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[271] Persuasion – Jane Austen

” She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning. ” [4; 29]

” Surely, if there be constant attachment on each side, our hearts must understand each other ere long. We are not boy and girl, to be captiously irritable, misled by every moment’s inadvertence, and wontonly playing with our own happiness. ” [22; 207]

The novel opens as Sir Walter Elliot, master of Kellynch-house, finds himself in financial strait. The baronet, who is vain, self-involved, and insensible, is to quit the house, which is to be let to a naval captain, and relocates to Bath without involving the loss of indulgence in taste and pride. Elizabeth, the elder daughter, resembles her father in temperament and assumes superciliously her deceased mother’s former position in the house. More than seven years prior to the events in Persuasion, upon the advice of Lady Russell, close friend and mentor, they are dissatisfied with one Captain Frederick Wentworth, with whom Anne Elliot falls in love rapidly after a short acquaintance. Lady Russell persuades Anne, whom she loves beyond her own circumstances, to break off the match because there is no hope of attaining affluence.

. . . seem so totally free from all those ambitious feelings which have led to so much misconduct and misery, both in young and old! [22; 204]

The entire narration of Persuasion on Anne’s re-encounter with the captain, who has yet to forgive her for rejecting him. Despite “an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding,” [1; 7] Anne is an unobtrusive participant in social scenes (whether she is in her own home or among the confusion of domestic hurricane at the Musgroves, her sister’s in-laws). In fact, almost everything is seen from Anne’s perspective—she is the subtle consciousness of the novel, to the extent that it’s sometimes impossible to distinguish between Anne’s inner concerns (stream of consciousness) from straight narration. Always reminiscent of her lost love, she is quietly amused at her own expense and thinks freely though her actions are curtailed.

She now felt a great inclination to go to the outer door; she wanted to see if it rained. Why was she to suspect herself of another motive? Captain Wentworth must be out of sight. She left her seat, she would go, one half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was. She would see if it rained. [19; 165]

She almost never betrays her mental drama to anyone else, rendering it invisible. She obliges a very placid countenance even when her emotions boil inside her. The growing confidence of her insight, as the novel progresses, and her capacity for meting out judgment on social behavior and unraveling schemes mean that the free indirect style of Anne’s thoughts can offer a satisfactory scope though without the rich ironies of Emma.

Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the [ball] room. Her happiness was from within . . . She was thinking only of the last half hour, and as they passed to their seats, her mind took a hasty range over it. His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light . . . —sentences begun which he could not finish—his half averted eyes, and more than half expressive glance,—all, all declared that he had a heart returning to her at least; that anger, resentment, avoidance, were no more; and that they were succeeded, not merely by friendship and regard, but by the tenderness of the past; yes, some share of the tenderness of the past. She could not contemplate the change as implying less.—He must love her. [20; 175]

Persuasion shifts the Usual major themes of class rigidity and social status to the background and allows Anne Elliot’s consciousness to reign—to examine and reflect on these values and traditions. While she is adept at persuading others in time of trial (her long-lost school fellow Mrs. Smith and a widower Captain Benwick), she allows Lady Russell talk her into giving up the engagement. Throughout the novel, she is torn about whether she had been right to succumb to the persuasion, out of duty and respect to traditions. In her ability to disentangle the ethical and emotional implications of this act of persuasion to her own satisfaction, both her happiness and the purpose of the novel to promote a social flexibility are fulfilled. In this regard, Persuasion is very complete in both presenting a full character study and light-textured story.

236 pp. Penguin Classics edition. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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17 Responses

  1. I’m glad that your time with Austen hasn’t been an unhappy one! Persuasion is truly a book to come back to.

  2. I find that there is more to love with Persuasion every time I reread it. It does battle with Emma as my favourite Austen novel.

    • I like how the themes of marriage and social class are in the background in Persuasion, instead of running over the entire book. Between Persuasion and Emma, I cannot decide which one I like better.

  3. What did you think of Capt. Wentworth? I know he’s the unfavorite hero of many Austen fans…

    • Compare to the other male leads of Austen, Captain Wentworth is more passive and subdued, probably because he is only seen through the eyes of Anne Elliot, whose inner concerns and mental drama has sustained the entire novel. I can see he’s overlooked, but a bit surprised he’s an unfavorite.

  4. This is one Austen that I haven’t read! I’ve been saving one book by her so that I can still look forward to discovering something new by her! I’m so glad to read that you enjoyed it so much and found it so rewarding!

    • I also read that Persuasion is related to Northanger Abbey because they both set in Bath. Naturally that would be my next Austen. 🙂

  5. This is one Austen book I haven’t had the pleasure to read yet. As always you inspire me to read it and the passages you have selected to highlight are lovely. I’m thinking this a good book for my next vacation or day off without any distractions. I just can’t read a book like this and really savor the language if there is too much going on around me.

    • The two passages really touch my heart. The novel is not driven my all the rich ironies that you normally encounter in an Austen novel, like Emma and Sense and Sensibility, but it’s more a character-driven and we learn a whole lot about the society and schemes through the eyes of Anne Elliot. I enjoy it quite a lot.

  6. I’m so thrilled to read your thoughts on this one!!! I can’t wait to get to it myself but you’ve certainly made me anxious!

  7. Of all Austen’s works, Persuasion is the one I come back to most frequently. I also love Emma. But this one, I feel, is a more mature work. Maybe it’s only a reflection of my own capacities and/or limitations as a reader, but it seems to me that it offers a more subtle inner dialogue. I first read it in my late thirties, and now in my mid sixties I find it all the more persuasive, shall we say, as an old friend.

    • I enjoyed Persuasion very much. The inner dialogue is all between Anne Elliot and (later) Captain Frederick Wentworth. I like how Austen wrote this book with a different approach: allowing Anne to tell us the story. It is through her and her eyes that we come to find out about what’s going on in the society.

  8. Persuasion is my favourite book by Jane Austen. I also believe it’s the least appreciated, although thankfully in bookblogging land many people seem familiar with it.

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