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PERSUASION: Discussion Questions

I'll post the discussion questions from the end of the BN Classics edition of Persuasion.  None of the questions are spoilers, per se, but those responding may use specific examples in their posts.  If you're concerned about having the end ruined for you, just avoid this thread until you've finished the book :smileyhappy:
 
I also acquired a Norton Critical edition, so I'll see what goodies are in that edition, too.
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Discussion Question #1 from the BN Edition

Jane Austen is often described as "a novelist of manners."  What happens when the manners depicted in her novels no longer prevail?  Given her coninuous popularity, there must be something else.  What would that be? 
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Discussion Question #2 from the BN Edition

Does Jane Austen ridicule a particular set of people with her wit?  Or is she witty at the expense of everybody?  Is it possible to derive a system of values from her wit?
Melissa W.
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Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

Do we have any equivalent to the markers of social rank depicted in Austen's novels?
Melissa W.
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Discussion Question #4 from the BN Edition

Would you describe Jane Austen as reactionary, conservative, middle-of-the-road, liberal, or radical - or eclectic?
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Re: Discussion Question #1 from the BN Edition

[ Edited ]
Melissa, it feels like a school essay!  :smileyvery-happy:
 
While society and manners today are different from Jane's time, the basics of character & human nature remain.  Who has not recognized a character as someone known in real life - whether a vain Sir Walter, a pretentious Elizabeth, a whining Mary, a calculating Mr. Elliot, manipulative Lucy Steele, over-romantic Marianne . . . a proud Lizzy, a sweet Jane, a busybody Emma, a solid Mr. Knightley, a cad like Henry Crawford, etc.? 
 
Even most of her novel's situations can be related to when taken down to the basics - Anne's regret in turning away Wentworth; Louisa's determination in trying to attach Wentworth; Sir Walter's financial woes; Elinor's falling for an unavailable man; Henry Crawford determined to attach Fanny as a whim - as well as his determination to re-attach Maria since she treats him coldly; Lydia's elopement with an unsuitable man; Emma's attempts at matchmaking; secrets; silliness; arrogance; pride & prejudice; interference; feelings of superiority, etc.  All of these situations are comparable today.
 
The "realness" of her people - what they endure - what they feel - their situations, etc. are easy to relate to, and Austen's writings make for wonderful and fun reading.  She gives us wonderful observations of human nature and behavior.  A reader is drawn in by her words & her dialogue gives us more insight into her characters than a straight narrative.
 
I found the following quote on page 6 in Natalie Tyler's The Friendly Jane Austen that seems appropriate:
 
Jane Austen wrote about situations that are repeated today - the driving scenes in Northanger Abbey are so similar to those on a date with a boy who drives too fast.  There are Lydias, Emmas, Bingleys of the same age today.  Adopting Austen's eyes to see people & situations as amusing rather than infuriating does wonders for one's blood pressure.   ~   Sallie Wadsworth


pedsphleb wrote:
Jane Austen is often described as "a novelist of manners."  What happens when the manners depicted in her novels no longer prevail?  Given her coninuous popularity, there must be something else.  What would that be? 




Message Edited by LizzieAnn on 06-18-2008 06:45 PM
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Re: Discussion Question #4 from the BN Edition

For me, Jane Austen isn't easy to label - so maybe eclectic would come closest.   She's a unique combination.  In Mansfield Park and even a bit in Emma, she makes her views on the slave trade known.  Through Mrs. Smith, Jane Fairfax, the Bates women, and the Dashwood women, she illustrates the plight of single women and widows left without means.  Sir Walter shows us that "social position" is not what makes a true gentleman.  In fact, throughout Persuasion we see that the true gentleman and gentlewoman is marked by his/her actions rather than their position - that deeds overshine birth.  We see this repeated in Pride & Prejudice via the Gardners and Lady Catherine. 
 
In Chapter 8 of Persuasion, Wentworth speaks about naval ships not being entirely fit - if this is based on conversations of her naval brothers, it can be viewed as criticism of authority.  While marriage is certainly prevalent in Austen's novels - it's marriage based on more that security & position that she shows as being of more value.  Marriage of respect, affection, and equality are deemed the happiest, such as the Crofts and the Gardners, and the future of her heroines.
 
Jane Austen also gives us strong females - which may be part of the great attraction of her novels.  Lizzy Bennet is athletic (always walking long distances) and intelligent, as is Mrs. Croft who is speaks of women as "rational creatures" and is also adventurous (taking to the seas with her husband).  Elinor is sensible and practical as is Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Gardner.  Anne Elliot is strong, loyal, and sensible.  These aren't weak and fluttery heroines who are victims and need to be rescued. 
 
I'm sure that there's even more examples that I'll think of eventually, but I'll end with this quote by Fay Weldon found on page 6 of Natalie Tyler's The Friendly Jane Austen:
 
She is not a gentle writer.  Do not be misled; she is not ignorant, merely discreet;
not innocent, merely graceful.


pedsphleb wrote:
Would you describe Jane Austen as reactionary, conservative, middle-of-the-road, liberal, or radical - or eclectic?



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Re: Discussion Question #2 from the BN Edition

I can't recall many -- indeed at this moment any -- instances where she applies her rapier wit to members of the common folk. The servants, Mr. Martin (in Emma), shopkeepers. Don't know whether this was because they weren't significant enough characters in the books to waste wit on, or (I think more likely) that their lot was already bad enough that there was no point in deflating them with her wit.

pedsphleb wrote:
Does Jane Austen ridicule a particular set of people with her wit?  Or is she witty at the expense of everybody?  Is it possible to derive a system of values from her wit?



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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

Oh, my goodness, yes.

A variety of levels of cost and luxury of cars to match the variety of levels of cost and luxury of carriages.

Clothing. Very much so. Paris fashions are still Paris fashions, and those who wear them are still of a certain class.

Expensive vacation spots in place of European tours.

McMansions in place of country houses.

And on and on.


pedsphleb wrote:
Do we have any equivalent to the markers of social rank depicted in Austen's novels?



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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

[ Edited ]


Everyman wrote:
Oh, my goodness, yes.

A variety of levels of cost and luxury of cars to match the variety of levels of cost and luxury of carriages.

Clothing. Very much so. Paris fashions are still Paris fashions, and those who wear them are still of a certain class.

Expensive vacation spots in place of European tours.

McMansions in place of country houses.

And on and on.


pedsphleb wrote:
Do we have any equivalent to the markers of social rank depicted in Austen's novels?





On one hand, I agree with you.  Rank is often defined by wealth - we have upper-class, middle-class, and lower-class.
 
On the other hand, this is not exactly the same kind of rank we see in Austen's society.  For example, in this novel there are frequent references to 'precedence', in the context of Mary's concerns about it - this would be the order in which the women went in to dinner.  This is somewhat independent of wealth.  Mary is entitled to precedence over Mrs. Musgrove because she is the daughter of a Baronet, although the elder Musgroves certainly have more money and a more impressive home.  Mr. Elliot married a wealthy woman who was below his class, but later in life, when he has all the money he needs, he becomes more concerned with his social rank, as the heir to Kellynch and a future Baronet.  Admiral Croft can afford to live at Kellynch, while Sir Walter cannot; however, the Crofts still must defer to the Elliots in society.
 
I'm not sure we have ever really had this type of social rank in America, but perhaps it still exists to some extent in the U.K., where I would imagine that even impoverished peers are considered of a higher class than the nouveau riche.


Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 06-19-2008 08:45 PM
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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

I get your point about precedence, but it certainly does exist in certain segments of our society. For example, if at formal White House dinners, who goes in when and who sits where is carefully choreographed. If you have ever been involved in a corporate board meeting, or a military briefing, there is a definite precedence in who goes in first (in that case, it's sort of reverse -- the lower castes go in first, and the highest later.)

And even in general society, if you're giving a dinner party and you have gathered for drinks in the living room and are heading into the dining room, don't you have the guests go first?

Funerals, weddings, graduations -- in all such formal occasions there is a definite order of precedence by which people enter and leave.

So while no, precedence doesn't exert the same degree of movement control in daily life that it did in Austen's day, we still have significant pockets of it around.


dulcinea3 wrote:


Everyman wrote:
Oh, my goodness, yes.

A variety of levels of cost and luxury of cars to match the variety of levels of cost and luxury of carriages.

Clothing. Very much so. Paris fashions are still Paris fashions, and those who wear them are still of a certain class.

Expensive vacation spots in place of European tours.

McMansions in place of country houses.

And on and on.


pedsphleb wrote:
Do we have any equivalent to the markers of social rank depicted in Austen's novels?





On one hand, I agree with you.  Rank is often defined by wealth - we have upper-class, middle-class, and lower-class.
 
On the other hand, this is not exactly the same kind of rank we see in Austen's society.  For example, in this novel there are frequent references to 'precedence', in the context of Mary's concerns about it - this would be the order in which the women went in to dinner.  This is somewhat independent of wealth.  Mary is entitled to precedence over Mrs. Musgrove because she is the daughter of a Baronet, although the elder Musgroves certainly have more money and a more impressive home.  Mr. Elliot married a wealthy woman who was below his class, but later in life, when he has all the money he needs, he becomes more concerned with his social rank, as the heir to Kellynch and a future Baronet.  Admiral Croft can afford to live at Kellynch, while Sir Walter cannot; however, the Crofts still must defer to the Elliots in society.
 
I'm not sure we have ever really had this type of social rank in America, but perhaps it still exists to some extent in the U.K., where I would imagine that even impoverished peers are considered of a higher class than the nouveau riche.


Message Edited by dulcinea3 on 06-19-2008 08:45 PM


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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

Yes, I suppose the protocol at state dinners and the like is very similar to the order of precedence in Austen's time.  Of course, few of us are frequently involved in such situations.  In an Austen village, the entire social spectrum is represented in a sort of microcosm, so social rank and precedence is going to affect many people on a daily basis.
 
However, if you have your guests precede you into the dining room, that is to be polite, and not because they are of a higher class or social rank than you are.  In Austen's society, if you were the highest-ranked present, you would go ahead of everyone else, regardless of whether you are the host/hostess.  So I really can't see that it is the same thing.
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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

Why is it polite to have your guests go first into the dining room, when they don't know what to expect or where to go, rather than leading them in and showing them where you want them to sit?

dulcinea3 wrote:
Yes, I suppose the protocol at state dinners and the like is very similar to the order of precedence in Austen's time.  Of course, few of us are frequently involved in such situations.  In an Austen village, the entire social spectrum is represented in a sort of microcosm, so social rank and precedence is going to affect many people on a daily basis.
 
However, if you have your guests precede you into the dining room, that is to be polite, and not because they are of a higher class or social rank than you are.  In Austen's society, if you were the highest-ranked present, you would go ahead of everyone else, regardless of whether you are the host/hostess.  So I really can't see that it is the same thing.



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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

Ok, ok, let's just say a mistaken sense of politeness by the people who do do that, then!
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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

I did get your point, should have made that clear. And you're right that there is less attention to precedence now than then. But it's not by any means gone.

dulcinea3 wrote:
Ok, ok, let's just say a mistaken sense of politeness by the people who do do that, then!



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Re: Discussion Question #3 from the BN Edition

It is certainly alive and well in the UK (as you would expect) and is especially evident at weddings, both in the church, at the reception and in the taking of photographs.  And of course all the royal family photographs/lineups have an order of precedence, with the lesser royals being at the back. The Queen always leads the way into dining rooms, ballrooms etc and this order of preference is traditionally followed by most of her subjects at their ceremonies.    

Everyman wrote:
I did get your point, should have made that clear. And you're right that there is less attention to precedence now than then. But it's not by any means gone.

dulcinea3 wrote:
Ok, ok, let's just say a mistaken sense of politeness by the people who do do that, then!






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Re: Discussion Question #1 from the BN Edition



pedsphleb wrote:
Jane Austen is often described as "a novelist of manners."  What happens when the manners depicted in her novels no longer prevail?  Given her coninuous popularity, there must be something else.  What would that be? 


It is true that society today is quite different from society in Austen's time.  Their manners seem quaint to us, old-fashioned and unecessarily restrictive.  But I think that there are several reasons for her continued popularity.
 
First, the underlying themes that she writes about are universal.  There is no expiration date on someone having a bad first impression of someone and later changing his/her mind, falling in love with someone who seems inaccessible, trying to matchmake, turning someone down and having a second chance later in life, etc.  We may not relate to the social settings, but we can relate to the feelings of the characters.
 
Also, we do have curiosity about the past.  It may seem quaint, but it is still interesting to us to understand how people thought and behaved in an earlier time.
 
And then there is her sense of humor.  Most people enjoy a good laugh!
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Re: Discussion Question #2 from the BN Edition



pedsphleb wrote:
Does Jane Austen ridicule a particular set of people with her wit?  Or is she witty at the expense of everybody?  Is it possible to derive a system of values from her wit?


I think that in many ways, Austen does not agree with social mores of her day.  She uses her wit to skewer those that she finds ridiculous.  Many of her characters are caricatures.  In Persuasion, Sir Walter and Mary are perhaps the greatest examples of this.  We can hardly think of Sir Walter without thinking of his vanity, or Mary without her self-absorption and selfishness.
 
But Austen does not turn her wicked wit on all of her characters.  Her heroines and heroes are rarely very comic.  (Well, perhaps with the exception of Northanger Abbey.)
 
Some characters seem to fall in between the two.  Mrs. Musgrove can be a funny character, but she is hardly skewered like Sir Walter is.  Charles, likewise, is rather comically obsessed with hunting, dogs, and guns.  But these characters are treated with more respect by the author.  I would call them comic characters, rather than caricatures.
 
I think that we can derive a system of values from her wit.  The people who have the least common sense and follow the mores that Austen least approves of, will be the most like caricatures, and then there are varying shades of grey until we get to the least comic characters, who either start out or end up thinking and doing as Austen approves.
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Re: Discussion Question #2 from the BN Edition


dulcinea3 wrote: ...I think that we can derive a system of values from her wit. The people who have the least common sense and follow the mores that Austen least approves of, will be the most like caricatures, and then there are varying shades of grey until we get to the least comic characters, who either start out or end up thinking and doing as Austen approves.



Aha -- you have just helped me clarify my feelings about Austen. As she approves -- okay, I get it.

Otherwise, a caricature.
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