Tuesday, January 29, 2013

by Jane Austen

I've been a Jane Austen fan for a long time. I've read and re-read her six completed novels and have loved them all in very different ways. Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility introduced me to the brilliant author. They are beautiful odes to love conquering all and the huge blessing it is to have a sister you love, no matter how different you are. Their main characters are shaken by misunderstandings and steered by naïveté.

Northanger Abbey and Emma feature somewhat silly girls that let their imaginations run away with them. You somehow still love them, because though they may be simple or selfish, they really do have good hearts. Mansfield Park is Austen's picture of perfecting one's character. Fanny is just so damn good that it's a bit frustrating. Of course all of these books are much more complicated than my quick summaries allow me to explain. So you should read all of them!

But Persuasion, this book is different from all the rest. Maybe it's because it was the last full novel she wrote. Maybe it's because she had experienced a bit of love in her life by that point. Whatever it is, this book has a depth and soul-shaking intensity that makes it my favorite.

The premise is simple. Anne falls in love with Frederick Wentworth, but her family says he's too poor and persuades her not to marry him. Anne’s mother died when she was only 14, leaving her without the trusted guidance most girls have. All of this happens before the book starts and the opening chapter begins 8 years in the future. Anne is still single and her path crosses Wentworth’s again. Now they are both older and have had years to think about how they handled their breakup.

I love seeing Anne’s nature through her actions, not just her words. Many of Austen’s heroines are outspoken, like Lizzy Bennet and Emma and I am absolutely more like that. I admire Anne’s quiet patient nature and her ability to hold her tongue and think before she speaks, even when she’s provoked. She’s also hesitant to give advice, worrying that her own actions might be contrary to what she says; a wise thought from someone her age.

“Anne could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme, to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.”

Her shallow, insipid family has relegated her to the role of helpmate and despite that she gladly spends time with anyone who needs her. She is kind to her former governess, Mrs. Smith, even though her family thinks that is a lowly connection for her. I also love the fact that she is cautious around the much-loved Mr. Elliot, her complimentary cousin. He is a similar character to Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, but unlike Elizabeth, Anne doesn’t fall for his smooth first impression. She’s justifiably dubious and that makes me love her even more.

When Anne and Wentworth meet again they have both matured. From a distance they watch each other, trying to reevaluate their feelings, which have had years to form and are no longer based on infatuation or young love. This slow burn is intoxicating. Every time they are together you ache for Anne, wrapped tightly in her cocoon of regret. Anyone who has read it can testify to “the letter” being one of the best moments in literature.

BOTTOM LINE: If you've never read Persuasion you're missing out. I love Austen's more celebrated novels (P&P and Emma), which have been made popular by movies and modern remakes (like Clueless), but it's Persuasion that won my heart.

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.”


Jeanne said...

I can see why this could be a favorite, but I always react to Anne as you do to Fanny--how can a person possibly be so quiet and good?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I think a little bit of it is the fact that she's surrounded by idiots. She can't use logic with her father or sisters, so she just lets them live in ignorance.

Nikki Steele said...

This is one of the Austen books I have not read and this review completely sold me. The themes of regret, lost love, those are the ones that always get to me.

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

Persuasion is my favourite of Austen's novels, too. I think it the most romantic of her books. I also find Anne Elliot the Austen heroine I can most easily identify with because she's older and has seen more of the world than the others. Your review makes me want to re-read this one again :-)

Carrie K. said...

This is my favorite Austen, too - I am so glad to find someone else who appreciates it for the same reasons I do. I try to reread it on an annual basis - I listened to it on audio in 2012 for the first time.

Care said...

I could be due for a dose of Austen. I'll try this next.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I remember liking Persuasion, but it's been a number of years since I last read it. I'm re-reading all of Austen's novels over the next few weeks.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nikki - It was the third Austen novel I read. Now I've read all of her work and reread most of it and it's still my favorite!

Melissa - I agree, definitely the most romantic. I think I identify most with Lizzie Bennet, I tend to have a hard time keeping my opinion to myself when I feel strongly about something. But I like Anne's patience more, probably because I don't have it.

Carrie K - I listened to the audio for the first time this time around. Hearing Captain Wentworth's letter being read aloud = bliss.

Care - I hope you like it!

misfortuneofknowing - Rereading all of Austen's novels at once! Lucky you! Now that I've read them all, I've been rereading one each year and I just love it.

Selah said...

Oh, Jane Austen! P&P is my favorite because it was my first Austen. Persuasion is lovely. Have you seen the 1995 film? It is really well done. I like that Anne and Captain Wentworth are actually played by slightly older, less conventionally attractive actors. And Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove is fabulous!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Selah - I really liked the 1995 film version. I thought Ciarán Hinds was perfect as a weathered Wentworth.

Francesca Thomas said...

Thank you for helping me to make my mind up.
I will read Mansfield Park and ignore Northanger Abbey. I despise silly girls like Emma.
You have indicated that the protagonist of Northanger abbey is just as bad as Emma was. Thus I am not going to waste my time on her.
I tried reading Emma for Spin Number 9 and was unable to do so. So I switched to Persuasion instead and loved it!!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Historia - I think each of her novels have their own strengths, but you can't find two that are more different than Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. I hope you enjoy it!