Jane Austen

Persuasion

Author: Jane Austen | Publisher: Wordsworth Classics

I thought, when I picked up Persuasion in order to complete my Book Dragon Challenge, that I’d missed a Jane Austen book. It seemed incredible but I really could not remember reading it! I realised on the first page, I had actually read Persuasion. Thankfully, I mean, we’re talking about Jane Austen here… I’m always up for a re-read!

One of the great strengths of a Jane Austen book is that you find something new in it, in the commentary, in the characters, their motivations, the language, every single time you read it. I honestly could not tell you what my reaction was to it when I read it before… But, this time, I was struck by the overtly feminist tone for a book of this period.

Men have had every advantage of telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher degree a degree; the pen has been in their hands.

It also occurred to me how very timeless Jane Austen’s novels are. Yes, the language and the fashions, the lifestyle and manners of the characters are old-fashioned. But the themes still resonate: unrequited love, the differences between men and women, what’s desirable in a man or a woman, who and why people should get married… These themes are the still basis for almost every sitcom and modern TV show, and much debate in newspaper and magazine articles. I found that rather comforting, in an odd way; people really haven’t changed that much.

I love the characters in Jane Austen’s novels and Persuasion is no exception. Anne Eliot annoyed me at first. I found her a little wishy-washy, wet. I really wanted her to speak her mind and stand up for herself. But throughout the book she really finds her voice and her backbone, and I grew to love her. Captain Wentworth is, I think, very dashing. And, what I like most, very much a secondary character – Anne is the real star. Mr Eliot is the “bad guy”; though less bad than a Wickham, for sure. He’s suitably creepy though. Quite unredeemable. I also really love the way “bad” people get bad ends in Jane Austen’s books, and characters that meet her definition of “good” get their happy ever after. It’s neat and comforting.

However, what stands out for me in Persuasion is the character of Mrs Smith, who is the only Austen character that I can think of who is somewhat morally ambiguous (she’s lived a “worldly” life, we’re told), isn’t even close to the perfectionism of an Austen heroine, but yet is redeemable. She therefore “deserves” her happy ever after. I’m struggling to think of another Jane Austen character that has that quality… They tend to be more of the ilk of “they are what they are”. Since this is one of her later books, I think it perhaps shows a sort of personal development in the author’s way of thinking. Less black and white. It’s interesting, anyway.

I adore the Edwardian setting, with its big dresses, powdered wigs, drawing room scenes and balls. Carriages through the park. Walking arm in arm with gentlemen. Jane Austen’s world is one of pure escapism.

Like most romances, Jane Austen’s books are a little formulaic. You have a fairly good idea what’s going to happen. I think we all like that quality in a romance – it’s one of the reasons we pick them up. I mean, have you ever read one and it had a twist at the end, they broke up or died or something – you feel cheated, right? No-one wants that. Or, I certainly don’t!

I could literally talk about Persuasion for days. It’s a wonderful book. Slightly more mature and complex them Sense & Sensibility or Pride & Prejudice, and none the worse for it. Optimistic, escapist, romantic fiction at its best. Austen’s wry societal commentary always makes me think, and is what, I think, gives her books such timeless appeal.

5 out of 5 Archimedes

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