Thursday, January 12, 2012
Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Classic, romance
Source: Personal copy
Read for: Advent with Austen (indicating how behind I am on my reviews)
Anne is under-appreciated by her father and sisters. Calm and reserved, she spends much of her time soothing the ruffled feathers of her family and being ignored. Her existence is tranquil and suppressed, until Captain Wentworth, her jilted fiance of ten years past, returns to the area. Suddenly Anne is seized by her previous feelings and by his apparent indifference to her. Will Anne and Captain Wentworth find happiness together? Or was her youthful rejection too much for their relationship to withstand?
Okay, first of all -- no idea what is on the cover of this book. That is why I chose it. Sometimes I feel like classic books just get random pictures placed on them that give the a classic look. I guess it could be because Captain Wentworth is a naval officer, but I don't recollect Anne ever looking for him with a cone-shaped hat on her head for him to come in. Anyway.
This was my second reading of Persuasion. The first time I read it, I vaguely enjoyed it, but I wasn't quite ready for the language. This time, I felt a lot more connection with the characters and was really swept up in the conversations and banter between the characters.
I'll be honest, the one thing that occasionally misses the mark for me in Jane Austen novels is the issue of money -- getting an heir to whom you can bequeath the estate, finding a husband that has enough money to support you, etc. I get it, I love Downton Abbey, I know it was a different time. But it was hard for me to relate to Anne and the way she let Captain Wentworth go the first time around because he wasn't a good enough catch. I know a lot of that is due to my American love-conquers-all-we'll-find-a-way paradigm... but it's working well for me so far. Obviously, I try to put myself in the shoes of characters with different paradigms than I have -- that is a large part of why I read. But the whole social class money-oriented thing trips me up from time to time.
With that out of the way, however, Persuasion really is a delight. While too easily swayed by persuasion (get it?) in her wayward youth, Anne really is a solid example of all I would like to be -- competent, calm, gracious, passionate despite her reserve. And I enjoy the way her relationship with Captain Wentworth re-blossoms, starting with awkwardness, avoidance, and timidity and building to a true and fuller awareness of each other's characters.
Naturally, as always with Jane Austen novels, the secondary characters also serve as a source of delight, annoyance, or irony, as the case may be. If you read this blog regularly you know that I have a great appreciation for a well-written love-to-hate character, and I think Anne's sister Mary takes the cake in this regard. She isn't evil or even ill-intentioned -- just completely self-absorbed and needy. Every page where she was mentioned elicited head-shaking and a sense of awe at how she could twist any situation to an insult or lack of regard for her own (delicate) self. Anne's other sister is even worse, completely lacking in awareness and common sympathy. Then we have Lady Russell, who led Anne away from her union with Captain Wentworth in the first place, believing that she was serving her young friend. Lady Russell is an opinionated woman, but the story demonstrates that she has the ability to change her mind (to be persuaded), and that she really does have Anne's best interests at heart.
Persuasion is a little different from the other Jane Austen novels I've read in that it deals with rekindling an old love, not seeking out a new one. In some ways, this causes the story to move a bit slower, and also elicits a few cringe-worthy scenes of awkwardness (although those are present pretty much anywhere in Jane Austen... Mr. Collins, anyone?). However, I think the payoff with this story is the depth of feeling and the strength of the relationship between the two protagonists. The final scenes, which I won't spoil but will mention involve a letter and a brisk walk, are absolutely touching. If you are patient with Persuasion, it will reward you.