1. “Vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter Eliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.”
The narrator of Persuasion makes clear that Sir Walter Elliot is a man who prizes himself—his looks and his title—above everyone and everything else, including his own children. This vanity causes him to see everything through the lens of self. His selfishness blinds him to the truth that sometimes beauty and breeding hide a flawed character, while plain looks and modest behavior bespeak a good character.
2. “ . . . she had the consciousness of being nine-and-twenty, to give her some regrets and some apprehensions. She was fully satisfied of being still quite as handsome as ever; but she felt her approach to the years of danger, and would have rejoiced to be certain of being properly solicited by baronet-blood within the next twelvemonth or two.”
Elizabeth Elliot may be head of her widowed father’s household, but she is aware that her consequence will diminish if she does not marry, as all women are expected to do. Her vanity offers some comfort, but if she becomes an old maid, her good looks will not save her from losing social status. Her difficulty is that she thinks so highly of herself that she will not consider marrying anyone who is not of good breeding and wealth—this thinking narrows her chances of marriage even more.
3. “Anne Elliot, with all her claims of birth, beauty, and mind, to throw herself away at nineteen; involve herself at nineteen in an engagement with a young man, who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, but in the chances of a most uncertain profession, and to no connexions [sic] to secure even his farther rise in that profession; would be, indeed, a throwing away, which she grieved to think of! Anne Elliot, so young; known to so few, to be snatched off by a stranger without alliance or fortune; or rather sunk by him into a state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependence!”
The narrator recounts the arguments that Lady Russell used to persuade Anne not to marry Wentworth eight years before. She felt that Wentworth was not well bred enough for Anne, the daughter of a baronet. She felt that he could not support Anne in the style she deserved. She also feared that if Anne married such a young naval officer, she might be subject to such deprivations and worries that she would age too quickly. Her concerns are that of a mother; indeed, she feels that she stands in for Anne’s dead mother in advising her against such an imprudent and risky marriage.
4. “She was persuaded that under every disadvantage of disapprobation at home, and every anxiety attending his profession, all their probable fears, delays and disappointments, she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement, than she had been in the sacrifice of it. . . .”
Anne, at twenty-seven, looks back with regret on her decision not to marry Wentworth. She now knows she could have endured all those hardships for Wentworth.
5. “‘. . . and I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship. While we were together, you know, there was nothing to be feared.’”
Mrs. Croft tells Mrs. Musgrove, while Anne also listens, that being a naval wife is not the hard life that many people imagine it is. She provides for Anne an example that confirms Anne’s belief that she could have been Wentworth’s wife without being plunged into the separations and discomforts that Lady Russell feared for her.
6. “‘It is the worst evil of too yielding and indecisive a character that no influence over it can be depended on.—You are never sure of a good impression being durable. Every body may saw it; let those who would be happy be firm.’”
Wentworth is commending Louisa Musgrove on her independent, headstrong character, which he compares in his own mind to Anne’s behavior when she withdrew from their engagement eight years before. He still chafes from that disappointment and consequently is looking for a wife who knows her own mind and will not be persuaded against an engagement to him.
7. “‘Oh!’ cried Anne eagerly, ‘I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures. I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as—if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. All the privilege I claim for my own sex 9it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.’”
In a conversation with Captain Harville, Anne debates with him the question of who loves best and strongest, men or women. Anne is aware that Captain Wentworth is eavesdropping, and she makes a point to let him know, through her words, that women may not be as physically strong as men or the demands of endure war, but that they are capable of being strong in their feelings and enduring hardship and sacrifice—and a loss of hope—when they love someone. She is trying to tell Wentworth that she still loves him, that she has never stopped loving him, even when she knew she had lost him.
8. “‘I was very young, and associated only with the young, and we were a thoughtless, gay set, without any strict rules of conduct. We lived for enjoyment. I think differently now; time and sickness, and sorrow, have given me other notions. . . .’”
Mrs. Smith is telling Anne how, when she married, she married for love and did not ever imagine that the man she married would one day be bankrupt—led into ruin by Mr. Elliot—and that she would be left as a poor, ill widow. Her story provides for Anne an example of how marrying young—and marrying for love—can be a mistake for women because a woman’s welfare is inextricably tied to the success of her husband.
9. “‘Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.’”
In a letter to Anne, Wentworth acknowledges that he has overhead Anne’s words to Captain Harville and that he, too, still loves her, despite how much she hurt him when she refused to marry him eight years before.
10. “When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or eve so little likely to be necessary to each other’s ultimate comfort.”
The narrator concludes the novel by saying that marriage is an uncertain business. Young people will pledge themselves to one another out of love, but time may erode that love in the face of poverty, bad character, or fading esteem. Young couples cannot see how their love will ultimately turn out. However, marriage—and love—are worth risking those possible outcomes.