to challenge the aristocratic social order of Regency England. The British Navy had become regarded as the defender of British interests throughout the world, however in 1815 the British government cut the navy budget and sailors who came back from their victory at Waterloo were unemployed. Austen specifically examines the role of the navy within English society and addresses the injustice of their treatment after their return from the victory at Waterloo.
In Persuasion Austen criticizes the effeminate and profligate upper classes, and offers the navy as an alternative. This criticism is established from the very beginning of the novel in the negative portrayal of the character Sir Walter Elliot. By employing language of virtue to describe character vice in her description of his vanity, “…the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion”, Austen creates a subtle irony in her mockery of the aristocracy. The focalisation on the Baronetage and the obvious significance of this inanimate object to Sir Walter further highlights the... [continues]
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