I seem to be going through a bit of an obsession with the classics at the moment, so in keeping with that, I recently settled down with Persuasion. I am a big fan of Austen’s writing style, and of the period of which she wrote, so Persuasion was off to a good start before I even turned to the first page.
This novel follows the story of Anne Elliot, a quiet young woman of good name and generous character. When her lavish father comes to acknowledge that they cannot go on living quite as extravagantly as they have been, she is faced with leaving her beloved family home for a new residence in Bath. During her final months in Uppercross, she re-encounters Captain Frederick Wentworth, a man with whom she shared an intimate connection at a young age. At that time, he was seen as an unsuitable match for her, and Anne was persuaded out of the engagement, but never truly stopped to love him. As their lives become once again intertwined, Anne begins to wonder if all hope is not lost.
Besides Pride & Prejudice, which will always remain my favourite Austen novel, Persuasion comes a very close second. Anne is a very worthy heroine because of her estimable character and quiet ways. As the story develops, we come to see Anne progress from a shy, almost timid woman, to a determined and passionate one. She is no longer so easily persuaded out of her beliefs and opinions, and finds the confidence to pursue her own desires. I like Anne as a protagonist because she shows a different kind of strength to Lizzy Bennet for example. Her strength comes from her inner self-worth. Despite the opinions and voices of others, she finally comes to value her own opinion when it matters the most; namely regarding her own personal happiness, and I think that’s something we can all stand to learn from.
Persuasion also explores the class differences in society. During her time in Bath, Anne becomes re-acquainted with an old school friend, Mrs. Smith, who is poor and widowed, and barely coping due to a disability brought about by rheumatic fever. As they talk, they come to discuss the class structures of their society, and here is one of my favourite quotes from the book as spoken by Mrs. Smith about her nurse:
“Hers is a line for seeing human nature; and she has a fund of good sense and observation which, as a companion, make her infinitely superior to thousands of those who having only received “the best education in the world,” know nothing worth attending to.”
I like this almost sassy observation that education is only good for some things, but not all. I like the way Austen slips these little social critiques into her writing as a way of making the reader sit up and think about the world. Through Mrs. Smith’s character, especially, I got the sense that Austen was attempting to stress the fact that people of lower classes were by no means as inferior as upper-class people thought them to be. I think that’s still a very relevant point today.
In fact, I kind of wish that Captain Wentworth could have remained slightly less wealthy. I liked the idea that Anne loved him despite the fact that everyone else considered him an unsuitable match because of his lack of wealth. Instead when she marries him at the end, he has come into his own small fortune. Obviously Anne doesn’t marry him for his money because she’s not that kind of person, but it would have been a nice way for them to kind of defy social expectation. Instead, I got the sense that Austen had to make him somewhat well-off in order for the match to be agreeable to the rest of society.
I think in general Austen had a real talent for human observation. She had a knack for identifying human and social behaviours, and managed to create witty and intriguing discourses about them in a way that was also entertaining. I think her novels will always be relevant because her themes are universal: romance, self-worth, class…the list is endless, and she has such a unique style of writing which appeals to many readers.
This novel is definitely worth a read. It’s a steady kind of narrative with interesting characters and complex relationships that keep you invested right up to the final pages. As ever, Austen delivers all of this alongside a unique and likeable heroine who teaches the reader several valuable traits about self-belief, confidence, compassion, and the reality that society can be wrong. Above all, Anne is a character who demonstrates that losing your own voice and your own opinions while listening to everyone else is far too easy.
*If you like this novel, there is a television film adaptation which was released in 2007, starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. It’s well-worth a watch.
December Book Review: Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick