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The nature of love has always been a subject of philosophy and literature from ancient times. There are numerous points of view on love presented in the literature, and each of them can be grounded by one or another philosophical theory. In her novel Persuasion, Jane Austen focuses on the separation and reunion of a loving couple, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. This paper explores the connection between the story told by Austen in her book and Plato’s dialogue Symposium. When tracing the relation between the two works, it is possible to claim that the romance of the novel is based on the ancient myth of androgens, which Aristophanes, a character of Plato’s book, claims to be the foundation of love.

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The Connection Between the Story Told by Austen and Plato’s Dialogue Symposium

First of all, Aristophanes emphasizes the importance of love for humanity and its evolution. He says, “It seems to me that men don't understand the power of Love at all--if they did, he would have the biggest temples and altars, and people would offer the greatest sacrifices to him" (Plato 61). Further on, he tells a story of how a perfect being that combined the male and the female nature in it was split into two halves by gods. Androgens, as they were called, were so mighty as one being that they started to be dangerous to gods, and this was the reason why Zeus punished them by separation. In fact, people have neglected love and misunderstood it. Some think, just like Diotima, that Love is only something surreal, spiritual and non-substantial. It mainly reflects human desire. And “loves is simply the name for the desire and the pursuit of the whole.” People are not happy and only love, like a doctor, can heal diseases and bring happiness. According to Aristophanes, people are desperately looking for the second half: “Each one of us is a matching half of a human being.... and each of us is looking for his own matching half”. This is his believe that there is true love and a special person for each human being. He claims that it is in finding the other half that compliments them they would, if they could to melt together again, thus their “ancient need” will be satisfied. Aristophanes praises romantic involvements, because love is divine, and states that people should follow those attachments.

Following the plot described by Aristophanes, Jane Austen tells a story of love between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Anne is just nineteen years old when she meets Frederick and gets engaged to him. Because she is young and inexperienced, she is vulnerable to the influence of her family, who believe that Frederick is not the right match for her. Because he is not wealthy and has military service in the fleet, they think that marrying him is insecure for Ann. So, they pressure her to break the engagement, and she gives in to their demand. Thus, Austen describes the first stage of Androgen myth, when a perfect human being is split into two parts.

Eight years have passed since the lovers parted, but none of them has found another match. Telling the story in this way, the author conveys the thought that a person can have only one ideal match, and that it is impossible for he/she to be happy with any other person in this world. Thus, Louisa Croft is being courted by Captain, but still she cannot win his heart. In the same way, Anne is close to accepting attention from Mr. Elliot, though it appears that his intentions are based on lies. In her novel, Austen shows how fortune follows the characters so as to reunite them into a single creature and hampers all their attempts to find happiness in another place. "The reason for this is that our original nature was to be whole. And to the longing for wholeness the name 'love' has been attached".

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The Importance of Equality of Partners in the Novel 

Another aspect that can be discussed within the context of Aristophanes’ view of love is the importance of equality of partners. Indeed, the myth suggests that though the two halves are different in their nature, they, nevertheless, should be equal to match. In the novel, the theme of equality and inequality is treated in its different perspective. There are certain limitations that society imposes on a person when choosing a partner. The idea is that equality between partners is not formal, but it is rather based on common values and visions of life. It is because initially Anne and Frederick are not equal, and therefore, they separate. Frederick’s flaw is that he is not enough wealthy and stable for Anne, while her flaw is that her character is weaker than his. In the course of the novel, the author demonstrates how these two people gradually acquire the missing features to become truly equal to each other. By the end of the novel, they appear to be two parts of the one whole and easily reunite.

So, it is possible to say that Austen’s story reflects the myth of androgen only partially. Indeed, she demonstrates that there exists only one perfect match for each person, so they wait for eight long years to reunite. At the same time, the author demonstrates that formation of a couple also involves transformation. She shows that although two people are meant to belong to each other from the very beginning, they do not match each other perfectly, which results in a break-up. Only when they mature and acquire the traits that are necessary to create harmony with each other, they are finally brought to each other by fortune. So, love is not only destiny but also labor, which is necessary to refine one’s own nature to be a better person and a better partner. Thus, the decision to get married is more mature the second time it is made after the years of suffering and growth:

When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort…and if such parties succeed, how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, a consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition?

So, the author concludes that at the end of the novel, the two characters deserve to be together more than they used to when they were younger. Their match is based on both feelings and reason, which the author believes is a good balance for marriage.

All in all, it is evident that the Androgen’s myth told by Aristophanes is reflected in the novel and the divine nature of love, praised by Aristophanes prevail, although, Plato describes more the type of love, the desire, that is un-tempered, while Jane Austen presents the view that passions should be constrained and subjected to duty. However, there is also an implication that it is “unnatural”: “She had been forced into prudence in her youth; she learned romance as she grew older:  the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.". Romance, love is learned and that is one of the transformations that help two lovers truly become one later.

Interestingly, what suppose to be “crowning” and “melting” of two people together - the marriage, is not described very romantically in the novel. It is connected with the sense of duty, being united with the person who is not even likeable, being legally together, but living in two different worlds. This idea of marriage is completely opposite of the uniting with the second half Aristophanes so passionately talked about. The love of Anne and Frederic ultimately is the love Aristophanes talked about. However, it took them time to be united and to break free from constraints of society.

According to the myth, two people who initially form the whole break up and are in continuous search for reunion, which happens at the end of the novel. Thus, the author claims that each person has only one perfect partner to make an ideal couple. At the same time, she demonstrates that this perfect couple is also a product of labor and desire to grow, compromise, and respect each other.

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