Persuasion – the Best of Jane Austen’s Novels
Persuasion is the most mature, thoughtful, and skilful of Jane Austen’s amazing novels. Read on to find out why!
Lovers of Jane Austen’s beautiful novels are ordinarily happy and sociable – just think of the annual Regency-themed teas and festivals, and the gatherings of smiling people in Georgian period clothing. If, however, you really want to set the cat amongst the pigeons, ask them to name the best of her books. The fierceness behind those debates is almost legendary! For our money, though, it has to be Persuasion.
Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, who at twenty-seven, is Jane Austen’s most mature and relatable protagonist. Anne has spent the last eight years of her life regretting a decision she made at the tender age of nineteen, when she turned down Frederick Wentworth, the love of her life, on the advice of a trusted family friend. Ever since, her life has all but stopped. She’s deemed a spinster by her family, who treat her more like a servant than a sister, ordering her about the countryside to perform one task or another. She’s invisible and subservient and terribly unhappy. In short, she’s a character desperately crying out for something to happen.
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are lost for ever.
When Captain Wentworth re-enters the picture, Anne has been sent to mollify her hypochondriac sister. Anne is reconciled to the fact that she’ll always be alone, and so her actions have nothing to do with snaring a husband, but with simply being herself. She does this by providing support to her family members and those she cares about. She might seem like a pale and miserable creature on the surface, but she grows into herself and becomes more vivid as the story progresses. She muses about the beauty of autumn in the country, her love of poetry and novels, and her ideas about women’s roles in society. She is knowledgeable on a range of subjects, from literature to human anatomy, and even acts as a nurse when family members injure themselves. Wentworth notices all this and realises the decision made by a teenager with a forceful family all those years ago doesn’t define the woman he’s coming to know all over again. He proposes to Anne again by writing possibly the most romantic letter ever written. Who could possibly resist that?
Like Anne, the writing itself is more mature – there’s noticeably less of the frivolity and sparkling humour of Emma or Pride and Prejudice. Instead, Persuasion is full of thoughtful, lyrical musings on regret, on knowing your own mind, and on making decisions based on your own wants and needs rather than those of your family. For a novel set in the early nineteenth century, this is revolutionary. A woman making her own decisions and knowing her own mind? Inconceivable! While Persuasion might be more sombre in tone than some of her other works, it perfectly utilises Jane Austen’s signature satire and irony to add conflict to what is one of the most beautiful romances ever written. In essence, Persuasion is the ultimate second-chance love story.
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