Jane Austen — Persuasion

Persuasion is tied with Pride & Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel, in fact, it might be my favorite… It’s certainly up there, either way. This slim novel was also published posthumously, and presents something of a departure of form for Austen; instead of a young girl, Anne Elliot is 27, an old maid by 18th century standards. The bloom of youth has gone, and she still remains unmarried, and considering what times were like back then, is unlikely to ever marry, especially considering her father has bankrupted the family with his extravagance. Anne’s tragedy is that when she was young and tractable, she fell in love with a young Naval officer, and was about to marry him, but was talked out of it by her older, wiser friend, Lady Russell, a decision she has regretted ever since. And now, Captain Wentworth has returned to her village, and Anne is confronted with life choices she has made in a way that she probably never expected to have to deal with.

It’s been said that Anne is a bit of a wet blanket, as well, but somehow I sympathize with her much more so than Fanny Price, for example. She isn’t necessarily shy, she’s just a bit thrown by events. Certainly she was “persuadable” in her youth, but Anne Elliot at 27 is quite a different creature. While she’s polite and reserved, she’s also quite intelligent, and witty when she wants to be. It’s a more subdued wit than Elizabeth Bennett’s, somewhat reserved, but definitely there. She stands up for her opinions in a quiet way, but she does it. She is probably a little too caring, but willing to sacrifice her own happiness for that of those she cares for. And in the end, she is able to stand up for her own chance at happiness. As I said, I like her. It’s easy to feel for her.

I really enjoy this book because of its quiet longing, the slow buildup to the realization that everyone has been a bit wronged, but it’s all right. It also features one of the best “romantic” speeches (by Captain Wentworth, of course) I’ve ever read, and in Austen, no less, who normally doesn’t go in for that sort of thing. It’s that sort of flourish that, after a book of painful crossed meanings and missed signals, is a very welcome one. This is a happy ending I can get behind.

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