Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Literary Fiction / Classic
Published Date: 1817
Why I wanted to read it: I am reading the book as part of Austen in August, but I’ve wanted to read more of Jane Austen’s work since reading Pride and Prejudice years ago.
Overview (Barnes & Noble):
In her final novel, as in her earlier ones, Jane Austen uses a love story to explore and gently satirize social pretensions and emotional confusion. Persuasion follows the romance of Anne Elliot and naval officer Frederick Wentworth. They were happily engaged until Anne’s friend, Lady Russell, persuaded her that Frederick was “unworthy.” Now, eight years later, Frederick returns, a wealthy captain in the navy, while Anne’s family teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. They still love each other, but their past mistakes threaten to keep them apart.
What I Liked
I never thought an Austen book would come close to the love I have for Pride and Prejudice, but then Persuasion happened. It used to be so easy telling people my favorite Austen novel, and now I’m not so sure. This book took my general opinion of Austen literature and showed me that it does get even better. Okay, I’m sure Pride and Prejudice will still be talked of more, but just know that Persuasion is a percent or two below it. Yeah, it’s that good.
Like all Austen novels, the matter of social status is a constant theme in this novel. Who is worthy of whom? Have many pounds is he worth? How many people fit in the carriage? Is her lineage respectable? While such a thing may appear silly to us in the modern age, this was a prevalent topic in Austen’s time. The novel opens with Sir Walter Elliot looking at his family history, their station within the world. Obsessed with wasting money that he doesn’t have in order to keep up appearances causes him to give up his fancy life, and by extension his station. Social status is essential for conflict in these novels, and Austen had a creative way of presenting them as well as poking fun at them.
Now, characters. I’ll start with Anne Elliot, the novel’s protagonist. While I mostly identify with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice – at least according to the quiz – I also find a lot of myself in Anne Elliot. We’re both modest, especially when it comes to feelings of the opposite sex, and we’re both more than willing to do whatever is asked of us by those we care about, even if it’s the last thing we want to do. I wouldn’t exactly say she’s being walked over (I don’t feel that way myself), but rather she makes herself useful when the situation calls for it. And considering how good she is compared to her vain father and unfortunate sister, you kind of have to love her. (Don’t worry, my father and sister aren’t like that. My father is a total Mr. Bennet. All good things.)
There are annoying characters, as always, but I somehow manage to handle them without complaint, and that can’t be done with a mediocre-at-best novel. Take Mary Elliot, for example. She is a terrible mother who considers her own fancies above that of her family, including her children. She claims to not understand what sort of woman would “abandon” her children for a period of time only to go off and do the same, leaving Anne to care for them. My favorite Mary moment was when she writes a letter to Anne saying that the Crofts were not very good neighbors and did not offer to assist her, but in the following letter on the next page she speaks kindly of them when they offer to bring her letter to Anne. She is a selfish and flighty character, but Austen manages to pull it off and cause me to like Mary – in a ridiculously foolish way, of course.
I don’t know where to place Lady Russell. I want to have respect for her because she cares about Anne and wants what’s best for her, but I also want to slap her with a side of mind-your-own-business. Anne finds the entire situation forgivable because the eight years away from Wentworth were apparently better in the end, but as a reader I have to ask “What if?” I know, I know, it doesn’t matter, they’re happy in the end, blah, blah, blah, BUT STILL. Lady Russell is clearly essential to the novel so I like her in that regard, but I couldn’t imaging being conversed to do something so drastic.
What I Didn’t Like
There’s something about secondary characters in the form of siblings that I can’t stand. In Sense and Sensibility it was the Miss Steeles, in Northanger Abbey the Thorpes, and now it’s Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove. Something about these pairs make me think of Siamese cats with nothing but mischief to offer, whether intentional or not. While the Thorpe siblings entertained me despite my dislike of them, I can’t say the same about the Miss Musgroves. They provide the essential intrigue and Anne’s necessary second guessing of herself, but apart from that I wasn’t very interested in them.
I hope no one considers me biased towards the gentlemen in Austen’s novels, but as with Northanger Abbey I am choosing the protagonists love interest, Frederick Wentworth, as my favorite character. Any man who can still love a woman eight years after being denied can’t be too shabby in my book. Of course Wentworth wasn’t in a position to find another woman in the whole of those eight years, but he stands by his love and waits for the opportune moment to try again, setting aside pride and risking rejection for a second time. Like Mr. Darcy, my other swoon-worthy Austen gentleman, this man knows how to write a letter. “You pierce my soul” he tells Anne. No, sir, you pierce mine.
One man’s ways may be as good as another’s, but we all like our own best.
My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.
One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering.
How do you feel about Lady Russell? Good friend? Too nosy? Like? Dislike?