Friday, July 31, 2009

38. Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion is my favorite of Austen's novels, and such a relief after Emma. The heroine, Anne Elliot, is more subdued than other heroines, she has a strong sense of correct behavior, but also a deep sympathy for romance. At twenty-seven, she is the oldest and most mature of Austen's heroines. The novel begins eight years after Anne has been persuaded to give up an imprudent engagement to a man named Wentworth. He is nobody, with no fortune, and she is the daughter of a vain baronet. One of my favorite lines describes the situation, "She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older-the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning (21)."

I catch more and more of Austen's subtle wordings, and the slightly different narrative tone of each book. In Persuasion, I think I caught a reference to the only Shakespeare sonnet I know completely by heart; "Anne could not immediately fall into a quotation again. The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by-unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness,, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory (57)." Am I wrong?

Not only is Anne my favorite heroine, but Captain Wentworth is also my favorite of Austen's heroes, he is without the pride and condescension that usually mars them, in my opinion. Socially, Anne has the highest position, and Wentworth the lowest, in the hierarchy of Austen's characters. (Emma is better off financially though). Perhaps it is his being socially nobody, but a self-made Navy man, that lets him out of the gentleman's trap. When their love story concludes with a letter, how could my heart not be wholly won?

I've heard it said that Persuasion is more melancholy and more subtle than Austen's other novels. I'm not sure I would quite agree, citing Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park for melancholy, and Emma for subtlety. Certainly, Pride and Prejudice is the liveliest and most entertaining, I will not claim those distinctions for Persuasion. I will only argue that it is more mature, and ultimately, more fulfilling, than any of the others.

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