The ‘Scene’

The first two chapters set the scene and introduce the members of the Elliot family. Our first and lasting impression is made of Sir Walter the baronet, proud of his rank, referring constantly to his lineage in the ‘Baronetage’ and obsessed with his good looks and the complexions of those around him:

"Vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy" (Chapter I)

His oldest daughter Elizabeth is a replica of him, the handsome mistress of Kellynch Hall, but frustrated in her attempts towards marriage and anxious about her age of "nine-and-twenty". She is late to marry, especially as her younger sister Mary is already Mrs Charles Musgrove. The heir, Mr William Elliot is introduced as the man who spurned Elizabeth and avoided the family by marrying "a rich woman of inferior birth". Notice here then the immediate launch into concerns of lineage and money: Elizabeth and Sir Walter planned to catch Mr Elliot in order to preserve Kellynch Hall in their hands, whilst Mr Elliot is concerned with monetary gain; marriage therefore, assumes the role of ensuring domestic and economic convenience.

We are introduced to the financial troubles of the Elliots due to their over-expenditure and luxuriant lifestyle; deprivation to Elizabeth appears in the form of cutting off charities and to refrain from furnishing the drawing room! The only other aspect that she thinks to economize on is the gift that they bring to Anne after their jaunt in the city. This comically highlights not only the selfishness and ludicrous luxury of their lifestyle but also the position of Anne in the family. She is neglected due to her lack of beauty and its subsequent power to get her name into Sir Walter’s Baronetage. When it comes to the issue of extricating Sir Walter from the results of his lavish way of life, Lady Russell, a family friend, calls upon Anne to help her in common sense calculations:

"she did what nobody else thought of doing: she consulted Anne, who never seemed considered by the others as having any interest in the question"

(Chapter II)

The question of inheritance and property is central to many English novels and crucial to those of Jane Austen. In the opening pages of Persuasion in Sir Walter Elliot’s Baronetage we learn of a history structured around inheritance, marriage and social contracts, William Elliot is heir presumptive and the future becomes inextricable from issues of land and social distinctions. In the vain Sir Walter, who is obsessed with mirrors, luxury and good looks, family position in terms of patriarchal responsibility and social role holds no sway.

Only the empty signs of connections, rank and money excite his interest; he rents out Kellynch Hall in order to perpetuate his opulent lifestyle rather than to fulfil his responsibilities. Jane Austen pinpoints then the break down in the relationship between title and social role, rank and merit. Lady Russell esteems Sir Walter as a ‘baronet’ not as a great man or responsible landowner: "She had prejudices on the side of ancestry; she had a value for rank and consequence".

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