Persuasion by Jane Austen


General FictionHistorical Romance

Persuasion PersuasionJane Austen; Dover Publications 1997WorldCatWhen she was 19, Anne Elliot had fallen in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth. He wanted to marry her. But he was only a captain in the Navy. Sir Walter Elliot, Anne’s vain father, forbid the marriage. He was a baronet, after all. Wentworth was only a government employee with no money. Their family friend who replaced their dead mother, Lady Russell agreed with Sir Walter. Anne and Captain Wentworth were parted.

Anne’s older sister, Elizabeth, retained her beauty and the vanity so much like their father’s. Her younger sister, Mary, married a local man and had two sons. Now, over eight years later, Anne is ignored in her own household. Her only true friend is Lady Russell.

Sir Walter is not only vain, but a bad money manager. The family has to rent out the family country home and move into small quarters in Bath. Admiral Croft and his wife want to rent Kellynch Hall. Sir Walter and Elizabeth move to Bath. Anne first goes up to stay with her sister Mary and brother-in-law Charles’ home. Lady Russell has gone away for a visit for a while.

Anne is busy with both Mary’s family and Charles’ parents and sisters, so is quite entertained. When Admiral Croft is situated in Kellynch Hall, they also meet him and his wife. Her brother is also visiting. Her brother is Captain Frederick Wentworth. He has made his fortune in the Navy and has retired from it. Now he is looking to settle down. Anne wants to see Captain Wentworth but avoid him at the same time. What can they say after all these years. He also starts paying attention to Charles’ sisters. Weddings are soon in the picture.

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Stuff happens. Boy gets girl back. They live happily ever after.

Sure, it’s a formula. It’s 200 years old. Yet it still tugs at a romantic’s heart. I couldn’t help but contrast Persuasion to a modern romance where a parted couple meet again. Anne and Frederick are polite to one another but barely speak. In a modern romance, the man would be making all sorts of sly digs at the woman. She might be making them back or should could be angry with them. (I’m comparing to a PG rated modern romance, not a mature R rated one.)

But Persuasion is Jane Austen’s work. It was written during Edwardian Britain times. Instead it is flowery, polite language. Men and women have very different interests. They do not have much in “public displays of affection” – even to handholding. A brush on the cheek can be forward.

Austen doesn’t sink into formulaic romance. There is a turning point at the end of the book when she is having a discussion with Admiral Croft as to who loves longer, a man or a woman. It’s interesting to listen to each point of view. The reader has to make allowances for the difference in language structure. Then the reader can see that the age old story of man and woman not understanding each other is really age old.

While not Austen’s best work, Persuasion is still a comfortable, escapist read. It also shows that as much as things change over the years, they don’t change in fundamental ways.

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