Friday, May 8, 2009

Persuasion - Jane Austen




It's a shame that after 42 years, I am only now discovering the genius of Jane Austen. I fell head over heels for Pride & Prejudice, and I jumped into the Classics Reading Challenge with the intent of reading more from Jane. I even bought a two volume set of all of her works. After some trusted advice, I decided Persuasion would be next. Before I talk about the story, though, I want to say two things. 1) I'm NOT a romantic 2) I am not automatically drawn to period movies or literature. Be that as it may, these books rock.

Our central character in Persuasion is Anne Elliot, a middle child, overlooked and underestimated by a family of hypocritical, narcissistic bigots. The father is the ringleader of the whole mess, setting an example for two of his three daughters. He is hypercritical of others based on how they look (freckles and weathered skin are down there with the poo on the bottom of his boots) and how much money they have. Anne, surprisingly, has grown up to be a down-to-earth, level-headed, sincere young lady. She carries with her a deep sadness, though, having been forced to break off an engagement with the love of her life, a Mr. Frederick Wentworth, 8 years prior. Wentworth apparently was not financially worthy at the time, and the family sent him scurrying away with his tail between his legs.

After Mrs. Elliot dies, daddy dearest blows all of his cash, and ends up having to downsize to a smaller place in Bath, and leases his estate to an upstanding sea captain and his wife. (This is an example of karma at its best!) The captain's wife just happens to be the sister to the one and only Frederick Wentworth (now quite wealthy), and when Anne finds out, she just about blows a gasket. All the old emotions come rushing back. Their paths cross again and again, but Wentworth is impossible to read. Is he still mad at her? Does he still love her? At one point, it seems that he is courting another woman, but then he turns his back on her. When a wealthy Elliot cousin breezes into town and starts to buzz around Anne, Wentworth begins to show some cautious interest, but overall is ambiguous in his intentions. Anne is encouraged but doubts her interpretation of his actions.

Now if you're a purist, and haven't read the book and intend to soon, I am about to talk about the story's "big reveal" that Austen is known for. So skip this paragraph if you don't want the spoiler. In Persuasion, the climax comes about a dozen pages from the end, and it is a wonderful scene. Anne is at a function, and is having a spirited discussion with a family friend about whether men or women recover quicker from a broken heart. Anne vehemently argues that women love longer, and find it harder to let go. Wentworth is sitting nearby and overhears the discussion, and understands now that Anne still loves him. He writes a very heartfelt letter to Anne, claiming to have never stopped loving her all these years. This is the ultimate story of second chances. They live happily ever after, of course.

I did thoroughly enjoy this book, but perhaps just a tad less than Pride & Prejudice. I know not everyone agrees. But I felt this book, while full of Austen's usual charm and nuances, was slightly less developed. I would have liked to see more of Wentworth's personality - he felt almost two dimensional. I also would have like the ending to be less abrupt, with just a little more elaboration. (My only basis for comparison is P&P, so I would love the more seasoned readers' opinions!) Only after I'd finished the book did I read that Austen was ill while writing this book, and in fact died before it was published. She hadn't even named the book, and the ultimate title of Persuasion was chosen by Austen's brother. This explains some of my issues, and in fact, makes the whole situation very poignant and bittersweet. At the end of the day, I have confirmed to myself that I must read everything written by Austen and look forward to the journey!

4.5 out of 5 stars.

18 comments:

Shelley/Book Fanatic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shelley/Book Fanatic said...

I love Jane as well! This is one of my favorites of hers although I felt the story really didn't get moving until the 7th or 8th chapter. The beginning was a bit slow for me. It is sad she died, just think of all the great books she might have written!

Matt said...

Jane Austen has the knack for appealing readers to the sense of morality through a romance story. I am not usually a fan of romantic tales but I love Jane Austen.

This one and Emma are up next for my Austen journey. Thanks for a thoughtful review!

Iliana said...

Don't feel bad, I feel like I've discovered Austen not too long ago either. Oddly enough I feel as if I'm working my way up to P&P. I loved Northanger Abbey and Emma. Maybe Persuassion will be next for me :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

Shelley - You are right, it did start out a little slow, although I still love her way with the tedium!

Matt - I feel the exact same way. I'm not a romantic, and mush generally annoys me. But there is something about Jane that you can't resist. Maybe it is the way everything is so restrained.

Iliana - well, I've got them all so I'm sure I get to everything sooner or later. My daughter's name is Emma so she is voting that I read that one next!

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't read this one yet - I'll have to get round to it one day, as I did enjoy Jane Eyre.

Your reading speed seems to picking up - your reviews are coming thick and fast at the moment! Is this thanks to your kindle?

Sandy Nawrot said...

Jackie - yes, I've been pretty productive lately (not because of the Kindle though!). It helps when I read books with the kids, and when I'm reading things that are less than 400 pages! I haven't read anything yet on my Kindle, though I've bought a few books. I figure I need to read as many of my hard books now, before I start traveling!

C. B. James said...

I mean no offense when I say this, but I think you're lucky not to have discovered Jane before now. Too many people have Jane forced on them before they are ready for her. She writes about young people but I don't think her books are really for young people.

I had to read P&P in high school, and ended up copying my friends notes for most of it. But, I tried her again 20 years later and loved it all. There is no one like her.

Molly said...

I, too, avoided Jane Austen until later in life. In fact, I didn't read her until I knew I had teach Pride and Prejudice. I do not enjoy romance fiction either, but Jane Austen is so much more than that. I think I enjoy her ironic wit almost more than her detailed character development.

I had hoped to read all 6 of her novels this summer, but not sure I will manage that. I have already read P&P (multiple times), Northanger Abby, and Mansfield Park. I think I should at least try to read Persuasion this summer, based on your great review.

Sandy Nawrot said...

James - you know it's funny, one of the teachers at the kids' school commented on the Jane Austen book I was carrying around, and they said "didn't you get enough of her in school?". And I said, "I got NONE of Jane in school...that is probably why I love her!" So you are probably right. I would not have appreciated her when I was younger, I don't think.

Molly - you definitely have a head start on me! I'm aiming to get to them all eventually! Maybe someone will come up with a Jane Austen reading challenge!

Beth F said...

All I can really say here is (1) fantastic review and (2) you MUST read everything Austen wrote.

I reread Austen periodically. I think Susan is the only thing I haven't yet read (why? who knows), and I plan to read that this year.

farmlanebooks said...

I assumed that you'd put this on your kindle and whizzed through it straight away!

Have you worked out how to get all the classics on it for free?

Which is going to be your first kindle read?

I hope you're having a great weekend!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Beth - thank you! I do intend to read everything she wrote. I rarely attach myself in this way to an author, but she's got her hold on me!

Jackie - the first book I bought was "The Help", for my Southern Reading Challenge, but have since purchased a couple more, with at least a dozen saved for later. Molly told me I could download stuff for free, but I need instruction. I don't know how!

Melody said...

I've only read two books by Jane Austen so far, but I've all her books in my pile! I look forward to reading them in the near future. Who knows, her books might be my next choice for the Classics Reading Challenge!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I've never read any Austen, but really want to read one this year for the Classics Challege. I'll be watching to see which one is your fave and start there!

Jessica said...

I just recently read this as my second Austen selection, having read and loved P&P for years. I liked Persuasion quite a bit, but it was more somber, more mature and more heavy than P&P. I agree with you about Wentworth's character, though we don't really get to see a lot of Darcy either. Anyway, I love Jane Austen (so far), and I look forward to your future reviews.

Anna said...

I really want to read this one! I've read 3 Austen books, but not this one.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

This is one of three books by Austen that I have not read yet. i will get to them