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Persuasion

Jane Austen

Chapters 15–16

Chapters 13–14

Chapters 17–18

Summary

Chapter 15

Now in Bath, Anne finds her father and sister happily situated at a house in Camden Place. Although she is very depressed to be there, she finds the welcome from her family unusually warm. They are excited to show her all the new furniture and rooms of the house, but they have no inclination to listen to Anne's stories. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are quite pleased with the pleasures and accommodations that Bath affords them, and Anne is saddened that her family should be so degraded and not even feel it.

They tell Anne how happy they are to have renewed their acquaintance with Mr. Elliot. He has often been visiting them at Camden Place. They have forgiven him for the estrangement and for his choice in marrying his first wife, who was rich, but not well-born. Mr. Elliot is now in mourning, his wife having died only six months ago. Anne cannot help but be skeptical as to the reasons for her cousin so suddenly paying respects to his family after so long a separation. She guesses that he might be interested in marrying Elizabeth.

The conversation with Sir Walter and Elizabeth turns to the topic of appearance. Sir Walter announces his belief that Bath is filled with plain-looking women. He inquires after Mary's appearance.

Mr. Elliot arrives to visit them and finds Anne very attractive. He recognizes her from their brief meeting in Lyme and is very pleased to find that she is actually his cousin. He sits down with them, seems very interested in Anne, and tries repeatedly to talk to her. Anne thinks that he is polished, well-mannered, and sensible. After an hour, he rises to leave. Anne thinks her first evening in Bath has gone much better than she could have hoped.

Chapter 16

The next morning, Mrs. Clay offers to leave Bath, now that Anne has come, but Sir Walter and Elizabeth will not hear of it. This reignites worries in Anne that her father may become romantically attached to Mrs. Clay. She notices that her sister, Elizabeth, does not worry at all about this possibility. Lady Russell, with all her propriety, is vexed that Mrs. Clay should receive any precedence over Anne at Camden Place.

Lady Russell is quite charmed by Mr. Elliot, and thinks him all that he should be: sensible, moderate, pleasant, and correct in her opinions. She has no suspicions as to his motives for reuniting with his family. Anne recognizes that she may at times disagree with Lady Russell; it is her belief that Mr. Elliot is paying them attention because he means to court Elizabeth.

News comes that Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, estranged cousins of the Elliots, have arrived in Bath. Lady Dalrymple is considered nobility, and Sir Walter is extremely excited about the prospect of renewing his acquaintance with her and moving with the Dalrymples among the very finest social circles in Bath. Anne is disappointed that her father and sister have so little pride as to be in awe of their cousins. Sir Walter writes the Dalrymples a letter of apology for their estrangement and receives a forgiving note in return. Anne is ashamed that her family talks of their high relations to everybody; she sees little of merit in her awkward, unaccomplished, and uninteresting relatives.

Anne talks with Mr. Elliot and finds he agrees with Sir Walter that the acquaintance with Lady Dalrymple should be pursued. Mr. Elliot believes that in a relatively small city like Bath, one's social circle is extremely important. He implies to Anne that he also worries about his uncle's connection to Mrs. Clay. He thinks such a potential attachment dangerous and he hopes to do everything possible to draw Sir Walter's attentions elsewhere.

Analysis

Here, Austen introduces the issue of place, meaning one's position both geographically and in society. The two are highly connected. Mr. Elliot points out that Sir Walter's family may be relatively insignificant in London due to their 'present, quiet style of living,' but in Bath they are able to move within prominent social circles. Anne takes offense to the idea that one's social worth is dependent on one's location. She has a more nuanced and complex vision of social standing, in which value is placed not only on birth and wealth, but on one's accomplishments, manners, and interests. In Somersetshire, the Elliot family is considered the very best; here in Bath, they could be understood to be socially beneath their cousins, the Dalrymples. Anne has pride, and she is offended at the thought that such unaccomplished and uninteresting people could be ranked above her.

Austen does not believe that the class system should be discarded. Anne is extremely conscious of class, which explains the offense she takes at the prospect of having Mrs. Clay for her step-mother. Anne is unaccustomed to being thought beneath anyone, and in some ways, she has more pride than her father and sister. She cannot bear the thought that such a respected, landed family such as hers must live in rented rooms in a city, while their home is inhabited by others. Anne is further dismayed at the small degree to which her father and sister seem to be upset by this. Austen is expressing that a certain amount of pride can be a good thing, if it is based upon true merit and not false appearances.

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