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Persuasion (thoughts)

February 21, 2008

This post is a looong time coming!  So, here’s the thing: Jane Austen has been my absolute best, most-favourite author since sixth grade.  Sure, I love a bunch of writers, so it’s not exactly a monogamous relationship, but when it comes down to it, if I could only read one writer for the rest of my life, I’ve always picked Jane.  Last year, I reread two of her books (Emma and Mansfield Park), but since neither of these are my favourites of Jane’s (Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), I didn’t love them with that all-encompassing, middle-school-girl-level of affection Jane has always inspired in me. I was a little worried: was Jane going to lose her place as my beloved, go-to author? Had I changed that much in a year or two? But after rereading Persuasion (one my favourites), I can satisfactorily answer: Hah! As if! For as I settled back into the familiar pages, I gave a big mental sigh, and placed myself in the hands of one of the wittiest and most observant writers I have ever met.

Since I know not all of you received the entire Jane Austen oevre for your thirteenth birthday (I had awesome friends!), and many of you are (wisely) avoiding the Masterpiece theatre thing, I should probably talk about the actual book. Which is fine, because I have quite a few passages marked so that I can share with the non-believers the magic that is a Jane Austen novel. The story begins with the Elliots: the father, Sir Walter (“a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage”), the eldest, Elizabeth (who at twenty nine “was fully satisfied of being still quite as handsome as ever; but she felt her approach to the years of danger”), the youngest, Mary (who was “often a little unwel, and always thinking of her own complaints…”), and the middle one, Anne, who at twenty-six is the heroine of our story.

I feel that Anne deserves a little paragraph of her own, at this point, to contest that painful, recent adaptation. Anne is not ugly. When she was nineteen, in fact, she was “an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.” Granted, seven (almost eight) years of sadness and dealing with her annoying family have changed things a bit, but even at the beginning she has simply lost her bloom, and by about half-way through she “was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty feautres, having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion, and by the animation of eye which it had also produced.” Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s return to the story.

While Sir Walter Elliot may be nobility, he is also a spendthrift, and as a result of ever-accumalating debts is forced to rent out his property and go stay in Bath with Elizabeth. The renters turn out to be Admiral and Mrs. Croft, who has a younger brother, Captain Frederick Wentworth, who has a history with Miss Anne Elliot. When Anne was nineteen, she and Wentworth (then just starting out in the Navy, and thus not a captain) were briefly engaged; while Anne loved him with all her heart, a close family friend (Lady Russell, who has filled the role of mother since Anne’s own passed away when she was sixteen) told her the match was unsuitable (since Wentworth had no money, and no guarantee he would succeed in the Navy), so she broke it off. She’s been regretting it ever since:

How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been,-how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence!-She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older-the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning.

It doesn’t help that Wentworth has made a great success in the Navy: he rose quickly through the ranks, and as a captain made several lucky captures that led to a large fortune. After the house is let, Anne stays in the neighbourhood for a couple months, living with Mary; meanwhile, Frederick soon comes to visit his sister. We quickly learn that Frederick is still single, but he hopes to be married soon, and Mary’s in-laws have two pretty, silly daughters (the Miss Musgroves) that are just of an age to becomes wives. And as Frederick has become a very dashing military man, he’s quite welcome in the neighbourhood.

Anne, of course, is tortured by all of this. She’s present at most of the gatherings, where the Miss Musgroves flirt with Frederick and Frederick seems to flirt back. It brings up painful memories of that earlier time:

They had no conversation together, no intercourse but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other! Now nothing! There had been a time, when of all the large party now filling the drawing-room at Uppercross, thry would have found it most difficult to cease to speak to one another. With the exception, perhaps, of Admiral and Mrs. Croft, who seemed particularly attached and happy, (Anne could allow no other exception, even among married couples) there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, so countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers, nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.

She also gets to know Mrs. Croft, who has loved her life as a Navy wife and often travelled with her husband:

…I can safely say, that the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship. While we were together, you know, there was nothing to be feared. Thank God! I have always been blessed with excellent health, and no climate disagrees with me…

It’s interesting to me that Austen paints the childless marriage of Admiral and Mrs. Croft as almost idyllic. They live for each other, and as long as they have each other, nothing else really seems to matter. This seems a very modern view of marriage-it almost brings up the idea of soul mates, and I must say it’s unusual to find such a positive description of a long-lasting marriage in an Austen novel. Quite refreshing! Not, of course, for poor Anne, who can’t help but imagine that she and Frederick would have been just as happy.

After much gallavanting about the country, the young people decide to take a trip to Lyme. Anne, Mary and her husband, the two Miss Musgroves, and Frederick set off, and once they arrive they meet up with Captain and Mrs. Harville and Captain Benwick, some of Frederick’s friends. So many gallant Captains in one chapter, oh my! Benwick has just lost his fiancee in tragic circumstances, and is grieving through poetry; Anne takes the time to try to comfort him and draw him into normal conversation (she also recommends some good prose books : “such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances”). Frederick can’t help but notice this kindness to his friend, and then when Miss Louisa Musgrove (the one likely to marry Frederick) falls off of a wall and seriously hurts herself, Anne rises to the occasion and organises everything to help her. This is also the time when Anne comes back into her looks, but before anything can happen it’s time for Anne to go the Bath.

In Bath, in between the social conniving of her family, Anne renews her friendship with an old school chum. I just loved this description:

Twelve years had changed Anne from the blooming, silent, unformed girl of fifteen, to the elegant little woman of seven and twenty with every beauty excepting bloom, and with manners as consciously right as they were invariably gentle; and twelve years had transformed the fine-looking, well-grown Miss Hamilton, in all the glow of health and confidence of superiority, into a poor, infirm, helpless widow, receiving the visit of her former protegee as a favour; but all that was uncomfortable in the meeting had soon passed away, and left only the interesting charm of remembering former partialities and talking over old times.

See, this is the Anne I know and love-she’s never awkward or silly or stumbling, she just has a quiet, capable confidence to everything she does. And she certainly doesn’t sprint around Bath and make out with people on the streets! Anyway, Wentworth soons appears in Bath, but everything becomes more complicated when Mr. Elliot, Anne’s cousin, begins to pay suit as well. Anne, of course, is not at all interested, but she’s very concerned that Wentworth will get the wrong impression. The reader is drawn along into all of Anne’s hopes and fears, and the denoument is as beautiful as any Austen wrote.

This post has gone on for quite a while already; hopefully, those of you who haven’t read any Austen have been impressed enough with all the quotes I’ve thrown at you to go out and read it for yourself. If not, I’m not sure there’s anything else I can say to convince you. I’ll leave you with the most adorable love letter ever, although it might be considered a ‘spoiler’ if you don’t have any idea how an Austen book always ends. Fair warning!

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. 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. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. -Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?- I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice, when they would be lost on others.- Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice indeed. You do believe that there is true attachemtn and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating in
                                                                                                                             F.W.
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening, or never.

Other Book Bloggers’ Reviews:
Muriel (Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops)

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2008 8:39 am

    It’s always so nice to find someone who loves Persuasion as much as I do! I loved your review.

  2. February 21, 2008 9:09 am

    There’s a criticsim of Austen that has always struck me as odd, that she never wrote about the wars going on around her. But in “Persuasion”, the Napoleonic War is actually an essential part of the background.

  3. February 21, 2008 9:31 am

    What a lovely review, reminding me of so many reasons why I love the Austen books. And Persuasion is often overlooked, which is too bad. There is much to be said about it – as your excellent review pointed out! If I hadn’t just read it last month, I would be tempted to read it again :)

  4. February 21, 2008 12:14 pm

    What I love in Persuasion: the sadness of it, and the hopefulness. A woman is given a second chance at happiness, after unwisely turning down the first one.
    And there is nothing weepy about it: the novel is permeated with Jane’s biting sense of humor.

  5. February 21, 2008 12:16 pm

    Ah, Captain Wentworth. I will promise never to see the new Masterpiece Theater version, and just watch the 1995 one with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hines… it was almost as perfect as the book. Thanks for reminding me how much I love this book.

  6. February 21, 2008 12:16 pm

    I have a personal goal to read all of Austen this year. Last fall I read P&P (which I had read a couple times before) and S&S and now am working on Persuasion. I have been getting them via dailylit.com so that I can read while at work (Shhhh!) I am not very far into Persuasion and have been finding it harder to start than the last two. I’m glad to read your post to carry me on.

    Also blogging at http://bookslistslife.blogspot.com

  7. February 21, 2008 3:00 pm

    Eva, you mustn’t criticize those Masterpiece productions of Jane Austen so harshly. Films are never the books, but they have their value. I never would have read Jane Austen if had not been for the old black and white P&P with Greer Garson. And think how bad that production was. I bet there are a lot of people in this world reading Austen because they got turned on to Jane Austen by a Masterpiece Theater/BBC production.

    And every film is its own interpretation of Jane. I like that. I love seeing how people visualize her world. Sure, some productions are better than others, but in a way they all offer something to think about. Every scene and setting is a choice. Every bit of dialog is a choice. And all those choices tell us about how people see Jane.

    I never expect movies to be as good as the books they are based on. When I watch a movie based on a great story I’m not expecting to see the book, but look to see how a fellow fan saw that novel.

    I think the power of Jane’s writing grows with all the different views.

    Think of all the productions of Great Expectations or A Christmas Carol. Great stories are meant to be retold and in many ways. Few books get the movie treatment. Even fewer get made into more than one production.

    Jim

  8. February 21, 2008 6:29 pm

    That letter gave me goosebumps when I first read it. Jane Austen entertains the reader throughout her books, but moments like that one, when you realize the he really does love her, wow!

    I still remember it as an electrifying moment in reading.

  9. musingsfromthesofa permalink
    February 21, 2008 6:39 pm

    The first time I tried to read Persuasion, I really struggled with it. When I came back to it, a few months later, I loved it and it is now one of my favourites too. I love Jane Austen’s piercing wit, and the way her characters reveal their own foibles. Sir Walter is almost endearing in his self-importance.

  10. February 21, 2008 7:53 pm

    What a great review! I haven’t read this one, but I really need to now. I love P & P, have read and reread it tons of times now.

    I probly won’t take the time to watch any more of the new Masterpiece Theatre adaptations now, especially as the reviews I’ve been reading have been less than stellar.

  11. February 21, 2008 10:01 pm

    I’m a big fan of Persuasion. The only Austen novel that I really don’t like is Mansfield Park.

  12. verbivore permalink
    February 22, 2008 12:12 am

    Oh what fun to read about Persuasion. I read it for the first time last year and loved it as well. Austen is so good!

  13. February 22, 2008 6:52 am

    Poodlerat, thanks! And good to meet another Persuasion lover. :)

    Amateur Reader, that is an odd criticism! And Persuasion should be chucked in the face of those critics, since otherwise dear Frederick wouldn’t have gotten rich!!

    Ravenous Reader, aww-thank you. I was nervous about trying to write about such a beautiful book.

    Catherine, I agree!

    Melissa, you’re right the 1995 version is perfect in its movie way. If you see the new one, you’ll just have horrible images stuck in your head forever.

    Lisa, glad to inspire you! It does take a while to get going.

    Jim, I’m not sure if you checked out my post, but I love the 1995 Persuasion. And I adore the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P. And I could go on and on-it’s not that I’m against movies based on books. I’m against when movies change the main character so fundamentally, that the spirit of the book is lost. But we can agree to disagree. ;)

    C.B., me too! In fact, it gave me goosebumps on this rereading, because it had been over a year, so I didn’t remember how awesome it was.

    MusingsfromtheSofa, I think Sir Walter is endearing too-his firm belief that only attractive people matter is so silly it’s adorable!

    Kim, thanks! I’m so glad I inspired you to go out and read it-it’s one my favourites. :D I’ve heard good things about the Masterpiece S&S, so I might give that one a try (it’s my least favourite of her books, so I’m less sensitive to mangling). And the Northanger one was really cute (although definitely different from the book)! But Persuasion and Mansfield Park were both just horrid.

    Bybee, I have mixed feelings on Mansfield Park. I love Fanny’s relationship with her brother-it’s just too adorable. But as for the rest…I’m just not sure.

    Verbivore, yes she is!!

  14. February 22, 2008 9:53 am

    Great review, Eva. This, along with P&P, are my favorite Jane Austen books, though how you one not love all of them?

    Your review made me want to read the book all over again!

  15. February 22, 2008 4:48 pm

    I’ll be reading this (for a second time) next week. My husband just bought the movie with Ciaran Hinds and we watched it last weekend so I am excited to get into the book again. Great review.

  16. February 23, 2008 7:18 am

    LK, thanks!! Glad to see another Persuasion lover. :D

    Petunia, you’re going to have so much fun. I love that version of the movie-soooo adorable. You have a sweet husband. :)

  17. February 23, 2008 6:09 pm

    Love, love, love that last quote. Makes me swoon!

  18. February 24, 2008 8:06 am

    Tara, me too! Can you imagine actually getting it? I love the sentence that follows it too: “A letter like that is not easily recovered from.” (or something like that)

  19. February 24, 2008 11:18 am

    I love that last quote, too. Amazing! Great review, of one of my favorite books ever! So glad to find others who appreciate the book like I do :)

  20. February 24, 2008 9:59 pm

    Gentle Reader, yay for favourite books! I’m glad you enjoyed the review. :) That letter gives me goosebumps every time I read it.

  21. March 22, 2008 2:30 pm

    Persuasion is the only Austen I haven’t read. But since it’s your favorite, off I go to add it to my wishlist!

  22. May 4, 2008 5:17 pm

    Great review! I was so pleasantly surprised by Persuasion, a really nice way to rediscover Jane Austen! I actually quite enjoyed the newer television adaptation (partly due to the lovely Wentworth!), but then I saw it before reading the book, which of course is infinitely superior. I shall definitely be watching the Amanda Root version now though! Anywhoo, I’ve linked to your review, and here’s mine.

    http://troubles-melt-like-lemon-drops.blogspot.com/2008/04/persuasion-jane-austen.html

  23. May 4, 2008 8:42 pm

    Dew, yay!

    Mariel, I’m glad you love Persuasion as well! I’ll add your review. :) I did love Wentworth in the new movie, but having read the book and seen the earlier movie, there just wasn’t any comparison. I can’t wait to find out how you feel about the Amanda Root one!

Trackbacks

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