The last novel completed by Jane Austen before she died in her early forties, Persuasion is often thought to be the story of the author's own lost love. The book's heroine, Anne Elliot, encounters Frederick Wentworth, the man to whom she was once engaged when he was a young naval officer. Now a captain, Wentworth is courting the rash young Louisa Musgrove. The happy ending is not one in which Austen would ever play a part.
I re-read it when I was twenty-seven, Anne Elliot's age. To say I got it is putting it mildly. It is, in my opinion, the greatest novel Austen wrote, and one of the greatest novels ever written. I re-read it whenever I need to believe in love or hope or patience, and every time I cry hysterically for the last twenty pages or so.
The age at which most reader girls are tearing through Jane Austen is far, far too young for this book. I just wish I could mail every woman a copy in her twenty-seventh year.
The story progresses, in typical Austen fashion, on a course that eventually brings Captain Wentworth back into Anne's life. Yet the couple are constrained by the conventions of the day, which make it nearly impossible for two people to express feelings to one another. Much time is spent watching, and second-guessing, the actions and motives of others. How frustrating this must have been! Austen is masterful in describing the tiny movements and expressions that carry so much meaning. As Anne and the Captain slowly dance around each other, Austen uses Anne's family to serve up some delightful satire of society and vanity.
To date I have read all but one of Austen's six published novels, and consider Persuasion my favorite.
Northanger Abbey and Emma feature somewhat silly girls that let their imaginations run away with them. You somehow still love them, because though they may be simple or selfish, they really do have good hearts. Mansfield Park is Austen's picture of perfecting one's character. Fanny is just so damn good that it's a bit frustrating.
Of course all of these books are much more complicated than my quick sentences allow me to explain. So you should read all of them!
But Persuasion, this book is different from all the rest. Maybe it's because it was the last full novel she wrote. Maybe it's because she had experienced a bit of love in her life by that point. Whatever it is, it gives this book a depth and soul-shaking intensity that makes it my favorite.
The premise is simple. Anne falls in love with Wentworth, but her family says he's too poor and persuades her not to marry him. All of this happens before the book begins and in the opening chapter we are 8 years in the future. Anne is still single and Wentworth returns to her town. Now they are both older. Any feelings they share or don't share aren't based on infatuation or young love. They are both mature and have had years to decide what they really want out of life. This slow burn is intoxicating.
If you've never read Persuasion you're missing out. I love Austen's more celebrated novels (P&P and Emma), which have been made popular by movies and modern remakes (aka Clueless), but it's Persuasion that won my heart.
That Austen is a master of characterization goes without saying, but I especially enjoy her skewering the upper class know-it-alls who love their position on high, looking down their noses at the rest of the insignificant populace. Although not quite as pompous and lacking in common sense as the infamous Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice, (because let’s face it, no one does obsequious quite as well as Jane Austen)Austen’s depiction of Anne Elliot’s sister Mary is priceless. She seems never to be given her full due and is often ill, which becomes suspect to those around here as Austen describes her illnesses so deliciously. Anne goes to Mary’s for a lengthy visit:
”Here Anne had often been staying. She knew the ways of Uppercross as well as those of Kellynch. The two families were so continually meeting, so much in the habit of running in and out of each other’s houses at all hours, that it was rather a surprise to her to find Mary alone; but being alone, her being unwell and out of spirits was almost a matter of course. Though better endowed than the elder sister, Mary had not Anne’s understanding nor temper. While well and happy, and properly attended to, she had great good humor and excellent spirits; but any indisposition sunk her completely. She had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used. In person, she was inferior to both sisters, and had, even in her bloom, only reached the dignity of being ‘a fine girl.’ She was now lying on the faded sofa of the pretty little drawing room, the once elegant furniture of which had been gradually growing shabby under the influence of four summers and two children.” (Page 27)
Austen is the master of satire and wit, which is what I find so surprising about her writing and so unexpected. And of course, so good. And her characterizations are unparalleled. And she can take a very simple, uncomplicated plot and turn it into as mesmerizing a read as any thriller. Up onto the reread shelf with this one. Very highly recommended.
Oh, how I loved this book. I have just officially found my new favourite Austen novel. And the ridiculous thing? Once again, I was guilty of repeatedly skipping over this one on my shelves because it might be, well, a bit boring... Since I started getting stuck into Mount TBR I'm learning that some of my favourite books of the year/ever turn out to be ones I had repeatedly rejected, underestimated and shoved to the back of the queue.
Anyway. Anne Elliott. What a girl. Although the style of this novel was a little archaic, and sometimes I had to go back and reread a particularly convoluted sentence or two, Anne Elliott captured my heart completely. She has all the virtue of Fanny Price and none of the weakness. She's loyal and loving and perceptive - but she has a much deeper inner strength, and doesn't have to sit down in a rose garden every time she ventures out of doors for two minutes.
Yet again Austen's world has translated into a story this modern girl adored and understood completely. Within a chapter or two I was swept up in the heartache of Anne's separation from her beloved Captain Wentworth seven years ago, and her horror at having to meet him again, knowing that she was still in love with him. Her humiliation was heartbreaking, her dignity enviable. I watched their slow reconciliation with bated breath, tried to figure out the good guys from the bad guys... and I must admit, the Captain's heartfelt, desperate letter to Anne as he clutched at his chance to marry the woman he loved made me cry. I have never cried reading Austen before - only watching it!
I also recommend the Sally Hawkins/Rupert Penry-Jones adaptation, which against my better judgement I watched immediately after finishing the novel. I wasn't disappointed at all - although a few details had been switched around or made a little more concise, much of it was quite faithful, particularly the dialogue. Anne's misery is perhaps even more heartbreaking as a visual representation than it is in Austen's polished prose, and I cried all over again...
I have to say, I like Anne Elliot. She reminds me of a few friends! She’s not perfect and knows it, she can be self-indulgent about her broken heart, but notices the irony of her situation. She shows pride and jealousy and the whole range of emotions one would expect – so many of Austen’s characters are unbalanced in one particular direction (Elinor is too sensible, Marianne too emotional, Elizabeth is too feisty, Jane too beautiful, Catherine too inexperienced, Emma too meddling) – Fanny and Anne alone are characters I might expect to meet.
I recently read that Persuasion was named in a Top 10 list of books about jealousy – and I can now understand why. Usually in Austen books there are x couples, y of whom are either in or out of love at any one point. In this one, there are x men and x women and the permutations are endless – I imagine it to be like one of those circular dances where every round each dancer ends up with the partner one along from their previous partner. At least in the end everyone ends up with the right person, and some pairings were completely unexpected.
On the whole, the plot was both more complex and made more sense than most of the rest, possibly excepting P&P and Mansfield Park – but in MP no one moves very far. There were also some interesting discourses on the differences between women and men when it comes to emotions, a bit of social justice and lots about pride and class (not focussing so much on money as in other novels, but purely on social hierarchy).
I would rate this second among Austen’s books – having not read Pride & Prejudice since high school, it might have to come equal second with that, but certainly no lower.
I think if for nothing else, this book would have earned a place among my favorites because of one scene. My inner feminist cheered at Anne's defense of women, and their faithfulness in love. And truly, if you aren't melted by the letter Wentworth writes to Anne, you have no beating heart.
As always with Austen, there are winning touches of humor throughout that leaven the drama. Persuasion isn't as comedic as Emma or Pride and Prejudice but it's still a welcome element.
Austen has had an upsurge of popularity because of several adaptations in the 90s. I do love the Pride and Prejudice miniseries and the films of Emma and Sense and Sensibility but I don't feel there's any film adaptation of Persuasion that does it justice. So if you're impression of it comes from those films, all I can say is the book is much, much better!
The naval families have an unusual and beguiling warmth. It's in stark contrast to Anne Elliot's family members and Bath 'society,' and seems to incorporate the affection Austen felt for her sea-faring brothers. The seacoast is memorable, as are scenes alive with vivid reality, and 'supporting players' including the once-famous Louisa Musgrave. Quiet as she is, a sense of Anne's personality and fortitude is pervasive.
There's a sense of intimacy, maturity, and tempered warmth to Persuasion that surpasses - for me - any of the novels that precede it. It's marvelously crafted.
Miss Anne Elliot is the ignored and undervalued middle daughter of the baronet Sir Walter Elliot. Sir Walter and his other daughters provide the most obvious caricature of nineteenth century upper class society, being vain, self-obsessed, status-obsessed and oblivious to those matters which should really affect the heart of one morally grounded. This morally grounded influence comes naturally enough in the form of Anne, who is torn between the influence of various characters throughout the book, whilst remaining a great deal more self-confident, mindful of her own opinions, and strongly minded than the dreadfully limp Fanny Price of Austen's former work. Of course the book would not be complete without its love interest (which of course I will not spoil) and I found this too a great deal more satisfying than that of Mansfield. Persuasion finds Austen a more mature writer, more capable of exploring the ideas of morality, status and love that she is so dearly attached to. Nowhere is this more starkly apparent than in a small section of conversation between the protagonist and another character, in which Anne makes plain the enormous influence of male authors of the time in dictating the accepted differences between the sexes. I was delighted by the natural feel of this section of conversation and mindful of Austen being before her time in making such clear observations.
Unfortunately, in spite of me enjoying this book so much more than Mansfield Park, I did find eerie similarities between many of the characters. Austen seemed to have become fixated upon certain archetypal essences of character and simply lifted them from one story to one not entirely dissimilar. I will refrain from explaining further whom I thought could represent whom for fear of spoiling the plot for those yet to read. However I would suggest that Persuasion seemed to be a fresh attempt at a previous story as opposed to something entirely distinct, simply due to the incredible similarity of theme and character disposition. As mentioned before, the substantive differences were enough to allow me to thoroughly enjoy this book where I had not the former, yet unfortunately not enough to entirely repair my opinion of Austen.
Review: I always feel like a bit of a fraud reviewing Austen, or any classic, since so much has been written about it already - who cares about my opinion when many generations of masters theses have been written on the book by people better educated than me?
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Persuasion, perhaps not quite so much as Pride and Prejudice, but certainly more than Emma. (I read Sense and Sensibility so long ago that I really can't compare it.) Persuasion's a more mature, sober book, less sparkly and quick-witted, but still an effective send-up of class, vanity, social climbing, and the strictures of society... plus it's one heck of a compelling romance.
Anne Elliot, while not a particularly lively heroine, was immensely sympathetic. First, being a unmarried lady of eight-and-twenty myself, I was rather predisposed to identify with her (although I got somewhat tired of hearing about how her - and by extension, my - bloom of youthful attractiveness was in danger of disappearing at any second and therefore she'd never get married and her life would have no meaning.) I also think that most people have, if not a long-lost love that they look upon with regret, at least someone in their past that they look on with nostalgia, and a hint of "what if...", and that makes Anne's plight recognizable and relatable. Finally, I've long acknowledged my inordinate fondness for boys on boats ("Sometimes you're just in the mood for the British Navy."), so Captain Wentworth is an eminently swoon-worthy leading man.
There are two things that I did wish were a little different. First, there's no secondary romance involving sympathetic characters. Anne's story is enough to fill the pages, but in the other Austen I've read, there is a secondary couple who deserves (and of course gets) their happy ending. In Persuasion, Anne's not surrounded by any other particularly sympathetic young people, and so there's no other couple to root for. (Certainly no one to equal, say, Jane and Bingham from Pride and Prejudice.) My only other quibble with the book is that the pivotal scene at the end of the book is mostly lacking in dialogue, choosing instead to have the narrator explain to us how Anne and Frederick made up without actually letting us hear it. That's a shame, because Austen can certainly write wonderful dialogue, and by not including it at the end, it felt like we were being kept at a distance from the most important part of the story. Still, overall I thought this was a wonderful book, and most definitely one I will return to. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Oh, c'mon. It's Austen, it's a classic, it's not as intimidating as you might think, and it's a wonderful story of love and faithfulness and hope in the face of all seeming lost. Read it, if you haven't already.
A great love story.
Persuasion is rightly deemed the most romantic of Austen's novels. While her satire and sharp wit are still in evidence in her depictions of Anne's excessively vain father, her superficial older sister, and her attention-hog younger sister, among other characters and situations, it is the yearning of Anne for a romance that she realistically recognizes as impossible that is the heart of the novel. As the oldest of Austen's heroines at 28, Anne is sweet and a little naive, but ultimately sympathetic as she longs for the man she let go for all the right reasons. Notable for the most beautiful letter included in any of Austen's novels, this tale of a love thought lost is a thoroughly enjoyable read every time.
Excessively romantic, Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, the daughter of a nobleman, who was forced to refuse her sweetheart's love when she was nineteen, because of the young man's lowly birth and lack of money. Eight years later Captain Wentworth came back successful, with money and handsomer than ever, and Anne found that she was still in love with him. But it didn't seem that he returned the feelings.
If one's a helpless romantic like me, one can't help to fall in love with this book, it has all the perfect ingredients of the perfect recipe - beautiful and elegant girl with high moral and good manner, handsome and perfect gentleman, denied but staunch love. What else could one ask for?
As usual Jane's book provides a portrait of life in 18th century British society. Rank matters a lot and people's place in society is often controlled more by their birth than by money, education or personality. But of course Jane shows that it's not always the case.
Our heroine Anne, is the black sheep of her family, which consists of a vain, spendthrift father and selfish sisters. Anne, on the other hand, is good, sensitive of the feelings of others, patient, and kind. Yet her good qualities made her quite impressionable as a young woman, and she allowed herself to be influenced by a close family friend to give up her true love, Wentworth, because he was not a person of consequence. It is a decision she regrets, but she believes too late to fix... until her love returns as Captain Wentworth: rich, with some power, and seriously bitter about being dumped years earlier.
The novel follows Anne as she endeavors to maintain her composure throughout Wentworth's return, watching him flirt with her sisters-in-law, believing him completely over her. She could not be farther from the truth, and Wentworth's last-ditch effort to ascertain Anne's feelings is a romantic scene that will have you saying "Darcy who?" Indeed, Wentworth's outburst of feeling is the most aggressively romantic effort that any of Austen's heros have made; few exposed their feelings in such a sentimental manner as Wentworth.
The novel is also perhaps Austen's shortest, making it ideal for those not devoted to longer texts. Austen's wit is sharp as ever in this her last novel, rendering it a shame that she could not have blessed readers with more works; we can at least be consoled that she passed at the top of her game.
It is perhaps more serious than Pride and Prejudice, and doesn't have the same kick as Emma, but don't let that put you off. It's had me laughing at Austen's seemingly flawless perception of human foibles and aching with sympathy for her heroine. It's also the most romantic of Austen's six novels, without ever becoming sappy.
Am I gushing? Yes. But go read the book.
Here's the backstory: Anne Elliot is a bookish, milquetoasty middle child who screwed up her chance to get with hunky Freddy Wentworth, an up-and-coming sailor, eight years ago because of the interference of harridan Lady Russell, who told Anne that Wentworth was and would always be a loser.
Now Anne has the pick of three hunky suitors: the aforementioned Wentworth, who against expectations has succeeded, now a captain with a chunk of change and a jones for his old sweetheart; William Elliot, a cousin who can make her the lady of her family house, which due to her father's financial profligacy is now being rented out; and Captain Benwick, a poor geek after Anne's own heart.
What should happen now to best suit the implied themes of the novel? Anne ought to make her choice between these suitors without the help of outside agents, taking the decision into her own hands; whereas she was persuaded against her better judgment to ditch her beau, now she ought to choose freely, disregarding all meddling.
Instead, here's what happens: Captain Benwick is taken off the market by some ditzy chick completely unsuited to him, an unlikely and abrupt match for which Austen makes a point of apologizing. Then Anne's old spinster friend (no, not Lady Russell, another old spinster friend) sh*t-talks William Elliot, persuading Anne to quit bothering with him. The only bachelor left is Captain Wentworth, who conveniently had the highest aggregate hunkiness/richness score all along.
So what's wrong with that? Well, that Anne had every important choice made for her. Eight years ago, Anne let herself be directed by the actions and wishes of others in rejecting Wentworth, and she hardly shows more agency in the present day. After Benwick's spoken for, she must needs only between Elliot and Wentworth, a decision made too easy by Mrs. Smith's revelations about Elliot's subprime personality. In order to show personal growth, Anne needed to make a tough choice. She needed to choose Benwick.
Now, although Benwick is the best suited to Anne's personality, he's the least hunky/rich (in Austen these two words are synonymous). Austen couldn't have her heroine choosing a life of relative privation, though; she needs her protagonist well set up by book's end. So she takes Benwick out of the rotation before things come to a head. The book's message ends up being: choose the rich guy you like the most.
Though I disliked the way Persuasion turned out, it got there really nicely. I loved the note-writing between Wentworth and Anne, maybe because I related to it personally, having been a prolific note-writer in high school. And things ended decently, though not so satisfyingly as I think would have been if it had ended my way. Well, these are the complaints that make writers write; maybe I can sublimate my dissatisfaction with Austen's ending into some work of my own.
Society can be cruel and wrong about what is good for people. This is Anne's lesson in that very thing. Very relate-able, even now.
I suggested this particular Austen to my book group, partly because it’s the favorite of so many I know, and partly because I knew a bit about it, but except for Northanger Abbey I knew less than I knew about her other novels.
This edition of the book has an introduction by Amy Bloom and she tells the entire plot, but atypically I didn’t care at all knowing the book’s story before I read it. I pretty much knew it, and I guess I feel I should have read it long ago. The edition also has the originally written final two chapters, inserted after the rest of the book's text.
But, if not for needing to read it for my real world book club, I’d have put it down and picked it up another time. Actually, I think I’d like to read Austen’s books on the order she penned them. But the main problem is that I’m in a reading slump and this is a case of a good book at the wrong time. It didn’t help that while reading I was often listening to the (very modern) college guys upstairs and other modern and annoying sounds. I should have probably made a point of reading this in the park or some other more suitably atmospheric place. The most ideal years for me to have read this was probably 25-35; that doesn’t mean I won’t have other ideal timea in the future. I can see giving this book 5 stars but I don’t think it’s destined to be one of my favorites.
Apt title. Beautifully written. Wicked wit! It’s also funny and bright and poignant. But mostly waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting…and I kind of got impatient with everybody. So, I really like and admire Anne, a lot, and I love how Austen skewers the society that was familiar to her. Nobody really escaped my periodic irritation though, nor did the situation. I don’t have patience for certain types of plots, and I’m not big on romance stories, although this one wasn’t as “romantic” as I’d expected. Despite the ending, I did find this story a sad one, most likely because of my own current frame of mind: wrong timing for me. Also, I am aware of Austen’s condition when she wrote this novel.
I do hope to pick it up again someday, along with all of Austen’s books.
As I was reading I felt sometimes as though I was reading a play. It read that way to me. I could “see” it all. I can see why Austen’s novels translate so well to film.