At the beginning of Persuasion, we learn about the history of the Elliot family, as set out in The Baronetcy, Sir Walter Elliot’s most treasured book. The Elliots are an old landowning family. Sir Walter lost his wife fourteen years before the beginning of the story, and he has three daughters: Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary. The youngest daughter, Mary, is married to Charles Musgrove, a son of a nearby old and genteel family. Sir Walter is deeply in debt as result of his tendency to lavishly overspend. Lady Russell, a close friend of the family, advises Sir Walter to reduce his spending. He horrified by this suggestion, as he feels it will be beneath him to live more simply. Soon, however, it is clear that there is no choice in the matter, and the family decides to rent out Sir Walter’s estate, Kellynch Hall, and relocate to rented accommodations in Bath.
They quickly find suitable tenants for Kellynch Hall. Their names are Admiral and Mrs. Croft, and they are wealthy and polite. As can be easily gleaned from his name, the Admiral is an officer of the Navy. He and Mrs. Croft have a very happy marriage. While Sir Walter dislikes the Navy’s propensity for bringing “men of obscure birth into undue distinction,” he is happy with having the Admiral and his wife as tenants. The middle daughter, Anne Elliot, is eager to meet the Crofts, as she knows that Mrs. Croft is the sister of a man who proposed marriage to Anne in the past. She is still in love with him, but hasn’t seen him in several years. His name is Captain Frederick Wentworth. At the time he proposed, he wasn’t yet a captain and Lady Russell persuaded Anne to turn down the offer of marriage because he didn’t have enough money or a good enough social position. Anne hopes that she may be able to see Captain Wentworth again.
Sir Walter leaves with Elizabeth and her friend Mrs. Clay (a widow and from a lower social class than the Elliot family) for Bath. Anne will go to Bath later, but first she visits her younger sister Mary at Uppercross Cottage. When Anne gets to Uppercross, she has the chance to spend a lot of time with the entire Musgrove family. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove have three children: Mary’s husband, Charles, and two young ladies, Louisa and Henrietta. Anne admires how much affection the Musgroves have for their children, and finds the bustle of the household exciting. There is soon news that Captain Wentworth is now back from sea and is with his sister at Kellynch. Captain Wentworth becomes friends with Mr. Musgrove, and as a result the frequently visits Uppercross. Anne is excited to see him again, but his behaviour towards her seems quite detached and only polite. It appears that he likes Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove better. Anne feels she has to resign herself to the reality of having lost Captain Wentworth forever.
Captain Wentworth suggests that they all enjoy a trip to Lyme to see his friends, the Harvilles. During this Lyme trip, Anne is noticed by an attractive gentleman who they later discover is Mr. Elliot, a cousin of Anne and the heir of Kellynch. The group embarks on a walk on the beach one morning. It is during this walk that Louisa is knocked unconscious in a terrible fall. Anna is able to keep a level head and takes a leadership role in taking care of Louisa. While the doctor says that Lousia will recover, she will need to stay in Lyme for several months. Captain Wentworth feels that it’s his fault that Louisa fell, and he does everything he can to help the Musgrove family. Anne goes back to Uppercross to assist Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove in taking care of their younger kids. After a few weeks pass, she departs to stay with Lady Russell.
After Christmas, Anne and Lady Russell go to Bath to rejoin Anne’s father and Elizabeth. Anne isn’t looking forward to seeing her family, as she feels they will greet her with indifference. She finds, though, that while it’s certainly true that they do not care about her as they should, they seem quite happy to have her in Bath. While Anne is in Bath, she is formally introduced to Mr. Elliot, the man who looked at her admiringly in Lyme. Mr. Elliot is now on much better terms with his formally estranged uncle, Sir Walter Elliot. While Anne does wonder what Mr. Elliot’s movies might be in the sudden reconciliation, she does think that he is a charming gentleman. Mr. Elliot is noticeably attentive to Anne, and it is soon clear that he hopes that she will one day marry him. Anne comes in contact with an old school friend called Mrs. Smith who is also in Bath. She is a widow and is experiencing financial hardship. It is from Mrs. Smith that Anne finds out the Mr. Elliot has an alarming hidden past. It seems that he has treated Mrs. Smith badly and hopes to marry Anne only to make sure that he will be the sole heir of Kellynch and the baronetcy. Mr. Elliot is worried that Sir Walter will choose to marry Mrs. Clay and have a son with her, making him lose his inheritance and the title. He has created a plan to try to prevent this happening. Anne is horrified when she hears this.
When the Crofts arrive in Bath, they bring news of two engagements. Henrietta is to marry Charles Hayter (her cousin) and much more surprisingly, Lousia will marry Captain Benwick. Captain Benwick is a gentleman she met in Lyme while she was recovering from her injury. Anne is happy to hear that Lousia is marrying someone other than Captain Wentworth, and that therefore the captain is free to marry someone else. Captain Wentworth soon makes his appearance in Bath. He is much wealthier than he was eight years earlier when he proposed to Anne, and it is because of this change of circumstance that he is admitted into Sir Walter Elliot’s social circle. The captain believes that Anne is attached to Mr. Elliot, and he becomes very jealous. He eventually writes a love letter to Anne in which he declares his continued love for her. He and Anne become engaged. Mr. Elliot is annoyed that this plan to convince Anne to marry him has been ruined. He decides to proceed with his plan to ruin Mrs. Clay’s chances to marry Sir Walter, by running away with her and ruining her reputation. This means that there is no longer any chance that Sir Walter will marry her. Both Lady Russell and Sir Walter approve of Anne’s engagement to Captain Wentworth.