Persuasion by Jane Austen
Novel Beat Sheet
Written by: Jane Austen
Publisher: John Murray, London, 1817/1818 — my edition: The Book of the Month Club, Inc. (1996)
Total pages: 228
Genre: Buddy Love
Among those who know me even a little, it’s surprising to exactly no one that, when given the opportunity to write a beat sheet for Jane Austen’s Persuasion, I jumped at it like a single woman at a Regency ball who was just asked to dance by a handsome naval officer.
Pride and Prejudice may have been my first and most passionate literary love, but Persuasion, published half a year after the author’s death, is Austen all grown up. For me and for countless other readers, it’s a story that has lingered and resonated deeply over the decades. We see a mature and self-reflective heroine in Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old highborn lady, who has come to accept that the happiest version of her life and her best chance at romantic love may have already passed her by. In hero Frederick Wentworth, we witness a self-made man, now a wealthy captain in the British Navy, who still harbors a broken heart at the way Anne ended their engagement when she was 19. Their second chance at love plays out in the English countryside, at a seaside resort town, and in the city of Bath.
Here are my take on Blake Snyder’s 15 beats for this classic Austen romance:
Opening Image (pages 1 – 5): Readers are introduced to kind and sensible Anne Elliot, along with her less-than-delightful family members, primarily, her vain, spendthrift father Sir Walter and similarly obnoxious elder sister Elizabeth. The extravagant habits of the latter two are the reason why they’ll soon be departing their grand estate of Kellynch Hall and “retrenching” to rented apartments in the city of Bath.
Set-Up (pages 1 – 27): The history of the Elliot family is explained and the main cast is introduced, notably, Lady Russell, who has been a mother figure to Anne ever since the death of her dear mother 13 years earlier. We also meet Anne’s whiny, hypochondriac younger sister Mary, who married the neighboring Charles Musgrove, and has wild, unsupervised children and entertaining in-laws nearby. There is also sister Elizabeth’s good friend and companion, Mrs. Clay, who will be joining the family in Bath (inadvisedly, according to both Lady Russell and Anne) and the mention of an estranged cousin, William Elliot, who will eventually inherit Kellynch Hall.
Above all, there is Anne’s memory of her long-lost love, Frederick Wentworth, a now-affluent naval captain. He may have forgotten all about her, but she’ll never forget him or the painful decision she had to make when she broke off their engagement eight years earlier on the advice of her father and Lady Russell. They believed it was an unsuitable match, since she was of a higher class and he had no money at the time. Anne, relying on their greater wisdom, acted according to their wishes, but she felt the loss of Frederick acutely.
Theme Stated (page 11): Naturally, the art of persuasion is a major theme throughout the novel, both in present events and in the backstory, but the experience of suffering also runs deeply. When talking about the need for the family to rent out their estate and retrench to Bath for several years in order to save money, Lady Russell, referring to Sir Walter’s constant concern for appearances and need to preserve his rank and position in society, says to Anne, “There will be nothing singular in his case; and it is singularity which often makes the worst part of our suffering, as it always does of our conduct.”
She believes that because so many other titled families have gone to Bath for similar financial reasons, no one will think poorly of Anne’s father or the Elliot family for doing the same. However, the notion that being alone in one’s suffering makes things worse is a concept depicted in several scenarios during the novel and a belief that many of the characters share.
Catalyst (pages 19 – 27): With England currently at peace, their solicitor suggests a rich Navy tenant for Kellynch Hall, specifically, Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia, who are interested in renting the estate. While Sir Walter is, as always, entirely focused on superficialities, like the physical appearance of the potential tenants and their social rank, Anne is particularly affected by this turn of events. Why? Because Sophia Croft is the sister of Frederick Wentworth. Just imagining the possibility that he “may soon be walking here” is enough to throw her world completely off kilter.
Debate (pages 27 – 63): Anne shares Jane Austen’s own dislike of Bath. When her father and sister decide that the two of them, along with the ever-present Mrs. Clay, will go off to Bath first and leave Anne in the area to help out her younger sister Mary and finish up those pesky packing details, Anne is somewhat relieved. However, staying at Uppercross Cottage with Mary and her noisy family is headache-inducing and, furthermore, worrying about the new tenants of her old home is emotionally taxing.
When she meets with the very kind Admiral and Mrs. Croft, Anne learns that Frederick will indeed soon be visiting. She’s not sure what she feels more—excitement or agitation—but she mentally debates what it might be like to see him again after so many years. And then she does see him. It’s a brief and emotionally painful meeting for her, but if she thought the awkwardness would be over quickly, she’s wrong.
Break into Two (page 64): Captain Frederick Wentworth has come to stay at Kellynch Hall for an extended period of time, not merely for a short visit. To make matters worse, he’s openly looking for a wife. (In his opinion, any single woman between age 15 and 30 will do—just not Anne Elliot.) It’s an upside-down world for sure. He’s a well-respected and accomplished man who’s made his fortune and is currently living in her former and very grand house, while she is now significantly poorer and a spinster aunt who’s staying at her sister’s more modest place.
B Story (pages 64 – 66): The second-chance love story begins, but it hardly runs smoothly at first. Here we have the introduction of the Musgrove sisters, Louisa and Henrietta, who are Mary’s sisters-in-law and potential love interests for Frederick. Mr. Hayter, a cousin and neighbor, is also vying for Henrietta’s affection, which complicates matters for the secondary characters. As for Frederick himself, he and Anne are running in the same social circle for the first time, so she has an intimate view of his behavior. He is very outspoken and charming to everyone but Anne. With her, he is coldly civil, and though she understands his lingering resentment, she’s still hurt by it. He claims to want a woman in his life who’s not only sweet tempered, but also, strong and knows her own mind. Someone who won’t be easily persuaded by others.
Fun and Games (pages 64 – 105): This is sparkling Regency romance at its height. Lots of group outings, which provide new settings to display the social dynamics of the cast, along with sharply rendered examples of relationships and marriages for Anne (and the readers) to observe. The Admiral and Mrs. Croft have an enviable marital situation, while Mary and her husband Charles Musgrove are a less compatible pair. Frederick finds out that Charles originally wanted to marry Anne first but, when she refused him, he chose Mary instead. This happened after Anne broke off her engagement with Frederick, so he realizes that she had an opportunity to marry within her acceptable social realm but elected not to. Perhaps she didn’t have such a weak character after all.
Although Louisa Musgrove is widely considered to be the best potential match for Frederick, and he certainly plays the part by flirting with her in Anne’s presence, he remains watchful of Anne, even protective, and he slowly shows signs of warming up to her again—or at least being less silently hostile and dismissive of her.
On an excursion to the seaside town of Lyme, more new characters are introduced, particularly, friends of Frederick’s—Captain and Mrs. Harville and Captain Benwick—the latter of whom has been in a deep depression since the death of his fiancée (Captain Harville’s sister) and is attempting to deal with his suffering and grief through the use of poetry. A handsome man in the area is clearly attracted to Anne, which does not go unnoticed by Frederick, and this person is later revealed to be Anne’s cousin/her father’s heir, William Elliot.
Additionally, Louisa’s flirtation with Frederick takes a perilous turn when she stubbornly insists on jumping off some high steps by the shoreline and expecting Frederick to catch her. He manages to do so the first time, but when she recklessly does it again, he isn’t able to get to her soon enough. She falls and is knocked unconscious. While the other women in their group become hysterical, Anne remains calm, gives clear and sensible instructions, and is genuinely able to be of help.
Frederick can’t help but admire this quality in her, and he realizes that he isn’t so fond of women who have such strong opinions that they ignore good sense. Sometimes being open to persuasion is a smart thing. The doctor says that Louisa must stay in Lyme while she heals, so Frederick drives Anne and Henrietta back to Uppercross to break the news of Louisa’s head injury to the Musgrove parents.
Midpoint (page 105): False victory. Anne is gratified that Frederick respects her opinion and judgment again, and it shows in his behavior toward her on the return home. It’s bittersweet, of course, because he’ll need to drive back to Lyme at once and they’ll be separated by distance and unable to talk further. Despite the fact that all signs point to Frederick having a romantic attachment to Louisa, Anne feels she can be content (kinda) with merely being respected acquaintances/friends with Frederick once more. An interesting side note, the end of Chapter 12 marks the spot where the novel, originally published in two volumes, is split—a Jane Austen-style cliffhanger, intended to get readers to buy the second book!
Bad Guys Close In (pages 105 – 171): Anne goes to stay at Lady Russell’s house for a while. Despite Anne’s longstanding respect for the older woman, she finds it increasingly difficult to care about the qualities Lady Russell values in others, which are strikingly similar to the sorts of things Anne’s vain father prizes so highly—money, appearance, rank, etc. Anne tells Lady Russell about Frederick’s attachment to Louisa Musgrove and, consequently, the two of them pay a visit to the Crofts.
Despite the warmth and kindness of the couple, it’s hard for Anne to see her old home occupied by others. Nevertheless, life marches on. She gets news that Louisa is recovering, and she also receives word from her sister in Bath that their father has reconciled with their cousin William Elliot. Much as Anne dislikes that city, the time has now come for her to travel there and join Sir Walter and Elizabeth. Lady Russell accompanies her on the journey.
A series of bad things start happening in Anne’s world. At Camden Place in Bath, Anne’s father and her elder sister remain unchanged. They still care only about social standing and appearances, and neither are taking their family’s financial situation seriously. They persist in overspending and focusing on trying to impress important people in the city. Anne is suspicious of this sudden reconciliation with William Elliot, who is supposedly still in mourning over the death of his wealthy but not lower-class wife. He’s got money now, will still inherit Kellynch Hall someday, and had claimed years ago not to care about titles, so what could he possibly want with them? Anne thinks that, perhaps, he’s interested in her sister Elizabeth. She finds him to be polished, well-mannered, and reasonable when she is finally formally introduced to him, and Lady Russell is utterly charmed by the man, too, but the older woman shares none of Anne’s suspicions about his motives.
The continued presence of Mrs. Clay, however, remains problematic for them both. Not only is it socially improper, but there is a concern that Mrs. Clay might be trying to form an attachment to Anne’s father, which would be dangerous on many levels to Elizabeth and Anne. It could put the Elliot sisters in a precarious financial and social position, particularly if Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay married and had a child together.
It turns out that William Elliot is interested in courting Anne, not her sister, a development Lady Russell encourages. Although Anne is willing to listen to her longtime family friend, she’s thinking much more for herself these days and reflecting on the type of friendships and relationships she values. This is further underscored by Anne witnessing the way her father and Elizabeth are forever sucking up to their much wealthier and higher ranking cousins, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret, women that Anne considers awkward, unaccomplished, and uninteresting. Cousin William Elliot, for all his overt propriety, follows suit.
In contrast, Anne prefers to spend her time visiting Mrs. Smith, an old school friend who’s now a widow, as well as poor and crippled by illness. When her husband had been alive, Mrs. Smith was rich and welcomed in privileged society, but these days she’s excluded. She’s still cheerful and maintains her good manners despite her situation, which Anne admires. Mrs. Smith also actively listens to the gossip in Bath and is willing to pass along some of this to her friend, a gift of information that proves helpful later.
In a surprising romantic twist, it turns out that Louisa Musgrove is newly engaged… but not to Frederick Wentworth! Instead, during Louisa’s convalescence in Lyme, she and Captain Benwick hit it off (over poetry, no less), which cheers Anne a bit because it means Frederick is still free, even if the two of them do not find their way back to each other.
The Crofts arrive in Bath and, shortly thereafter, so does Frederick. His sister, thinking he might be disappointed over Louisa’s change of heart (he isn’t), suggests that he look for a new lady love in the city. However, soon after his arrival, he spots Anne, and notices she’s not alone. Cousin William Elliot is seemingly attached to her and, though Anne and Frederick speak briefly, William quickly whisks her away, but not before Frederick is snubbed by Elizabeth and Lady Russell. This pains Anne. She knows he’s a man of good character and believes her friends and family should grant him the respect he deserves.
All Is Lost (pages 170 – 171): Whiff of death (for the relationship).There is a big concert and all the “important people” in Bath are there. Frederick and Anne are both in attendance, but they’re prevented from sitting near each other because William Elliot is monopolizing her time and attention. Misunderstandings and bad timing are at play here for the hero and heroine. William hints to Anne that he’s planning to propose to her, which is an event that would inspire celebration by those in her inner circle. Obviously, at least to the readers, her heart is still elsewhere.
The object of her affection, however, sees Anne being seriously courted by William and leaves the concert early. For Frederick Wentworth, despite his acquired wealth and the way his hard work has enabled him to rise up through society, Anne’s family is only just beginning to acknowledge him. He doesn’t believe they’ll ever consider him to be good enough for her, and he may have lost her to William anyway, so all is lost.
Dark Night of the Soul (page 171): Anne, while flattered by her cousin William’s attentions, is confused by Frederick’s sudden departure and greatly disappointed by his absence. She has the stunning epiphany that, despite everything that came before—all the anger, resentment, and frustration on Frederick’s part—he’s jealous of her relationship with William. She needs to somehow tell him that her heart is not attached to any man other than him, but accomplishing this in her constrained society is extremely difficult.
Break into Three (page 171): Jane Austen was never one to trust swift or careless declarations of passion. She would have considered such behavior to be improper. Frederick, if he’s to be believed as a true hero, must display his affection for Anne gradually and with prudence. And she, too, must show her enduring love for him, not as the result of a whim, but as the deep and reasoned longing it truly is. One that has stood the test of time and remained steadfast.
Finale (pages 171 – 223): Anne visits Mrs. Smith again, and she tells Anne what she knows about William Elliot. He had once been a close friend of her late husband, although not a good one. He led Mr. Smith into living with greater extravagance than he could afford and, as the executor of his will, William refused to do his duty and, instead, left all the debts for her to pay.
Now that William has money, thanks to the death of his rich wife, his current plans revolve around wanting the baronet title and Kellynch Hall, both of which he would lose if Sir Walter were to marry Mrs. Clay and have a son with her. Anne is saddened by William’s cold-heartedness, greed, and cunning, but she’s grateful to her friend for the insights.
A few of the Musgroves come to town, happy to be celebrating the joys of life and in search of wedding clothes for Henrietta and Louisa. Their arrival delays Anne’s intention of telling Lady Russell about William’s manipulations, but from the window, Anne spots him and Mrs. Clay having a private conversation outside and wonders what other underhanded schemes are afoot on the streets of Bath.
Anne and Frederick are finally in the same room together but engaged in different activities. Anne and Captain Harville are having a conversation about the constancy of love, while Frederick writes a letter nearby and remains attentive to their discussion, albeit silently. Anne claims women are more faithful than men. That they love longest, even when all hope is gone. Harville opposes this view and says that men have the stronger passions. Nevertheless, they agree to disagree.
During this good-natured conversation, the eavesdropping Frederick is inspired to finally own up to his true feelings for Anne and declares his love for her in one of literature’s most famous and romantic letters: “I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me that I am not too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever…”
Frederick hands her this note and walks out the door, leaving Anne to devour the contents and desperately wish to speak with him so she, too, could express her feelings. She manages this feat at last, by making a beeline for home and, en route, finding Frederick. Both confess to each other that their love never wavered. Eight years ago, Anne yielded to duty and broke their engagement, but she could not be similarly persuaded to do anything but follow her own heart now.
Final Image (pages 223 – 228): Anne and Frederick announce their engagement to the world—friends, families, and foes—and the narrator sums up everybody’s reactions. Readers learn that William Elliot was even more dastardly than we thought (with plans to seduce Mrs. Clay to keep her from marrying Sir Walter), that Frederick is able to help Mrs. Smith reclaim some of her lost money, and that he and Anne are delightfully happy and well-suited to marriage. They belong together, just like they (and millions of devoted Austen readers) always knew.