Saturday, January 30, 2010

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Of all the genres we could read this semester, the one I hate the very most (yes, even more than nonfiction) is Romance.  Those stories bore me to tears.  I need something else going on along with the romance.  Afraid that I would be stuck reading something horrific, even after avoiding the covers featuring Fabio, I decided to make this genre my classic. 

I’m not a Jane Austen fangirl.  I don’t find her stories particularly inspiring, but I think that’s partly because I read books that used her as source material before ever picking up one of her novels.  In that regard, I admit that I’m a little unfair to Jane Austen.  All the same, I enjoy reading her novels, and I picked this genre because I’ve wanted to read another for a long time now.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, second daughter of a pompous baronet whose frivolous spending has put his family on the edge of financial ruin.  To pay his debts and continue living as he thinks a baronet ought to, the family estate is rented.  The new tenant Admiral Croft is the brother-in-law of Captain Wentworth, who we learn was engaged to Anne 8 years ago.  While she loved Wentworth, Anne had been persuaded by a friend to call off the engagement on the grounds that he was not suitable for a baronet’s daughter.  In the 8 years they had been separated, however, Wentworth had done well for himself.

The romance between Anne and Wentworth is one of rediscovery.  Since the story is told mostly from Anne’s perspective, it is clear that she is not over Captain Wentworth, but she believes her chance is gone.  I feel that the romance is spoiled, however, by Wentworth’s abrupt declaration of love.  I knew it was coming as I reached the end of the book, but I didn’t expect such a sudden and impersonal conclusion.  Even for Jane Austen, that moment between Anne and Wentworth was mild.

There is always one character in every Jane Austen novel that takes my breath away.  In Pride & Prejudice it’s Elizabeth Bennett.  In Sense & Sensibility, it’s Colonel Brandon (who is the literary crush of my life).  I was very upset by the fact that, at the end of Persuasion, I still hadn’t found any character that really grabbed me.  There were plenty I liked and disliked, but none like Elizabeth Bennett, and especially none like Colonel Brandon. 

A friend once described Persuasion as “Jane Austen at her worst.”  I would have to agree in a qualified way.  Even at her worst, Jane Austen is the very best of romance authors.  This certainly wasn’t my favorite novel, but I did enjoy it.  I think Persuasion is an important book as Jane Austen’s posthumous final novel, and I’m glad I did read it, but I won’t re-read it.

Book Information:
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Barnes & Noble Classics, reprinted 2004. 416 pages.

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