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.