Persuasion

by: Jane Austen

Chapters 21–22

Summary Chapters 21–22

Anne goes to visit the Musgroves where they are staying, and she once again relishes the happiness of their bustling company. While they are there, Mary looks out the window and notices Mr. Elliot talking to Mrs. Clay on the street outside. Anne looks and confirms that it is them.

Mary and Charles get into an argument about the plans for that night. Charles has got a box for them all to see a play, but Mary thinks they must go to her father's evening party; she feels it is vital that they be introduced to the Dalrymples. She is also very curious to meet Mr. Elliot, her father's heir. Anne takes this opportunity to express that she would much rather see a play than spend time with Mr. Elliot. Captain Wentworth takes note of this. After a good deal of arguing, Charles and Mary finally decide to attend the evening party.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth enter the room briefly to extend the invitation to their party to all the Musgroves. They invite Captain Wentworth as well. The Elliots return to their home to prepare for tomorrow's party.

Analysis

In these chapters, deception is discovered as Anne finds out Mr. Elliot's true motivations behind all his attentions to her family. In a twist of dramatic irony, Mrs. Smith is the one to inform Anne of her cousin's cold-heartedness and social ambition. Anne acknowledges that she would never have this important information were it not for her own feelings that friendship must trump the value of social appearances; if Anne had not chosen to visit Mrs. Smith, she would not have known about Mr. Elliot's bad character. Austen employs dramatic irony to express a certain social justice; the crippled and impoverished Mrs. Smith is capable of ruining the plans of the wealthy Mr. Elliot.

These passages allow Austen to iron out, for her reader, the rules and limitations of social ambition in the world of Persuasion. The novel critiques aristocratic claims to distinction by painting a ridiculous caricature of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, but it condemns Mr. Elliot's more determined plan to rise in social consequence. In this world, there are rules to social mobility. It is acceptable that one should consider birth and fortune when choosing a marriage partner; Austen concedes that it is only prudent to do so. It is also acceptable, if humiliating, to seek company with one's social superiors. But it is entirely unacceptable to lie, manipulate, and feign emotion in order to gain a title. Mr. Elliot went wrong in failing to behave like a gentleman. He was callous and cold to Mrs. Smith, actions that Anne cannot forgive. Furthermore, Mr. Elliot openly rejected the rules and values of his class and station; by writing all those years ago that he cared neither for his family nor his title. The aristocracy is based upon the core beliefs of family and tradition; by rejecting these, Mr. Elliot proves himself unworthy to hold the title of baronet.