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Persuasions: The Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America


Jane Austen suggests in Persuasion the pressures that the increased mobility of the middle class placed on the established aristocratic society in her time. Anne Elliot especially brings to light the inherited assumptions of her society. She can marry within her social rank (Mr. Elliot or Charles Musgrove) or marry below her (Wentworth at age 23), but either is a choice within the limits established by her society. One owns land or one does not. But when Wentworth returns a man of name and wealth, he is not a member of the landed gentry nor is he below Anne in social rank. He represents an alternative in the navy. Naval society differs from aristocratic society in that social mobility is possible and wealth and status attainable, based on merit rather than birth. A gentleman in the navy is one who earns this position; he distinguishes himself by serving his country. As the definition of "gentleman" shifts from one based on the requirements of inherited rank, wealth and property to one based on individual actions and merit, the definition of "home" shifts, too, from a place, the inherited family estate, to a condition based on love and affection. When "home" is outside the house, woman achieves greater latitude in defining her place in society.

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