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Friday, 18 July 2014

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion, Austen's last completed novel, was published posthumously. It tells the story of Anne Elliot, a derided middle-sister whose capabilities far exceed those of her two sisters and vain father but her family consistently ignore her. Only her dead mother's friend, Lady Russell, sees her value but even Lady Russell has steered her wrong in the past, encouraging her to break off an engagement with Frederick Wentworth, a young naval officer, because of his status and lack of money. Years later, the family seat is rented to relatives of Wentworth and Anne is thrown back into his circle.

The exposition that, by necessity, forms a chunk of the beginning of the novel is quite meandering. Once the novel settled down - once the rest of the family had removed to Bath and Anne was left in the country with her younger sister's household - the pace picked up. From then on, the story remains interesting, with a cast of characters that generally infuriates.

Austen's depiction of selfish human beings is nothing less than exquisite in this novel. As well as Sir Walter, Anne's father, whose extravagance and penchant for 'keeping up appearances' has led them to leave the family estate when Anne's good management could've saved it, there is the oldest sister, Elizabeth. Her attitude towards her sister is more damning than their father's and she is a thoroughly irritating woman. Mary, the youngest sister, is an attention-seeking hypochondriac whose interest in her sons depends on what exciting thing is happening nearby. As a family, they constitute a brilliant portrait of selfishness and stupidity, with Anne the long-suffering exception.

There are several characters who drop in and out of the narrative but the most important characters, aside from the immediate family, are Frederick Wentworth and Sir Walter's heir, William. With William seemingly seeking Anne's hand and Frederick insisting to himself that he feels nothing for the woman who gave him up so easily, the stage is set for a succession of romantic entanglements and disentanglements that left me with a smile on my face.

Thoroughly recommended, if only because this novel proves that two hundred years ago we were still as self-centred as we are today and, really, we worry about much the same things. Some things never change and most Austen novels reaffirm that.


Ginette B said...

I agree, it's a timeless novel. We still are selfish, we still worry about the same things... Love this book, too. The movie version with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root is really good, too. Didn't like the newer version much, though (2007, I think, Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones are in it).

CharmedLassie said...

I've only watched the newer one, I like Sally Hawkins in anything so I didn't mind it too much.

In related news, today I took delivery of a set of Persuasion writing gloves with the text of the novel on white fabric. They're gorgeous and I'm completely in love!