I just finished reading Persuasion by Jane Austen this morning, and so far it is my favorite of the Austen books I have read. I have a video of it from 1995 with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds as the main characters, and the video, as I remember it, is remarkably faithful to the book. The book I checked out from the library is an Oxford World’s Classic with footnotes in the back explaining some of the practices Austen refers to or phrases she uses and several appendices explaining the “ranks” of the time as well as dances, the navy, etc. There was also an alternate ending, several lines of which were included in the video (now also available on DVD).
Persuasion was Austen’s last novel. The story flowed, for me, much better than Sense and Sensibility did. There is no witty repartee such as there was in Pride and Prejudice and there is a lot less sarcasm than in either of those books, though peoples’ foibles are in evidence. Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot. She is the quiet and not very well-favored daughter of a man who, despite his initial wealth, has gone into debt due to indiscreet spending. His late wife had economized and kept things in check, but with her gone, the expenses rose. The best way to deal with the situation and “save face” among their social set was to move to Bath and rent their home to others.
Anne’s father and older sister don’t dislike Anne so much as they just disregard her as being of any importance. It’s not clear why (unless I missed it) except they are both selfish and vain creatures and seem to disregard anyone who can’t raise them in their social standing. So when the younger married (hypochondriac and complaining) sister, Mary, is ill, Anne is sent to help her.
Seven years earlier Anne had been in love with a Frederick Wentworth, but had been persuaded by a longtime family friend, Lady Russell, who has more or less taken Anne’s mother’s place as adviser, that it would not be a good match. As it turns out, the wife of the couple renting Anne’s home is Frederick’s sister. Anne doesn’t feel she’ll meet him, though, since she is out of town visiting her sister and will then travel on to Bath to her new home. But she is surprised to find him among the party of friends of her sister’s in-laws.
Frederick, now Captain Wentworth who has made his fortune in the Navy, is still smarting from Anne’s earlier rejection, so their conduct around each other is very polite but distant. Anne discovers her feelings for him have not changed.
It is peace time, so naval officers have time to spare, and Captain Wentworth is looking to get married. He seems very interested in Anne’s sister’s sisters-in-law. And later Anne’s estranged cousin, Mr. Elliot, attempts to make amends with the family, and people seem to think that he will eventually marry Anne…
If you don’t know the story, I’ll leave you there to find out what happens.
I liked Anne’s character. Somehow she has escaped the foolishness of the rest of her family and seems not only normal, but reasonable, kind, thoughtful, and gracious. I don’t remember if this is stated, but it seems she took after the mother who had passed. One thing that spoke to me was that, in situations where many of us would have been miserable (such as with the complaining sister), she was glad that she was able to be of use to her family. To my shame, I have to confess that that’s not what I would be thinking in the same situation, and that was a rebuke to me.
Overall it is a very sweet story about the power of different types of persuasion and the ease of being persuaded the wrong way by outward appearances. Anne learns to avoid being at the mercy of others’ persuasions and learns to know her own mind.