Monday, January 3, 2011

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Many people think Persuasion is the best of Jane Austen's works, but after a second reading (and viewing of two film adaptations), I still don't think Persuasion can hold a candle to Pride and Prejudice...or even Emma.

What do people who love Persuasion say about it? They like that it features an older heroine, and it's true--Anne Elliot is in her late twenties. She has lost her looks and her spunk, following the breakup of her romance with Captain Frederick Wentworth some eight years earlier. She broke off the relationship when her father and godmother convinced her that the navy man was unworthy of her. She's sweet and caring, a good person--which is nothing short of a miracle given that every other member of her family is self-centered and disgustingly status-conscious. But she's a wimp! Elizabeth Bennett would not have been so easily persuaded and if she had lost a man, she would never have lost her spirit!

Persuasion fans also find the theme of constancy appealing. But are Anne and the Captain truly constant? True, they have not married anyone else and they still have feelings for each other, but neither have they taken any action in eight years. Eight years!! Nothing happens until circumstance brings the two lovers back together. It seems to me to be a constancy that has little meaning.

A third argument I've heard for Persuasion's superiority is that Jane Austen's satire of British society is more pointed than ever in this novel. Certainly, the critique is very sharp here, with a collection of despicable characters from the aristocracy and the novel's underlying event--an act of prejudice that scarred two fine young people. But one of the beauties of Pride and Prejudice for me is that Mr. Darcy is so flawed--but is still lovable and capable of change.

One might think from my remarks that I hated Persuasion--that's not true. I enjoyed it well enough, but it will not supplant P&P as my favorite Austen work.

Favorite passage:
When the evening was over, Anne could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.

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