It is no secret that I am a Janeite. I live and breathe Jane Austen. My bound collection of her novels is one of my most prized possessions. And though my admiration for her is strong, it has taken a while for me to get through her entire body of work, mostly because of my rigorous reading schedule (so much to read, so little time). I first read Jane in high school. It was Pride and Prejudice and my love was instantaneous and thorough (I am a Darcy girl myself). I’ve never looked back.
Persuasion is Austen’s last complete novel and was published after her death. I found it to be one of her more serious novels, having an older and more mature protagonist (at the age of seven and twenty) with a boatload of heartache. (There are a lot of sailors in this book, so that was really funny if I do say so myself.) The novel follows Anne Elliot, our good and warm-hearted heroine, daughter of the vain and neglectful Sir Walter and sister of the equally vain, cold, and selfish Elizabeth (she is not doing great in the way of supportive family members, her own dear mother having passed away many years earlier). Despite these circumstances, Anne is the ideal lady, always looking to see how she can be of service, lending an ear or a hand, knowledgeable of her duty, agreeable, well-learned, and eloquent. However, she is plagued by heartbreak, having previously broken off an engagement with the man she loved when she was nineteen, the young and confident sailor Frederick Wentworth, who at the time was penniless but sure of his coming wealth and success. Her good friend and maternal guardian in the stead of her deceased mother Lady Russell, hoping for more of a match for her beloved Anne, persuades her to break off the engagement, leaving Anne forever heartbroken. All the while, she refuses any other man and embraces spinisterhood. Eight years later, Anne meets this man again, now Captain Wentworth with 20,000 pounds to his name and an esteemed naval rank to boot. From there, the drawing room antics and anxieties we know so well take off in rare form!
This is probably the most stressful Austen novel I’ve ever read. As I said before, the tone is a bit more somber and serious than her other novels. Anne’s situation seems a bit more dire. The whole time I just found myself fretting on her behalf, having as the audience the benefit of knowing her mind and how full her heart is. She’s just so great! The entire novel I just want her to be happy. Anne sacrifices for everybody except herself. The whole time I’m just thinking C’MON! Let’s give Mis Elliot a break! With eight years to reflect and think on it, Anne is aware she ought not to have been so easily persuaded but also realizes she was just doing her duty to her family and her rank. Oh how complicated was love in regency England!
It is a very romantic novel, with Anne steadfastly pining but also attempting to deny herself the whole novel, knowing all the while her heart belongs steadily to Wentworth but also being aware that he in all likelihood loathes her (how I don’t know because, as said previously, Anne is awesome). My heart was fluttering and breaking pretty much the entire time. SO MUCH LONGING. SO MUCH HEARTACHE. It is nearly unendurable. But endure it I did because the book was so beautiful! Its prose, as usual, is gorgeous, detailing all the lovely things of the English country and drawing rooms alike, waxing poetic over the country side of Lyme and hating all over the town of Bath (she was not a Bath fan). What can I say? I am a sucker for the civilities and customs of regency England. I cannot help myself. All the carriage rides and dinners and concerts and walks and turns about the room: it fills me with such joy. There is nothing better than a period piece. Believe it.
Because it’s Jane, I loved the book. I do not think Persuasion is my favorite, but it certainly ranks high. Anne Elliot is a lovely girl. She’s smart and delightfully above all the drudgery that comes with being upper class: she’s very much “over it.” Anne would rather be among pleasant people that she enjoys spending time and making conversation with than making nice with boring old families of a higher rank (unlike her ridiculous father and sister who are THE WORST; I don’t know how she puts up with them. It just goes to show that Anne is a better woman than I). If you like Austen and British literature, you will like Persuasion. If you are not obsessed as I am, perhaps give it a try! The writing is wonderful. But as I’ve said I am extremely biased.
Until next time!