NOVEL: Persuasion by Jane Austen, English, (1775-1817)
I have been a fervent Jane Austen fan since I was thirteen years old. By eighteen, I had read all of Austen’s novels, her juvenilia, published letters, and even some biographies. Then came the decades of rereading Jane’s works with relish, exploring the many prequels, sequels, and variations by modern authors, and watching every movie adaptation of Austen’s novels.
Persuasion is one of my three favorite Austen novels. Although I consider Emma her masterpiece for its maturity and complex plot, and love Pride & Prejudice for its sparkling wit and intelligence, Persuasion is, for me, Jane Austen’s most authentically romantic novel. With its theme of renewal, it is a story of second chances – love lost, and love regained: Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s love story is one for the ages.
PERSUASION’S PLOT: Eight years ago, our heroine, Anne Elliot, was persuaded by Lady Russell (a surrogate mother and family friend) to refuse the marriage proposal of Frederick Wentworth, a handsome, intelligent, but poor naval officer. Wentworth, angry and hurt, heads off to sea to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Anne bitterly regrets her decision, realizing that she will never experience “such precious feelings” for anyone else. The novel begins when Wentworth–now a wealthy British Naval Captain–returns home.
Due to his mounting debts, Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot, a vain, “foolish, and spendthrift Baronet,” must “retrench,” rent Kellynch Hall, and move his family to cheaper accommodations in Bath. And who are his new tenants?: Captain Wentworth’s sister, Mrs. Croft, and her husband, Admiral Croft. The proximity of Kellynch Hall and Uppercross Grange, where Anne temporarily resides with her married sister, Mary Musgrove, throws Anne and Frederick into each other’s company. However, Frederick openly flirts with Louisa Musgrove (Mary’s sister-in-law), makes an “ungallant” remark about Anne’s looks, is reserved, and–to all appearances–unfriendly towards Anne. Oh, Dear!
However, over time, Captain Wentworth discovers he is still in love with Anne. During an accident at Lyme, when Louisa injures her head in a fall, everyone panics, except Anne. When she takes command of the situation, Frederick realizes Anne’s worth. Once the Elliot family moves to Bath, another suitor vies for Anne’s hand in marriage. Our hero and heroine must endure more anxieties, vexations, and heartache before finally reuniting and declaring their constant love for each other. The catalyst? Captain Wentworth’s love letter to Anne. For me, this is the most tender and honest love letter in all literature.
Miss A. E.
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.
By the time Austen finished writing Persuasion, she was 40 years old, terminally ill, had experienced true love at least once, and had refused an offer of marriage. She understood that successful, happy marriages consist of mutual respect and love, and–more importantly–a meeting of minds. In Persuasion, we gain an insight into Jane Austen’s heart–her personal longing for a relationship like that of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s. Jane Austen died before the publication of Persuasion in 1818.
When I finished writing the above review, I placed my 1975 Folio copy of Persuasion back on my Austen shelf, nestling it safely between Emma and Jane Austen’s letters. There it will stay until I read it again in another five years–perhaps sooner.😊
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Sarah M. Fredericks © 2015
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