Persuasion, Jane Austen's last published novel, tells the love story of Anne Elliot and Federick Wentworth. They courted in their youth but family pressures and prejudices meant that they never actually got together. Seven years later, when Federick has become naval Captain Wentworth, their paths cross again and their friendship is rekindled. Anne is 27, which was quite old to be unmarried at the time but just like buses, when you have been waiting for a long time for one to arrive, two come along at once, another suitor presents himself in the form of William Elliot, Anne's cousin.
Persuasion is obviously a reccurrent theme in the novel, in various different forms, from family, as when Lady Russell convinces Anne not to marry Federick, to self-persuasion, as when Anne's sister Mary repeatedly tells herself she is sick. But in the end, will Anne be persuaded again by her cousin's interest or is she now mature enough to listen to her own heart?
Jane Austen is what I would consider summer reading. I am a teacher so for 9 months of the year I am quite taken up with work. So at this time of year a book has to really reach out and grab my attention, otherwise my mind wanders to my work. In the summer instead I am freer to daydream and get cught up in the atmosphere of the book. I by no means mean to criticize, in fact the best part of Jane Austen's work is her understatement and subtlety, which is the epitamy of Englishness.
Jane Austen was a realist in the sense that she observed real behaviour in the society of her day. I don't think she wanted to write 'literature', as compared to Wuthering Heights, written 30 years later, the language is incredibly modern for today's reader. There are lots of phrasal verbs and the dialogue, which is plentiful, is really authentic, you can hear the character's speaking. Perhaps that is why her books make such appealing films, Her realistic use of dialogue reminds me of Agatha Christie. In fact Agatha Christie and Jane Austen were both great observers of human characteristics. What strikes me most is the way Jane Austen zooms in on the slightest gestures or moves raising them to maximum importance. For example there is a moment in Chapter 12 when Anne and William Elliot first meet. The description of even the quickest glance, that the others present may not be aware of, is touching.
"When they came to the steps, leading upwards from the beach, a gentleman,
at the same moment preparing to come down, politely drew back,
and stopped to give them way. They ascended and passed him;
and as they passed, Anne's face caught his eye, and he looked at her
with a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of.
She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features,
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. It was evident that the gentleman,
(completely a gentleman in manner) admired her exceedingly.
Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which
shewed his noticing of it. He gave her a momentary glance,
a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, "That man is struck with you,
and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again."
Later on in the same chapter, discussing how to deal with Louisa's fall, there is an exchange between Anne and Federick, which is also full of meaningful looks.
"You will stay, I am sure; you will stay and nurse her;" cried he, turning to her and speaking with a glow, and yet a gentleness, which seemed almost restoring the past. She coloured deeply, and he recollected himself and moved away."
I love the description of William Elliot's emotions in Chapter 15 here when he is introduced to Anne by her father Sir Walter, who is unaware they are already acquainted.
"He looked completely astonished, but not more astonished than pleased; his eyes brightened!"
And I always love understatement.
"Anne could not have supposed it possible that her first evening in Camden Place could have passed so well!"
Have I persauded you to read Persuasion? I would love to hear what you particularly like about it.
Next month I will be reading Martin Eden by Jack London about a young man's struggle to become a writer. I will be sharing my thoughts on Instagram and Facebook so don't forget to check it out!
No time for reading?
Many people tell me that they would like to read more but just don't have the time. I used to try to suggest ways of integrating reading into everyday life: read on the bus, a page a day, try an audiobook. These suggestions are all valid, particularly audiobooks, but I never followed my own advice. In the end, It's not about finding time it's about making time. Either you read or you don't. It's a choice.
Two years ago I didn't read at all. My aunt, a librarian, always asked me 'Have you read so and so?' to which I replied 'No, I can't.' I just had no time. Chores and commitments got in the way. If I ever sat down to read one of two things happened: either I fell asleep or my mind started wandering to something more important I should have been doing. Had I turned off the gas? Shouldn't I be marking those tests? What was there for dinner? When was that doctor's appointment? How selfish I was to just sit there when there were a million and one other things to be done! Nevertheless, as I went about my everyday life, I somehow found the time to listen to or watch, countless pointless YouTube videos: I have always been fascinated with other people's lives.
On the other hand, when I could read with my students I felt I was allowed and how it moved me! How exciting to read the Pit and the Pendulum: that moment is a snapshot in my mind as is listening to my Skype student reading The Little Prince!
Thanks to Lost in Classics I gave myself the permission to read. I changed my way of thinking. Reading is never a waste of time. It's ok to blot out the world for a while. The world can wait. I am worth it. I can take my time to sit, be, reflect. It is important for my well being. I don't meditate, I read., sharing the experiences of who have gone through it all before me. I can travel without leaving my house. I can experience things I may never do myself.This is my way of connecting with the universe. It helps me to put my own concerns in perspective. When I am out in public I often cling on to my bag for comfort or reassurance and when I am particularly involved in a book I carry it around with me, squeeze it in my hands, flick through the pages with my fingers. It's like a stress ball but I feel in it also a connection to the characters, their words and thoughts . And then comes that magical moment when an author's words jump out of the page at you as if they contained a message left just for you. In the books I have read this year I have found phrases that have inspired me to be a stronger, more resilient person.
I choose to spend my time on material that will teach me something. That way I always have something to mull over. Today through technology we talk with people we may never actually meet. Reading is like doing the same thing without limits of time.
Why do you read?
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.