2003 reissue of 1818 release, Classic Fiction
Penguin, $6.00, 272 pages, Amazon ASIN 0141439688
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you love romance novels, chances are good that you also love Jane Austen’s novels. Miss Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece and universally beloved (and my own favorite) but her last book, Persuasion runs a very close second. Persuasion was written at a time when the social boundaries in British society were undergoing a challenge and the book reflects it. It is also a wonderful example of the second chance at love story.
When Anne Elliot was about eighteen, she fell in love with Frederick Wentworth, a young naval lieutenant. Wentworth was a thoroughly worthy young man, but he had no money, and no connections. Anne allowed herself to be persuaded to break off the relationship by her good friend Lady Russell who did not approve of Anne entering into such a precarious match. Anne’s father Sir Walter disapproved as well. Wentworth was not socially well connected and Sir Walter is very conscious of his status as a baronet.
Some eight years later, Anne is on the shelf and the Elliot family fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. Sir Walter’s debts have forced them to retrench, move to Bath and rent their home, Kellynch Hall, to Admiral and Mrs. Croft who is Wentworth’s sister. As the Elliots' fortunes have declined, Frederick Wentworth’s fortunes have risen, he is now a captain and quite rich from prize money.
While Sir Walter and Anne’s selfish sister Elizabeth retire to Bath with her companion Mrs. Clay, Anne goes to the neighboring village, Uppercoft to visit her whiny sister Mary who has married Charles Musgrove. Charles has two sisters, Henrietta and Louisa who are pretty and vivacious. When Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove hear about the new tenants at Kellynch Hall, they invite Admiral and Mrs. Croft and Frederick Wentworth (who had been their late son’s captain) to dine with them. Anne must sit and watch Henrietta and Louisa flirt with Wentworth while she can do nothing.
Before Anne leaves for Bath, she, the Musgroves, and Frederick go to Lyme to visit Captain Harville. Where there, Louisa insists on being jumped off a set of steps on the cobb (a seawall). Louisa’s reckless behavior causes her to fall and injure her head. She is saved when Anne takes charge of the situation and calls for a doctor immediately. Anne’s levelheaded behavior causes Wentworth’s admiration to be rekindled. But Anne soon leaves for Bath where she meets a distant relative, Mr. Elliot who shows her much attention. During her convalescence Louisa transfers her affections to someone else and Frederick follows Anne to Bath where matters come to a climax.
Anne is one of Austen’s most likeable characters. In one of her letters, Jane Austen describes Anne as "a heroine who is almost too good for me." Anne is intelligent, considerate, and unlike her foolish father, practical and sensible. Her good qualities are not given any value by her foolish father, and her vain sister Elizabeth. As for Mary, she makes demands on Anne’s good nature while complaining much and insisting on her due as a baronet’s daughter. Anne tolerates them since they are family, and if she has a fault, it is that she is too willing to be persuaded.
Frederick Wentworth is an example of the new man who was just coming to the fore during Austen’s time. While Admiral Croft and Wentworth have good manners and education, they do not have a well-connected background and are not considered gentlemen by Sir Walter Elliot and others like him. However, at the time Austen wrote Persuasion, society was stretching its boundaries and this is one of the main themes of the book. Men like Sir Walter belong to the old order, men like Admiral Croft and Frederick Wentworth are the future.
The love story in Persuasion is a quiet one. The novel is often described as autumnal, since it was Austen’s last complete work and the main characters are not in the bloom of youth. However, just because the love story is quiet does not deprive it of passion as Frederick Wentworth’s letter to Anne shows:
"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 for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight and a half years 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......”
Sigh. There's more, so go read it for yourself. I love this book, and can't help but think that Jane Austen would have gone on writing if she had lived and her books would have been superb. In the meantime, I content myself re-reading the ones she did finish.
-- Ellen Micheletti
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