When the trailer for the new film Persuasion came out, I watched it eagerly with the anticipation of seeing familiar characters and plot lines. Feeling confident that I had read all of the published novels of Jane Austen, I was thoroughly confused when not one scene or theme jogged my memory.
Of course, when I consulted my pile of books, I found a copy of Persuasion, but when I glanced inside, still nothing rang a bell. Obviously, I had to quickly read it before being able to watch the movie—which I plan to do later today.
Apparently, this was the last book Austen wrote and is one of the two novels that were published posthumously. The writing definitely had a more somber feel and the plot development felt rather slow in comparison to the wit, comedy and dramas of some of her other titles. But that all makes sense as Persuasion is about relatively “old” and mature characters (the protagonist, Anne Elliot, is unmarried at age 27) and the book was written toward the end of the author’s life (she passed away aged 41). Being single in my early 30s, the situations described were, at times, all too familiar.
“She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.”Persuasion (CRW Publishing International, 2004) p. 214
Admittedly my life is so unlike what Austen described the lower-upper class of 19th century Britain to be. However, the social pains and pressures Anne Elliot feels for being awkwardly single and at such a different stage of life than most of her closest family members and acquaintances (or at least of those of whom she is actually fond), still hold true in 2022.
Persuasion is a book about the emotional highs and lows of allowing oneself to feel deeper and hope more freely than what might be deemed judicious. Many characters who seem to find the most contentment are described to live within their circumstances with grace and gratitude, while those described to be the most wretched in spirit are those who either think very highly or extremely low of themselves. Such is a fair commentary on human life, I suppose, and I appreciated that Austen did not portray only the married people to be content and the single people to be unhappy. There was quite the mix of both versions—evidence that marriage does not fix everything nor does singleness only reap loneliness. Both notions are relevant and positive reminders even in the current far more feminist American society I live in than Austen’s conservative and tradition-bound England.
“So ended all danger to Anne of meeting Captain Wentworth at Kellynch Hall, or of seeing him in company with her friend. Everything was safe enough, and she smiled over the many anxious feelings she had wasted on the subject.”p. 153
I can’t say with academic certainty, but Persuasion seemed to have more significantly-developed characters than most of Austen’s other novels. As per usual, a few characters shared first names and there were quite a few different families that were intertwined through marriage to keep track of, plus a few unions of first cousins to try not to be astonished by. In the end, as one would expect an Austen novel to conclude—and as ever, very hastily wrapped up—everyone gets their just desserts and the back cover was closed with a sigh of delight.
I have often felt sad that Jane Austen neither celebrated the extraordinary successes of her writings nor experienced the supposed joys of matrimony during her lifetime. She was so grounded in her writing, aware of human fickleness and frailty but also of grit and intelligence, and seemed to be able to honor the happiness of others without feeling personally attacked, that I can only imagine she would be humbly pleased to know that her fictional stories told through reality-based commentaries have brought profound joy to people around the world for centuries.
This book may be for you if you also like: Jane Austen; reading Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey, or watching any of their corresponding films; British classical literature; the British Navy; Bath, London, Lyme or the general English countryside; love stories; writing letters; the self-awareness of single people who are considered to be past their prime yet are content in their circumstances; card parties; sipping tea; long walks; smelling salts; the ability to change one’s mind.