Saturday, September 19, 2015

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion is Jane Austen's final novel completed in 1816, a year before her death at age 41.   Some critics say its her most autobiographical work dealing with lost love and second chances.  Having read and loved Pride and Prejudice I wondered if Persuasion might be a let down.  I shouldn't have worried.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot who is 27 and unmarried.  Life and certainly romance seem to have passed her by.  But eight years prior Anne at 19 was engaged to Frederick Wentworth, a young man just starting his career in the British Navy. They were very much in love but from different classes. Anne the daughter of Sir Walter Elliot was upper class.  Her family a part of England's landed gentry.  Frederick Wentworth from a lower class.  Her family objected to the match and at 19 Anne didn't have the strength to go against her family.  She broke off the engagement. Frederick was heartbroken and furious  He left England to pursue his career in the navy.  As for Anne, Austen writes:

"time had softened down much, perhaps nearly all of peculiar attachment to him, but she had been too dependent on time alone; no aid had been given in change of place (except in one visit to Bath soon after the rupture), or to any novelty or enlargement of society.  No one had ever come within the Kellynch circle who could bear a comparison with Frederick Wentworth as he stood in her memory"

Fast forward to Anne's present day life and the Elliot family are in financial difficulty.  Nothing dire but it will require Sir Walter Elliot to rent out Kellynch Hall, for a few months to Admiral and Mrs. Croft.  Sir Walter is not thrilled and he expresses his frustration with the Navy as follows:

"I have two strong grounds of objection to it.  First, as being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of, and secondly as it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly; a sailor grows old sooner than any other man.  I have observed it all my life.  A man is in greater danger in the navy of being insulted by the rise of one whose father, his father might have disdained to speak to, and of becoming prematurely an object of disgust himself, than in any other line."

But Sir Walter agrees to rent his estate to Admiral and Mrs Croft and Mrs Croft it turns out is the sister of Frederick Wentworth now Captain Wentworth who has returned from the Napoleanic wars a very rich man.  Has he forgiven Anne or is he still angry?  Does he still feel about her the way she still feels about him?  Are second chances possible or has too much time gone by?

Jane Austen  is one of the greatest writers in English literature, world literature and its hard to convey in a review why she is so special.  She must be read. Her novels center arund marriage, a woman making the perfect match because back in the early 1800's a woman's entire future happiness and financial security depended on it.  Her novels also deal with class, money, family, men and women. She was popular in her day and is even more popular now with movies and miniseries of her novels still being produced as well as Jane Austen literary societies, contemporary authors writing sequels to her books etc.  But nothing compares to reading Jane Austen and if you haven't already read her, Persuasion, at a little over 200 pages, is a great place to start.

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