Persuasion by Jane Austen
(image taken from google)
Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, I just wanted to say this is my first book review post. It will be just like my play reviews, but about books!
Why I Decided To Read It: If you have read any of my play reviews, I think you have already gathered that I am A) an Anglophile and B) a lover of woman-centered/woman-written stories. And what combines the two better than Jane Austen? I’ve had a goal of reading all of Jane Austen’s works for a few years now, but have only read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility (and watched the Emma 2009 miniseries but that doesn’t really count). I’m not exactly sure what led me to Persuasion before everything else except hearing it’s many Austenites’ favorite. That, and that it’s the shortest of the regular, finished novels.
Summary: Anne Elliot is lonely. Her mother has been long dead, her father and her elder sister care about nothing but their status, and her younger sister only requires her when she wants attention. Now 27 years-old, living during the Napoleonic War, Anne is facing spinsterhood at an alarming rate. This wasn’t always the case. At 19, she fell in love with a dashing, but poor, naval officer, Fredrick Wentworth. But thanks to the persuasion of family and friends, she broke off their engagement. Thanks to unforeseen circumstances, a promoted, newly wealthy Captain Wentworth comes back into her life. Will they rekindle their romance? Or is the spark gone forever?
Thoughts and Analysis: I’m going to start by saying this: there is a lot to admire about this book and while I enjoyed it a lot, I am slightly disappointed it isn’t my favorite Jane Austen book. I know that is an odd thing to bring up, but after hearing that it is a favorite of many Jane Austen fans, I thought I would like it more than I did. I think my personal problem with it is that I don’t have enough life experience to relate to Anne Elliot’s situation with Captain Wentworth. Whereas, with Sense and Sensibility, my favorite Austen novel, I especially relate to Elinor Dashwood for a lot of different reasons. That is not a fault of the novel’s or myself. It just is what it is. There is plenty to admire and relate to in this novel anyway.
I feel like this is a more honest account of Jane Austen’s personal experience. This was her last finished work. It definitely comes from a more mature standpoint. I know there is some debate in academia over how autobiographical this novel is as Jane Austen never married. Whether or not she felt longing over a lost love, we will probably never know. I personally believe the autobiographical things are smaller. Anne always playing the piano for others would be one of them. Another thing that feels honest is Anne’s feelings on going unnoticed and living between family members. Biographers do note she did move between family members and it wouldn’t surprise me if her emotions got put into the novel.
Like other Jane Austen novels, Persuasion contains a fair bit of humor. It contains the biggest Jane Austen diss of any minor character: Richard Musgrove. Though due to the change in language, it seems like a bigger insult than her intention. Regardless, it’s amazing. There is plenty of mockery of the upper class, especially because Anne’s father is a baronet. Sir Elliot is by far the worst parent of any Jane Austen heroine (as far as I have gotten). Say what you will about Mrs. Bennet, but at least most of her awfulness does come a place of caring about her children. Sir Elliot is not like that. He’s vain, petty, and status-obsessed. He also just doesn’t care about Anne. Elizabeth Elliot, Anne’s older sister, is similar to her father. Seeing them mocked is great because they are so awful. Mary Musgrove, Anne’s younger sister, is a hypocritical mess of a person and its wonderful. Being a Jane Austen novel, there is a lot of hypocritical humor everywhere.
If you like angst and longing, is this novel for you. We do not get the “getting to know you” courting between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth like we do between other Austen heroines and heroes. They know each other extremely well. What we do get is a lot of “How does he feel about me now?”, “I still love him”, “I really don’t like him flirting with other women”, “Does he still love me?”, etc. It’s really well-written and sometimes heart-breaking, but sometimes I wanted to shake the both of them, like “You two are still clearly in love. Just kiss each other already”. Also, Wentworth’s letter is a beautiful piece of literature.
I think my complaint is mainly that it is short, which creates some problems. Some events and reveals get a little rushed. If it was a bit longer, some of these things probably would have gotten a bit more set up and breathing time. I wouldn’t say it is a huge problem though. It didn’t ruin the book for me; it was just a slight annoyance.
Favorite Character: Don’t get me wrong, I like Anne Elliot a lot, but I kind of love her sister, Mary. She’s just so ridiculous. Like, if I met her in person, I’d hate her, but she’s such a fun character. She’s like Mary and Kitty Bennet wrapped into one person.
Should You Read This?: If you enjoyed any of Jane Austen’s previous works, I think you’d enjoy this one. Also, if you’re interested in the Regency era, a look into the life of an nontraditional romantic heroine (ie not like a Lizzy Bennet, but like an older Elinor Dashwood), slow-burn pining, etc., I think it’s worth a read. I’m not sure if a person who isn’t interested in those types of things will get much out of it though.
Final Thoughts: Overall, I liked it, but less than I thought I would (but my hopes were set kind of high). If you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s previous works, its worth a read.