“She is almost too good for me”


For the past week here in Oklahoma, we’ve been having rather unpleasant weather. Ice, snow, rain, and no sun. My TV and Internet were down, the pets huddled in their fleece beds by the heating vents, but I’ve had a lovely time re-reading Persuasion. It was Austen’s last novel, published after her death, and it’s my favorite of all the books. With Pride and Prejudice a very close second, and all the others tied for 3rd. Or maybe Mansfield Park is 4th. Janet is right–it is literary Big Girl Panties. Though I would a thousand times rather read it again than read, say, Moby Dick.

Anyway, Persuasion. What a beautiful book. If MP is big girl panties, and Moby Dick is fried liver and onions, Persuasion is rich, dark hot chocolate on a cold night. In college, I once wrote a paper contrasting Persuasion and MP, and Anne Elliot and Fanny Price. I’m always struck by how different the two books are, in tone and theme as well as character. Anne shares Fanny’s dutifulness and loneliness, but has a warmth and sweetness, a hidden spirit, Fanny lacks. (Anne also doesn’t go around lecturing people and ruining their fun, even when they richly deserve it!). Fanny ‘wins’ by not changing, by upholding the status quo; Anne wins by doing the exact opposite.

But let’s start at the beginning. Persuasion is about, well, love. Real, lasting love and what it means. About self-deception, the messes families make, narcissism and the unknowability of other people. Communication and the lack thereof. Snobbery and honor. The importance of not jumping off walls. Aging, the passing of time, change and regret.

Anne Elliot is on the shelf. She is in her mid to late 20s, living an invisible life with her insufferable family. Her father, Sir Walter Elliot, “was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage…he could read his own history with an interest which never failed–this was the page at which the favorite volume was always opened: ‘Elliot of Kellynch-Hall’.” He is only interested in himself and what reflects him. His daughter Elizabeth is “very like himself”, and Mary has “acquired a little artificial importance” because she is married. But Anne, “with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight…she was just Anne.” Her father “had never indulged much hope, he had none now, of ever reading her name in any other page of his favorite work”–to not be in the book was simply not to be, and thus Anne doesn’t really exist. But his profligacy has driven the family into near bankruptcy, and they’re forced to rent out Kellynch-Hall and retreat to Bath, which Anne, like her author Austen, does not like.

Her friend and surrogate mother, Lady Russell, is a “benevolent, charitable, good woman, and capable of strong attachments,” but she also holds “a value for rank and consequence, which blinded her a little to the faults of those who possessed them.” It is mainly she who persuaded Anne, years ago, to refuse the offer of the young naval officer Wentworth, something Anne has regretted ever since. But they will soon meet again.

Regret and the passing of time, of course, are a big theme in Persuasion. I once read an essay that compared Persuasion to Shakespeare’s late romances (Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Cymbeline), and this seems apt. They both share a bittersweetness, an ‘autumnal’ quality of poignancy and sadness, and the dream of second chances. The story begins in “summer 1814” (the only Austen book set in a specific time). It is “more than seven years…since the little history of sorrowful interest reached its close.” It is a big turning point for England as well as Anne. She had “been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older.” Like Anne, everything is in a condition of change. All the old stabilities (family, parents, social rank and property, respected names) are called into question. New values are rising to take their place, and change Anne’s life. Nominal gentlemen (like Sir Walter and the odious Mr. Elliot) are shown to be, well, not very gentlemanly at all. Not compared to men like Wentworth and Admiral Croft.

At Lyme, Louisa Musgrove is “convinced of sailors having more worth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.” (Aside from the youthful hyperbole, Anne would agree–“She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others”).

By the end, of course, wrongs are righted, miscommunications (of which there have been many) are cleared, and Anne and Wentworth are united at last (“There they exchanged again those feelings and those promised which had once before seemed to secure every thing, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past more exquisitely happy…than when it had been first projected”). But unlike previous Austen marriages (the Darcys with Pemberley, Fanny Price and Mansfield, Emma and her two houses), endless stability is not on the horizon for the Wentworths. War is threatened; the new values, not secured by property and conventional society, will be tested. “She (Anne) gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than its national importance.” We have to trust in their own constancy and emotional stability to see them through.

What do you think of Persuasion, of Anne and Wentworth and their brave new world? We’re so glad you’ve joined is for our Austen Week! It’s been so much fun to share our love of these books.

Be sure and comment for a chance to win a copy of Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s World! (One of those books I ordered not realizing I already had a copy. Oops!). And keep up with these special events and giveaways by signing on for our newsletter at riskies@yahoo.com .

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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Anonymous
14 years ago

Persuasion is a very close second to P&P for me. Spoiled by modern day romances, I would have enjoyed more conversation between the hero and heroine, but I still loved it. I do find the relationship between Anne and Lady Russell terribly interesting and important. It is very satisfying seeing Anne grow over the course of the novel.

I’m sure there are moments when she will not enjoy being the wife of a navy captain in the future, but how many navy captains had to – or chose to – leave the service after Waterloo?

-Michelle Butler

Deb Marlowe
14 years ago

Hi Ammanda!

LOL about the importance of not jumping off walls. πŸ™‚

I love Persuasion, both the book and the Ciaran Hinds (sigh) movie version.

Just this year I was wanting to read it again, but really had no time. So I thought I’d get the audio version from the library and listen to it in the car at carpool, etc. But the reader was an ancient sounding woman, and I soon noticed that when I was working, I kept hearing dialogue in her voice! I had to stop.

You know, I think I still have that picture, from our trip, of the columns in Bath where Anne and Captain Wentworth kissed.

ruth
14 years ago

Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice are my favorites of the classics. Persuasion deals with the social issues of the times and paints a fascinating portrait of Regency England. This remarkable story of love, disappointment and redemption is handled in a passionate and poignant manner. What an enjoyable and memorable novel.

catslady
14 years ago

Oh shame on me – I’m afraid I didn’t know about this book. Looks like I’m going to have to check this one out.

robynl
14 years ago

I just learned of this book earlier today as I was watching the movie The Lake House starring Sandra Bullock; in the movie Sandra and this guy discuss Persuasion. How interesting and now you mention it. I’ll have to read it.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“LOL about the importance of not jumping off walls.”

I definitely think is a very important lesson from Persuasion, Deb. Otherwise a person could end up married to a mope like Benwick. πŸ™‚

For those who haven;t read it–get thee to a bookstore right now!! LOL

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Oh Persuasion is my favorite of JA’s novels, and I know my ranking is entirely due to seeing the Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root movie in the movie theater. I saw it early in my growing love affair with the Regency.

I soon after listened to the Chivers audiobook of Persuasion, read by a wonderful British reader.

I just love Jane’s transformation and I love that these two finally follow their hearts.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

I think that Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel, even more so than P&P. The themes of second chance at love, feeling invisible in your own family, the fact that characters like Wentworth and Admiral Croft are more admirable than Sir Walter and Mr. Elliott, I find terribly resonant even today. And I love, love the movie, even though they have Anne and Wentworth kissing on the street in Bath. I don’t know how the new Persuasion can beat that scene! In fact, I think I need to go and get a hot cup of chocolate and watch the movie again.

Janga
14 years ago

I find Anne an endearing heroine who combines intelligence and kindness. Wentworth’s letter is wonderful. Sophia Croft is sheer delight and a marvelous example of strength and independence. These are just some of the reasons Persuasion is my favorite Austen and one of my top five favorite romances. I even petitioned my graduate committee to let me substitute Persuasion for Emma on the reading list for my 19th-century British lit comprehensive exam.

It is also my favorite Austen to teach, although my students who have already read P&P usually prefer that novel. Maybe it takes some life experience on the reader’s part to fully appreciate Anne.

doglady
14 years ago

Persuasion follows P&P as a close second in my heart when it comes to Jane Austen’s gems. I am a real sucker for a reunited “lovers” story.I have to admit that Claran Hinds is a totally sigh-worthy Wentworth! I have to laugh though. In England we lived nextdoor to little old lady spinster sisters. They lived in a large house with a huge, gorgeous back garden. Attached to the property was a three stall stable and they each had a lovely hunter/jumper. The occupant of the third stall was a grouchy old Welsh pony named Daffodil. If I had a shilling for every time that miserable old thing bit me! BUT, one of the hunters was named Wentworth! I didn’t know the significance of that name until I was twelve and started reading Jane Austen. The sisters were great Austen fans. That equine Wentworth was a stalwart, handsome fellow as well. I agree with Janga, that those of us with a little life experience can probably appreciate Persuasion better than the younger set. Even today, there are people who make life-changing decisions due to family pressure or their own perceptions of themselves as colored by others. I am a huge sucker for people who grow into who they are supposed to be and then follow their hearts. SIGH!

Cara King
14 years ago

I really love Persuasion, but I confess it doesn’t come close to P&P for me. Until I saw Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth, I always found Wentworth a little, well…young. And a tad annoying. He has a second chance at Anne, but he lets his hurt pride send him running after silly teenagers who are so dorky that they take his commendation of their spirit to mean they should start jumping off walls…

Though I did enjoy it, even so, and quite a lot. But after seeing Ciaran Hinds, now I always picture him in the role, saying the words, and somehow Wentworth seems much more manly to me now! πŸ™‚

I do the idea of how Anne is undervalued by everybody to be one of those themes that’s just as powerful now as then…it’s something that has little to do with time or place or station, but is just a basic human problem. Indeed, I think in many many romances (both those written long ago and modern ones), much of what makes Mr. Right, Mr. Right, is that he can see the heroine’s worth. (And vice versa!)

Cara

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

it’s something that has little to do with time or place or station, but is just a basic human problem.

I think that is why Austen retains her appeal even today. Her characters are so human and real, but we can recognize them in the people we know now.

I think I’m stating the obvious, though.

Keira Soleore
14 years ago

Ammanda, great review of the book.

Deb, great to “see” you here today.

Diane, what you said bears repeating often, because for every JA lover, there’s a JA derider. “Classics-lite” is what those readers of mind-elevating fiction call her.

Regret and the passing of time, of course, are a big theme in Persuasion.

I find it interesting that this is a theme that is so often reprised in today’s Regency-set historicals, as opposed to say, medievals.

Santa
14 years ago

I have to say that Persuasion is by and large my favorite Jane Austen book. I love everything about it. It is one of my favorite re-reads. LOL, I had it with me in Dallas and rubbed its well worn cover for good luck when I pitched.

I just love the fact that they find one another again after so much time has passed by and their love is as fresh and wonderful as it was in their youth.

And I adore the film adaptation with Ciaran Hinds. Very sigh worthy!

KimW
14 years ago

I haven’t read Persuasion, but I did see the movie. I like it, but not as much as Pride and Prejudice. That’s one I can’t seem to get enough of. I didn’t know about the book, Jane Austen’s World. That looks really neat.

Todd
14 years ago

I seem to be part of a large crowd for whom Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice (in some order) are their favorite Austent novels. For me, Persuasion comes second, but it is still one of my very favorite novels–and not just Austen novels.

This was not hurt by the Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root film portrayal, which I still admire as one of the most perfect adaptations of a novel as a film that I’ve ever seen. For a book which is as introspective as Persuasion, that is an even more impressive feat.

I also find the contrast between the Bath of Northanger Abbey and the Bath of Persuasion interesting. I’ve read it suggested several times that Northanger Abbey reflects the happy Bath holidays of a youthful Jane Austen, while Persuasion reflects her discontent at being uprooted from the country life she loved and made to live in a city, on rather precarious means. Maybe so! But whatever the reason, one might be forgiven for thinking them two entirely different cities. πŸ™‚

And finally, I must agree: “don’t jump off of walls” remains timelessly good advice. πŸ™‚

Todd-who-loves-Persuasion-but-prefers-the-happier-Bath-of-Northanger-Abbey

Jenny
14 years ago

I like Persuasion, though to me there is a bit more bitterness in its portrayal of hypocrisy and selfishness than there is in P&P. I also find the derision of the mother mourning her dead bad boy a bit over the top. And to me Anne’s dreadful family is more unpleasant than entertaining.

The natural boisterousness of teens, celebrated in P&P–written, after all, when Jane WAS a teen–is here presented as a flaw. I cannot rejoice in Louisa suffering so strongly for her high spirits and being awarded another of Jane’s booby prize spouses.

The character of the impoverished Mrs. Smith gives us a bit more insight into the dark side of the Regency world. I like that.

In some weird way, my second favorite Austen must be Sanditon because it tells me that had Austen been given the gift of a longer life, we would now see her in a very different light. The author of Persuasion, which is so 18th century in tone left us with a fragment filled with Victorian exuberance: real estate developers, people of color, and a plot that hints at a completely different world view.

How sad that Jane did not live longer. And thank you all for celebrating her birthday so fittingly!

BTW, did you know that it’s Beethoven’s birthday, too?

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“Maybe it takes some life experience on the reader’s part to fully appreciate Anne.”

I think this is true! When I first read the books as an adolescent, P&P was far and away my favorite, and I couldn’t understand at all why everyone kept lecturing Marianne Dashwood when she made perfect sense to me. πŸ™‚ But now that I’m old enough to have regrets of my own, I appreciate the beauty of Persuasion even more.

What Diane says about the “humanity” of Austen’s characters is so true. Much like Shakespeare, I think she has the gift of showing what makes us all, well, people, no matter what time we live in. Many authors of the age did not, and that’s why we know Austen now and not them, LOL.

“BTW, did you know that it’s Beethoven’s birthday, too?”

Happy Birthday, Ludwig! Last week (I think it was last week–this weather has me disoriented) I wrote about the premier of his 7th Symphony as a sort of early present. πŸ™‚

Cara King
14 years ago

Jenny, I agree with you about how the novel treats Mrs. Musgrove for being “silly” enough to paint a rosier-than-life picture of her dead son…it’s just human nature, and it does make Austen look very cold…

But I can’t agree that Benwick is a booby prize spouse! I thought he was sweet. On the romantic end, he’ll quote poetry at her… And on the practical end, he’s a captain, so she’ll be well off. πŸ™‚

I confess, I’ve never read Sanditon! But now I see I shall have to… πŸ™‚

Cara

Georgie Lee
14 years ago

Persuasion is also my favorite Jane Austen book and I love the Cirian Hinds movie version. I love how Anne is finally able to overcome her family and all the people who put her down to find happiness with the man she loves.