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Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jane Austen

Genre: Historical
Paperback: 334 Pages
Publication: March 29, 2012 (originally December 1817)
by W. W. Norton & Company

Eight years before the story proper begins, Anne Elliot is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?


During my junior year of college, I signed up for a British Lit class where we read nothing but Jane Austen. Since the assignment of this book came so dangerously close to the end of the semester, I didn't have the chance to finish the novel, and we never really got the chance to discuss it as I would've liked in class. This ended up being the first time I read the book from beginning to end, and my feelings about the book overall were mixed.

The biggest issue I had with this book was noted from the very beginning. This novel picks up with a really, really, really slow start. We open with a debriefing on the genealogy of the family of Sir Walter Elliot, a baronet who is very, very proud of his status as such. We're introduced to his three daughters: the eldest Elizabeth, the novel's protagonist Anne, and the youngest and already married Mary. Because Sir Walter has no living sons (the only son he and Lady Elliot had was stillborn), his heir is a distant cousin of his daughters' named Mr. Elliot, with whom the family has been estranged from at the time. From the opening chapters, we clearly see the distinct personalities of the family members. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are vain and superficial, more interested in money, extravagance, and rank than anything else, Mary constantly seeks attention, and poor Anne, who is probably the only really sane person of the bunch, is stuck with a group of people who don't really appreciate her as they ought to.

The plot feels like it really starts to roll when several of the characters decide to pay a visit to Lyme, among them Anne and Captain Wentworth. There is a moment when Anne's intelligence and calmness comes into play, and it's there that I really started to wonder just how she felt about Captain Wentworth after having broken off their engagement and maintaining feelings for him after such a long time. Perhaps because it's because of the introduction of some friction, but the chapters at Lyme were what really got me hooked and made me genuinely curious about what would happen between Anne and Captain Wentworth, especially because it's around this part of the book where the Elliots are reintroduced, if briefly, to Mr. Elliot, who also brings some conflict with him.

This book is notable for being one of Austen's novels that was published posthumously. She passed away in July of 1817, and the book was published in December of that year (though it's usually dated 1818). It was published together with Northanger Abbey (the other posthumous Austen work released), as both stories take place for the most part in Bath, a city Austen spent some unhappy years in. This dislike of Bath apparently really hit Austen, as this novel makes it clear that the social environment of the city is based more on superficiality and frivolousness than anything else. Though Austen is famous for the social commentary in her writing, the commentary in this book is sharper than that featured in previous novels, and it appears to be at its sharpest in the chapters at Bath.

When it comes to the title of the book, it turned out not to be her choice, but that of her brother, Henry. There is no official word on what Austen herself was going to title the book, though she referred to it in her notes as The Elliots, which may have been what she was going for in the end. Persuasion is definitely the strongest theme in the book, what with all the moments in which characters attempt to or successfully persuade one another (or even themselves in some instances). The persuasion that probably affected me the most while reading was the one that occurred before the current events of the novel, when Lady Russell persuaded Anne to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth. The fact that Anne did so but maintained her feelings for him could be seen as a hint of how much she stands out from the people around her.

Personally, I thought the most notable aspect of this novel was its heroine. At twenty-seven years old, Anne stands out as the oldest of Austen's heroines, who are usually in their late teens or very early twenties. Much like Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, Anne is the only truly level-headed person in a family of, for lack of better words, a bunch of nonsensical ninnies. The fact that she was essentially duped into breaking off her engagement to the man she loved was sad for me as a reader, but seeing her reconnect and ultimately reconcile with him was what really saved this book from being a disappointment. I read somewhere that the novel ends up being a Cinderella story for Anne: she marries for love and not money, ends up in better standing financially, socially, and emotionally, and ultimately finds herself surrounded by people who can really appreciate her. Not to mention the fact that the more antagonistic characters get the endings they deserve, and the few people who remain part of Anne's close circle of friends get rewards.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I didn't enjoy this book as much as I've enjoyed other Austen works. It isn't terrible, but it just doesn't quite have the charm of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It could be the fact that Austen was ill while working on this book, or the fact that it was basically reconstructed using the drafts and notes she left behind after passing away that makes it feel a bit rough around the edges when compared to other Austen novels. However, this book does have its merits, in particular the character of Anne. If you decide to check it out, I would recommend doing so mainly for her.

Rating: 3 stars



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1 comment on "Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen"
  1. Ooh, only 3 stars. I like your review though, it's very thorough. I noticed you didn't mention what you thought about Captain Wentworth. As you can tell from my blog name, I love this book and Wentworth, and I think the letter at the end is just about the most romantic thing ever.

    If you haven't watched the movie, be sure to watch the 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. It's lovely. The 2007 version with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones is worth watching too, but not quite as good.


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