The sensible Anne Elliot encounters the now-successful Captain Frederick Wentworth, eight years after she was reluctantly persuaded by family and friends to reject his suit as imprudent. He now courts the headstrong Louisa Musgrove instead of Anne. Louisa severely injures her head while frolicking with him, jumping down steps to the sea at Lyme, and requires a lengthy recovery nearby with his friends the Harvilles and Captain Benwick. While Captain Wentworth seems devoted to the injured girl, Anne’s friends are convinced that Anne has interested Captain Benwick and Anne’s cousin Mr. Elliot. But when Louisa and Captain Benwick fall in love, Captain Wentworth is free, and he and Anne are reconciled.


The plot of Persuasion turns upon the head injury of Louisa Musgrove, which Austen describes with a combination of melodramatic language and the more distanced clinical discourse of the surgeon. Realistic details of Louisa’s recovery further the plot, requiring her staying in Lyme to recuperate. Austen here demonstrates the social effects of illness, engages with the history and culture of nursing, critiques cultural norms of gender, and interrogates the notion of "risk."

Anne’s skill, and identity as a nurse is established early in the novel, when she visits her sister Mary, who is "so ill [she] can hardly speak" (31). Two pages later, Anne’s cheerful conversation has produced "nearly a cure" in Mary--Austen’s proof both of Anne’s good-natured sense and Mary’s self-centered silliness. Anne also ably nurses Mary’s older son, with a dislocated collar-bone and "alarming" back injury from "a bad fall" (45). Here again Anne’s nursing certifies her patience, calm sensibility (Mary is in hysterics), and selflessness (she watches the boy while Mary and her husband go out to dine and meet Captain Wentworth). Austen also here stages Anne’s presence of mind in a crisis, the trait that will so impress Captain Wentworth in the first moments after Louisa’s fall.

In fact, nursing in Persuasion provides a model for a woman with sense and intelligence. It is a gendered identity, however; the sick boy’s father can dine out because "this was quite a female case, " and when Mary complains of having to stay home, Anne chides her, "Nursing does not belong to a man, it is not his province" (47-8).

Austen juxtaposes Anne’s informal nursing with the "nurse by profession, " when Nurse Rooke cares for Anne’s friend, Mrs. Smith. Nurse Rooke’s "entertaining and profitable" conversation derives from her intelligence, sense, and powers of observation (136). Indeed, Anne figures the nurse as a kind of author: "Women of that class . . . may be well worth listening to . . . Such varieties of human nature as they are in the habit of witnessing! . . . A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes" (136). While declining to challenge the gender bias toward female nurses, Persuasion proposes the role of the nurse, like the author, as a socially-sanctioned site for women to demonstrate their judgment and critical thinking.


First published: 1818



Place Published

New York



Page Count