The Power of Sickness in Jane Austen's Persuasion

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The Power of Sickness in Persuasion

Throughout the course of her work, Persuasion, Jane Austen offers much insight into the social aspect of English life at the beginning of the 19th Century. Austen’s characters, through their lives, demonstrate how the landed aristocracy has seen their dominant grasp on the social scene loosened. In addition, through various degrees of personal illnesses, Austen’s characters portray the human body as fragile and delicate creation. Yet as separate and distinct as these two themes may seem, Austen relates them to each other in the theme of sickness; the aristocracy has taken a turn for the worse in light of the successes of the navy in the war, while the individual characters suffer through relations’ deaths and personal injury to their bodies. Within Persuasion, Austen demonstrates how sickness has pervaded the established English order of life on both the societal and personal levels.

Within the first four chapters of Persuasion, Austen delves into the circumstances by which the baronet class has found their social position to be in a state of dis-ease and disease. With the Elliot family serving as an example for their class, the lower portions of the aristocracy begin to find themselves in a traumatic state of affairs. The title of baronet, which Sir Walter covets so dearly that he, “never took up any book other than the Baronetage,” (Austen 45) no longer holds the same position of clout it once had. In fact, as Editor Linda Bree points out in her footnote on page 45, the claim of baronet merely, “occupies a marginal position between the gentry and the aristocracy.” Thus, the baronets of England are a buffer zone between the commoners and the real true aristoc...

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...suasion places 19th Century British society in print and, in the face of a sickness and disease that destroys individuals, families, and social classes, asks the reader to understand the inherent worth and value of the human spirit that no disease can quench.

Works Cited

Auerbach, Nina. "'O Brave New World: Evolution and Revolution in Persuasion." ELH 39 (1972): 112-28.

Austen, Jane. Bree, Linda, ed. Persuasion. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press Ltd. 1998.

Morrow, Laurie. "Mannerly Novels for an Ill-Mannered Age." The World & I 11 (1996): 261-74.

Prewitt Brown, Julia. Jane Austen's Novels: Social Change and Literary Form. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Rzepka, Charles J. "Making it in a Brave New World: Marriage, Profession, and Anti- Romantic Ekstasis in Austen's Persuasion." Studies in the Novel 26 (1994): 99- 115.
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