Friday, 29 July 2011

'Persuasion' by Jane Austen (1818)

Synopsis: Anne Elliot is 27 years old and is the overlooked middle child of the vain Sir Walter Elliot. Anne's older sister Elizabeth is her father's favourite and is his constant companion. Her younger sister Mary is married to a man called Charles Musgrove and has a home of her own in a nearby village. Eight years ago, the 19 year old Anne fell in love with a handsome, charming and intelligent naval officer called Frederick Wentworth and they were briefly engaged. Unfortunately, Anne's closest friend and godmother Lady Russell disapproved of the match and persuaded Anne to break off the engagement. Anne has always regretted her decision to reject the man she loved and has never been able to forget Wentworth. Sir Walter's huge debts then force him to rent out the family estate Kellynch Hall and move the family over to Bath. Sir Walter's new tenant is a retired naval officer called Admiral Croft and it turns out that he is Wentworth's brother-in-law. Rather than instantly going to Bath, Anne chooses to spend a few months with her younger sister Mary. Anne spends a great deal of time with Mary's in-laws and soon finds herself meeting not only Admiral Croft and his wife but also her former fianc√©. Wentworth is now a captain and has become very wealthy due to his success in the Napoleonic Wars. Anne is still very much in love with Wentworth but he doesn't seem to feel the same. He's cold and aloof towards Anne and he begins to pay a great deal of attention to Mary's young and lively sister-in-law Louisa Musgrove. However, when an incident occurs on a trip to Lyme Regis, Wentworth is forcibly reminded of Anne's strength of character. Anne then goes to stay with her father and older sister in Bath and meets her charming cousin Mr Elliot who is also her father's heir. Mr Elliot seems very interested in Anne and an engagement between the two is soon expected. However, Anne's feelings towards Mr Elliot are very different and she suspects that he has ulterior motives. When Captain Wentworth then arrives in Bath, Anne begins to worry that the rumours of her engagement to Mr Elliot might prevent Wentworth from making her another proposal... if he even still loves her at all.

Persuasion is Jane Austen's final, completed novel and it was published posthumously. I'm a massive Austen fan. I've read all of her works and four of her novels get five star ratings from me: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I love this book and I only have a slight complaint to make about this book. Persuasion is too short. I believe that Austen's failing health made her rush things a little bit and cut out some originally planned material. I'm sure I read somewhere that she'd planned to include some more about Mr Elliot and Mrs Clay's characters? However that's my only small objection to this book. I still love it and I still think it's criminally underrated. This is because I get the impression that whilst this book is very popular with Austen fans that it isn't all that well-known to the general public. I think Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility are Austen's most famous works and that's probably down to those books having the most amount of adaptations. This is a huge shame. Persuasion is such a beautifully-written book and it's extremely emotional, moving and romantic.

The tone of Persuasion could not be any more different to Austen's earliest novel Northanger Abbey. That book is Austen's most exuberant, light-hearted and youthful novel but Persuasion is Austen at her most mature and serious. It's often described as an "autumnal" novel and I can see why. It hasn't got as much humour as Austen's other novels and it's a bit darker and more bittersweet. You can really feel Anne's loneliness and her longing for Wentworth at times. However Persuasion is by no means depressing! It's still got the charm, biting wit and funny moments that you'd expect to find in an Austen novel. The book is full of hope and I love that it's about forgiveness, second chances and enduring love.

Anne Elliot is Austen's oldest heroine. At 27 she's dangerously close to becoming a spinster! How glad am I that times have changed! I really love Anne. I must admit that I like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse more but Anne is my favourite out of Austen's more reserved heroines and is definitely the Austen heroine that I admire the most. Some readers criticise Anne for being too perfect but you have to bear in mind that Anne is Austen's most mature heroine. In all of Austen's other novels the heroine is either in or just out of her teens and she goes on a journey of self-discovery - but Anne has already done that and this is one of the most interesting aspects of the novel for me. Anne has had years to examine her own motives and behaviour and the advice that she was given from the people around her. By the beginning of the novel Anne doesn't need anyone to tell her that she made a mistake by allowing herself to be subject to persuasion. Anne is one of my favourite fictional heroines and she's an extremely likeable character. She's warm, calm, intelligent, lovely, kind and far more tolerant of her annoying family than I could ever be. Captain Wentworth isn't my favourite Austen hero. I prefer Henry Tilney, Knightley and Darcy myself. But nevertheless Wentworth is still an attractive hero and the letter that he writes to Anne near the end is incredibly romantic and a powerful declaration of love.

Persuasion is beautifully-written, very emotional and moving, and a beautiful and timeless love story. I also consider it the most romantic of all of Austen's works - you can really feel the tension and unspoken feelings between Anne and Wentworth until it all comes out in Wentworth's letter at the end. It's a wonderful book.

Rating: 5/5

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