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!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.