In Jane Austen's last completed novel, Persuasion, England is one large family with two distinct branches, the navy and the aristocratic upper class-it is no accident that the two large books consulted in the novel are the Baronetage and the Naval Lists. The naval family poses a threat to the aristocratic family; in fact, undertones of social instability riddle the text, through imagery of death, illness, and accident. The marriages of Anne Elliott, Louisa Musgrove, and Harriet Musgrove reveal a gentry which can only redeem itself through intermarriage with the professional meritocratic class, symbolically taking on their values of utility and social responsibility, and abandoning an idle aristocracy in decline. In Persuasion, the only novel of Austen's that does not center around a landed estate, the letting of Kellynch Hall shows an aristocracy ousted from its familial seats of power, in favor of the fashionable world of Bath. Landed responsibility is given up for a hollow world of rented rooms and social display. The aristocracy is replaced in their hallowed hall by members of the new meritocracy, the Admiral and Mrs. Croft.
The English navy has been world-renowned from the time of the Spanish Armada, in 1588, and played a key role in the expansion of the British Empire; not only does the navy serve as an example of Englishness, it helped create that very notion of national identity. In Persuasion, Austen domesticates the navy, portraying it as one large brotherhood. In fact, Captain Wentworth cancels a trip to his biological brother in order to visit his injured friend, Captain Harville. Officers discuss transporting each other's wives to and fro on their boats,...
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Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.
Beer, Gillian. Introduction. Persuasion. By Jane Austen. London: Penguin Classics, 1998. vii-xxviii.
Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. 1975. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
Wiltshire, John. Jane Austen and the Body. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. 1814. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.
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Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
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