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He was only Sir Walter: the opening of Persuasion

By Giulia Magnotti Komatz with illustrations from Persuasion by C.E. Brock The first few paragraphs of Persuasion describe Sir Walter Elliot’s personality. The novel’s opening words – “Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire…” – convey the character’s essence by seeming to imitate the style of his beloved Baronetage: “Elliot of Kellynch Hall: Walter Elliot, born March 1st, 1760…” Therefore, Austen’s narrative voice ironically describes Sir Elliot in the manner by which he judges the value of every one of his acquaintances, that is, by their name, rank and property. The remainder of the novel’s opening – described hereafter as from the beginning of chapter one until “she was only Anne” (p.5) – gives a more rounded description of his character and his relation with his family. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did For a returning reader of Persuasion, it already raises the expectation of what is to come: his necessary removal from Kellynch due to financial problems. The fact that he continues to write his family history beyond the “printer’s hand” (p.3) both with established facts, such as Mary’s marriage, and with forthcoming ones, such as the name of his future heir (summed up by Austen in “vanity was the beginning and end of Sir Walter’s character; vanity of person and of situation” [p.4]), combined with the information that his late wife was the one who “humored, or softened, or concealed his failings, and promoted his real respectability” (p.4) leads the reader

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