It is one of my ultimate reading goals to read the complete works of Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice has been one of my favorites for a while, and last year, I managed to read both Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park, both of which I really enjoyed. I wanted to read at least one more this year, and I ended up picking up Persuasion, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s somehow both classic Jane Austen and a bit more mature than her other work. It’s the most autobiographical of her novels, and is infused with both romance and common sense.
Eight years ago, Anne Elliot followed her family’s advice and decided against marrying the man she loved, Captain Wentworth. Now, her family’s financial straits have forced them to let their estate to Admiral Croft and his wife, who just so happens to be the sister of Captain Wentworth. Anne finds herself yet again in the company of the man she almost married at eighteen. Despite the fact that he treats her as if she is a stranger, Anne discovers that her feelings for Wentworth have not faded with the years. Now that circumstances have changed, she sees that her decision may have not been in her best interest, but it may be too late.
A far cry from the naivety of Catherine Morland and the defiant intelligence of Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot’s story is rooted in reality, but still displays a hopeful attitude toward love. Persuasion gives Austen the ending she never got in real life. I think having knowledge of Austen’s own life and her romance with Thomas Lefroy definitely gave me a greater appreciation of this novel, because she was, in many was, writing an alternate version of her own story, one in which things work out differently.
After falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet so many years ago, I was surprised to find that I saw much more of myself in Anne Elliot. I actually really liked her character. She is a bit older than Austen’s other protagonists – 27 (same age as I am now) – and it shows. She is not running around looking for romance. She is aware, for the most part, of her family’s ridiculousness. She is not obsessed with maintaining her status in society, so long as she’s happy. And when she sees that Wentworth appears to be heading toward an engagement with someone else, she doesn’t freak out and try to interfere. She recognizes that Louisa is a nice girl, and she missed her chance. Anne is probably the most pragmatic Austen protagonist I’ve come across, and I love her for it.
The other characters were really colorful, and made the novel much more interesting. Anne’s sister, Mary, is one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever come across. Literally every time I read a scene with Mary in it, I found myself cringing. Probably because I know people like her. Wentworth was perfect. He wasn’t too obvious, nor was he a strong force (like Mr. Darcy). Austen perfectly captured the fact that he was still a bit hurt by Anne’s rejection, but kind enough to remain civil.
I also really enjoyed the slow burn of the romance in Persuasion. Both Anne and Captain Wentworth are struggling with the fact that they’re still hurt from their split, and can’t bring themselves to hope that the other reciprocates the feelings that have been reignited. They’re both trying to move on, in different ways, and even though it’s been eight years, and they’ve obviously changed, they can’t help but be drawn to each other. It was just a really great story, and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.
After years of telling people Jane Austen is my favorite author, I’m glad that, after reading most of her work, that’s turning out to be pretty accurate. (I wouldn’t call her my favorite, but she’s certainly an author I love.) What’s your favorite Austen novel?