“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”
There is something so familiar and comforting about reading Jane Austen’s novels, rather like feeling the warmth of a cosy jumper on a chilly, winter’s day. More than any other writer, her characters seem to transcend time, and Anne Elliot of Persuasion may be my
favourite of them all. She is older and wiser than Austen’s former leading ladies, and it quickly becomes obvious when reading the novel that this is the work of an established author, and a woman with plenty of life experience. Indeed, Persuasion was the last of Jane’s books to be completed, before her death in 1817.
The story centers on a Baronet’s daughter, Anne Elliot, whose former romance with a man named Captain Frederick Wentworth 6 years earlier, is brought to light again when circumstances force them to become reacquainted. When she was younger, she accepted his proposal of marriage but was persuaded to break off the engagement due to Wentworth’s lack of wealth and connections. When they meet again, the Captain has acquired a considerable fortune but like Anne, remains unmarried. What follows is an immersing narrative in the typical will-they-won’t-they style.
The mature tone of Persuasion makes the novel stand out when compared with Jane’s other books, and Anne Elliot is a welcome alternative to the usual heroine. If you are familiar with Austen, you will know that her narrative is often similar. There is a misunderstanding between the two main characters, teasing the potential that they won’t end up together after all. But of course, this is always corrected before it is too late, and they end up living happily ever after. In the case of Anne Elliot, it really was too late, or at least so it seemed for 6, long years. Persuasion goes against the grain of Jane Austen novels, and it does so with intelligence. The ending is predictable of course, but it’s the ending we all want. But isn’t that the wonderful thing about Jane’s novels? They’ve proven time and time again to be the perfect mood-lifter.
I admired Anne Elliot for all of her flaws, because of the fact that she acknowledged and learned from them. By the standards of the time, Anne is no longer considered youthful (27 years old, shocking) but her resolved air of dignity encourages the reader to root for her all the way. But then, there are few characters in the novel that we aren’t urged to support in their quest for a happy ending. The likes of the young Musgrove sisters, the unfortunate Captain Benwick, and the affable Admiral Croft all become easily familiar to us. Whilst there’s little that I can say about Austen’s writing that hasn’t already been said, I think it’s worth repeating that the unique voice she lends to her novels allow her readers to connect intimately with the characters, like a friend excitably relaying a story, and this is no less true in Persuasion.
So, could this be a contender for my favourite Austen novel of them all? Perhaps. Though I suspect I will re-read all of them at least a dozen more times before I can decide that! One thing for certain, is that Persuasion is one of the more underrated of Jane’s books. I urge fellow readers of classic literature who are not familiar with the world of this novel, to pick it up immediately. It represents the culmination of Austen’s many years of authorship, and touches on issues of human nature, duty, and femininity, with the usual flair and resoluteness that Jane is renowned for.