Equality of Intelligence As Seen in Persuasion

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Although set in a time period and culture very unlike the one seen now, Persuasion, written by Jane Austen, manages to discuss issues that still show relevance to this day. For instance, the perception that women should be seen as equals to men in society is brought up and hinted at many times throughout the novel. It can be seen when Anne is arguing with Captain Harville about emotional equivalence between the genders, as well as when the Elliots would ignore Anne’s advice even though she was clearly educated enough to find a solution. During the late 1700s in England, this can be seen in the works of Mary Wollstonecraft. This concept of women being of equal intelligence and character is still one of great discussion two hundred years later. It has been seen many times, especially with the battle between Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. This very idea proves that this novel is classical literature, and will continue to live on through generations. As women continue to strive for equality, this book will be a reference for early feminism and proof that while this goal has not yet been attained, it can be with more hard work and dedication to fight the misogyny that plagues our society.

Anne is seen as one of the brightest people in this novel, yet is always undermined by the crowd around her. For example, at the beginning of the novel, when Sir Elliot is discussing possible solutions with Lady Russell and Mr. Shepherd to his debt problem, he declines to listen to Anne’s ideas on how to handle the situation. Instead, for Anne’s ideas to be heard, she must tell Lady Russell, who would then tell Sir Walter for consideration. Lady Russell understood her own influence, so she “consulted Anne, who never seemed considered by the others as having any interest in the question” (Austen 9). This frustrated both Lady Russell and Anne, who wanted her opinions to be taken seriously. However, because she was a young woman who was not seen as the favorite, she was dismissed. Anne did not fight back like she should have, as she was still learning and using Lady Russell as a voice.

As the novel went on though, Anne began to learn to speak for herself. For instance, towards the end of the book, she is discussing with Captain Harville the difference in feelings in men and women. She believes that men forget and move on from the women they have loved much quicker than women do. He believes the opposite, saying, “Our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings” (Austen 169). He refuses to believe that women, in their character and emotions, could ever come equal to that of a man’s. Anne refuses to let this be, and explains to him that while women may not be as stereotypically strong as men, they are more tender, and therefore care about their lost loves for a longer period of time. Harville is projecting what most men believed during this time period and even what some do currently: men are superior in character because they are typically physically stronger than women, making them stronger in everything else as well. So, although men in the novel recognize Anne for her intelligence, she is still seen as silly when discussing anything that the men might disagree with. However, Anne continues to fight to have her voice heard and her opinions validated, showing her growth as a character and the growth of wanted equality.

While rarely talked about in history books, the ideas of feminism were starting to make their way through England, and even through Europe in the late 1700s. This was during the time of the Enlightenment, so people became more open to these suggestions that women were not inferior in intelligence compared to men. One of the main feminist leaders during this time period was Mary Wollstonecraft. She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, where she claimed the “educational system of her time deliberately trained women to be frivolous and incapable” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica www.britannica.com). She wanted women to be able to receive an education that trained them to be both excellent wives and mothers, and capable in a workplace setting. Her ideas were controversial at the time of its publication, and she did not see reform during her lifetime. However, during the American and European women’s movements from the 1840s and on, her work has been recognized and used as a building block towards equality.

In today’s culture and climate, the intelligence and character of women is still questioned at times. This was seen in the recent testimony involving Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were younger in an attempt to stop him from becoming a judge of the Supreme Court. She gave her account of the events, which Kavanaugh angrily denied. He claimed this was an attack by Democrats, and fought with many senators of this party, who began to question his capabilities of keeping his feelings out of being a judge. Ford spoke in the opposite tone, who “delivered cautious testimony laced with a scientific description” (Stolberg and Fandos, www.nytimes.com). However, despite this contrast, when showing any emotion she is seen as hysterical and unreliable. The accusation was not taken seriously by some senators, because placing Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court would benefit them and their interests. This proves that while large strides have been made in proving equal intelligence and character in women, there is still a long way to go.

Persuasion is a perfect example of classical literature, as it carries out themes that are still relevant today. The main one seen in this novel is the want and push towards equality for women based on their intellect and integrity. Examples seen in the book include the exclusion of Anne in family decisions and the argument between Anne and Captain Harville about the difference of emotions in the sexes. This was occuring in the late 1700s as Austen showed through the book, which is seen in the works of Mary Wollstonecraft. Equality is still not present in the 21st century, as seen through the case between Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh. This topic is still so important and pertinent in this time period, showing the true brilliance of Austen in her work Persuasion, which will continue to live on for generations to come.

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