She was persuaded to believe the engagement a wrong thing – indiscreet, improper, hardly capable of success, and not deserving it. But it was not merely selfish caution, under which she acted, in putting an end to it. Had she not imagined herself consulting his good, even more than her own, she could hardly have given him up. – The belief of being prudent, and self-denying principally for his advantage, was her chief consolation, under the misery of a parting – a final parting; and every consolation was required, for she had to encounter all the additional pain of opinions, on his side, totally unconvinced and unbending, and of his feeling himself ill-used by so forced a relinquishment. – He had left the country in consequence.
(from Persuasion, pages 26-27)
Oh, how I loved Persuasion! If I’d known I was going to love it so much — even more than Pride and Prejudice — and that it would become my favorite book, I would have read it years ago! In fact, last night when I flipped through the pages to choose a quote or two, I found myself lost in the story and re-read the last few chapters before I knew what I was doing.
Persuasion was the last novel finished by Jane Austen. She completed it in 1816, and it was published with Northanger Abbey after her death in 1817. It is a mature novel, a novel whose main characters are a bit older and wiser. It is ultimately a novel about second chances, both tinged with sadness and filled with hope.
Anne Elliot, daughter of the vain Sir Walter Elliot, baronet, fell in love with Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded by her close friend, Lady Russell, to break their engagement because he had no fortune, no connections, and no title. Anne thought she was doing the right thing, but she never stopped loving him. Fast forward more than eight years to when the book opens, and Anne’s father has been careless with the family finances to the point that they must rent out their home and move to Bath.
Anne soon learns that she is destined to see Frederick Wentworth again, as his sister, Mrs. Croft and her husband, Admiral Croft, are to rent Kellynch Hall. Because she is invisible to her family, she is not to go with her father and sister, Elizabeth, to Bath right away. She must first travel to Uppercross to stay with her younger sister, Mary, who seems to fall ill whenever she’s not getting attention. It is there that Anne sees Frederick again. He returns a naval captain, wealthy from the Napoleonic wars, while Anne’s family is on the brink of bankruptcy.
“All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone” (page 222)
Captain Wentworth is cold to Anne, and not only does she realize he has not forgiven her, but she also must watch him flirt with Mary’s sisters-in-law, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove. And when an accident occurs and the Sir Walter’s heir comes into the picture with eyes for Anne, it seems all hope for a reunion is lost.
As in her other novels, Austen focuses on social class and marriage, but she does it with humor and compassion for her characters. It’s hard to put into words how much I love everything about this book. Austen’s writing in Persuasion felt more emotional and heartfelt to me than in her other novels, and I grew so attached to the characters that I finished the book in just a couple of days. Mary and Sir Walter were so ridiculous that I laughed out loud, and my heart went out to Anne, who despite having no value to her family, was the only one with any real worth. I loved her even though she was not as witty or strong-willed as Elizabeth Bennet.
And oh, how I fell in love with Captain Wentworth! He puts Mr. Darcy to shame (and you all know how I love Mr. Darcy). Captain Wentworth is a self-made man who doesn’t care much about titles or connections. He’s charming and handsome with good manners, but lacks Darcy’s arrogance. And he certainly has a way with words! Here’s what he says to Anne at one point in the novel (and don’t even get me started on the swoon-worthy letter he writes!):
“It seems, on the contrary, to have been a perfectly spontaneous, untaught feeling on his side, and this surprises me. A man like him, in his situation! With a heart pierced, wounded, almost broken! Fanny Harville was a very superior creature; and his attachment to her was indeed attachment. A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman! – He ought not – he does not.” (pages 172-173)
I’m not big on reading the classics, which is why I’m surprised that I’ve long enjoyed Austen’s novels. Persuasion is a literary masterpiece (at least in my eyes). There’s social commentary, a passionate love, and even a scoundrel. And despite there being no shortage of new reading material in my house, I can’t wait to read Persuasion again (and again).
Disclosure: Persuasion is from my personal library.
© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.