Jane Austen, Persuasion, and the Pursuit of Happiness

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Tarlson, Claire Eileen
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Lethbridge Undergraduate Research Journal
This paper argues that there is a Romantic shift in the feminist and individualistic ideology of Jane Austen's work as her career progresses, and Austen begins to admire different cognitive qualities in her heroines. At the end of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth's confessed love for Darcy is a carefully reasoned one - Darcy has righted the wrongs cited in Elizabeth's original refusal and Elizabeth can justify her own acceptance of him by objective standards. Anne Elliot of Persuasion, by contrast, accepts Wentworth ultimately not on the basis of anything he has done differently,but merely by the realization of her own original emotions and motives as valid. Throughout the novel, Anne develops as this individual on her own, and by the time she finally marries Wentworth at the end of the novel, the marriage is not needed to complete her because she has already made her emotional transformation independent of the marriage proposal. The contextual frameworks for both of Jane Austen's novels Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion are so similar that they demand sideby- side comparison, but the heroines of these novels show a very different approach to characterizing the admirable woman. The evocation of Elizabeth by means of Anne's character serves to elucidate and cement this shift in Austen's tone and feminist worldview. The similarities juxtaposed with a discernible shift in the qualities of the heroine strongly suggest that Anne Elliot is a reworking of Elizabeth Bennet, and that the purpose of Persuasion is to reinvent Pride and Prejudice in a way shows Austen's reconsideration of the value and motives of marriage and gives even more intellectual and emotional credit to Persuasion's heroine. There exists a carefully crafted language of allusion in Austen's works, and especially between these two bookends of her career, which seem to serve almost as a privatized discourse for Austen's own benefit. In this way, Austen is showing her own shift into Romanticism, valuing the emotional over the reasonable, and how this shift should play out into the lives of women. Elizabeth is representative of women being capable and worthy to reason in the world of men, whereas Anne's individualism gives women something even more important in Austen's assertion of the validity and worth of female emotions.
Austen, Jane, 1775-1817
Tarlson, Claire E. (2006). Jane Austen, Persuasion, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Lethbridge Undergraduate Research Journal, 1(1).