Jane Austen’s Persuasion was published after her death and yet it comes in the list prior to Sense and Sensibility. It’s interesting to discover that the Austen’s books we study in France (or at least hear about) aren’t higher on the list than those we don’t. One might assume that the books exported so widely would be more popular, and so higher on that 100 Book list. Yet the only one was Pride and Prejudice. I’d never really heard about the others prior to living in an all-English country and in all fairness I’d never actually heard about Persuasion before I opened the book.
Unlike other Jane Austen’s heroines Anne Elliot is rather old (for that time period) at 27 years old, and her sister Elizabeth some 2 or 3 years older yet. Neither is married though for different reasons: we’re given to understand Elizabeth isn’t married because she’s snobbish and otherwise quite dislikable. She doesn’t even consider her sister. On the other hand, Anne was once engaged to a young naval officer Frederick Wentworth but was persuaded by her godmother not to marry him because his station was lower than hers. And because sailors’ wives never know whether their husband will be coming back or not: their fortunes are tricky at best. Still after almost 8 years, Anne despite being proposed hasn’t found anyone she might consider a companion. So when the wars are over and F. Wentworth comes back in her neighbourhood, a good deal richer than he was, she’s in trouble controlling her heart and emotions. Now that her father’s extravagant expanses have brought them into debt and forced her father to move to Bath, Captain Wentworth isn’t someone to snub. But even if the man still loves her, can he be convinced she won’t be persuaded to refuse him again?
I found Persuasion a bit more interesting than Emma. I read both in the same breath if you will and the former was more engaging than the latter. Still I’m not convinced. In this case, Anne just seems the perfect person; she can commit no fault. And it’s made even more obvious by contrast with her sisters: Elizabeth is arrogant and conceited, whereas her younger sister Mary, who’s married with two kids, is an attention-seeking know-it-all woman. It’s as if the author is forcing you to like the main character for her selflessness, kindness and overall perfection compared to the others.
There’s no doubt Jane Austen had mastered her writing style and it reads easily even if you find yourself rolling your eyes at some of the situations. Some of the twists are just over the top: I understand the love story is meant to be Anne and Wentworth’s but the others that are thrown into the mix are just absolutely unbelievable… But at least unlike Emma, we know from the first Anne is still in love and Wentworth’s attitude might well be the one of a man who’s been hurt and who doesn’t trust himself around the woman he once wanted to marry. In that sense, I found it more satisfying.
Maybe Persuasion has its place on this list more than Emma did but still… I’m just sometimes wondering why Austen who – from what I remember – remained unmarried would always insist marriage is the only possible fate for a woman. It seems somewhat curious, because even if she means it as a critique, it still comes out as very romantic. After all, all her heroines marry for love in the end. So what’s the message?
Did you read Persuasion?
What did you think of it?