Persuasionby Jane Austen
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BEFORE READING THE NOVEL
Jane Austen's Persuasion
Although the plot of this novel is simple, Austen's antiquated language may make reading the novel cumbersome for many students. Read the first several chapters aloud so students get familiar with speech patterns and vocabulary usage. After students feel comfortable with the language, they should be able to read the novel with no trouble, assuming that they are avid, mature readers.
In order to get students involved in and thinking about the issues, the characters, and the setting of the novel, select several of the following activities or questions for student response.
1. What do you believe you owe your family?
2. Respond to this scenario. You introduce to your family the person you would like to marry. They reject your choice of a marriage partner and explain all their reasons, including the temperament of the person as well as his or her economic, educational, and family background. How would you react to their advice?
3. On the topic of marriage describe the kind of person you would consider as a marriage partner. To what extent are education, economic stability, family background, temperament, race, religion, ethnicity, or language important to you? Explain.
4. The following words are used to describe people in the novel Persuasion: benevolent, charitable, delicate sense of honor, cultivated mind, honest, sensible, amiable, vain, conceited, silly, steady character, sweet, elegance of mind, disloyal, sense of duty, rational, discrete, polished, openhearted, frank, sincere, confident, brilliant, headstrong, affectionate, good-natured, ambitious, goodhearted, friendly, faithful, gentle, energetic, patient, competent, responsible, happy, good mannered, of sound judgment, observant, moderate, shrewd, and unaffected.
Read through the list and decide which ten characteristics you would most like and which ten you would least like to possess. Compare and discuss your selections and reasons for them within a small group. Make two lists. In one, list all the characteristics that are considered admirable in a female, in the other, admirable male characteristics. The same may be used in both lists. Discuss the reasons for your selections. As you read the novel, watch for these characteristics and the gender to which they are attributed. Discuss your findings after reading the entire novel.
5. Make a collage from magazines showing the kinds of clothing both men and women wear today. How would you describe someone who would wear the kind of clothes shown in the picture? What judgments might you make about them? As you read the novel, keep the collage in mind. Then write how the people wearing the clothes might be described by the characters in Persuasion.
6. Persuasion - letting others gently influence decisions you make - is a big issue in this novel. On what matters in your life would you be open to family opinions or Persuasion? Which matters or issues do you feel should be solely up to you?
7. What do you know about the lives of women in the early 19th century? What were they allowed to do? How did they spend their time? How did they dress? Did they have any economic power or resources?
8. If, through some quirk of fate, your family and friends found out they would never have to work again but would be able to continue at the same economic level as today, how would they spend their time? After a couple of years, how do you think your family would organize itself? What would be important to them?
9. Most members of the gentry during Austen's time did not have "careers" or jobs but lived off of the income of their estates. Do we still have members of society who don't work and live off of inherited wealth? What are society's attitudes toward them? Compare those attitudes to the attitudes our society has toward people who can't or don't work and are on welfare.