By: Jane Austen
At twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune nor rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel.
Persuasion is hands down my favourite Jane Austen novel. It was the only novel by her that I found equally thrilling as well as touching, poignant and full of all sorts of feelings–I could not put the book down, I had to find out what was going to happen to Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth next. I love it so much that I’ve written two articles on the characters (one for Costume Chronicles, the other for Femnista). I also own and have watched the 1995 and 2007 adaptations of the book (review). It never fails to get me all <3 and I often turn to it if I'm in the mood of something lovely or a pick-me-up or something light or a change of pace. Contains some spoilers ahead!
What always strikes me about this story every time I read it is the Anne’s situation in life when we are first introduced to her and the people around her. Despite of her calm, gentle and patient nature, she’s treated rather rottenly by her family and often as an afterthought, sometimes even amongst those who treat her very kindly. You think that people would treat her more fairly because of her patience and kindness and value her because of her reliability and cool decision-making skills. But she isn’t, particularly amongst her family members, and as a result she’s often sidelined or in the background. Her father dismisses her as “only Anne” (though he also often forgets his youngest, Mary, altogether) and her talents get but a passing acknowledgement. Her family takes her for granted, especially Mary. What makes Anne’s situation even sadder is how Jane Austen remarks that Anne was closest to her mother, who passed away long ago, and who was very much like Anne in temper and personality. Although she is good friends with Lady Russell, Anne is effectively alone as she moves from day to day. Anne pretty much had my sympathy and my support from the moment she was introduced.
Speaking of which, I often wonder about Anne’s mother. From the few lines that Austen writes about her, she mentions how her mother was a lot like Anne and that although she managed to curb some of her husband’s expenditures and over-the-top arrogance and loved her children dearly, there was something nagging her, like she was not wholly content. Like there was a strong sense of melancholy that gripped her constantly…I guess we’ll never really know.
While re-reading the novel this time around, I found myself contemplating a bit more on Lady Russell’s character a bit longer. Naturally (I suppose–don’t know how you guys felt about her), one would perhaps feel a little antagonistic towards Lady Russell in her role of separating Anne and Wentworth eight years ago. It sucks and both characters suffered a lot of heartache as a result of the separation but it must be remembered that Anne lost her mother at a very young age and Lady Russell effectively stepped in the role as her mother figure. She was concerned about Wentworth’s chances at sea (as the Napoleonic Wars were ranging during this time) and about Anne being engaged at such a young age. She regularly supports and look outs for Anne; I love how irritated she gets/feels towards even Sir Walter for ignoring or under-valuing Anne from a potential connection. She’s prone to mistakes like anyone else, which makes her a balanced character. Nonetheless, she’s well-meaning so it’s understandable why she felt the way she did when Wentworth proposed eight years ago and why Wentworth was so angry at Lady Russell.
It cracks me up every time I read this novel how emotions powerfully motivates Wentworth’s behaviour. In characters like Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley and Mr. Bertram, the heroes are portrayed as these calm and steady characters who are mature and reasonable (perhaps a little too distant for understanding sometimes). But Wentworth is none of these characters: he is high in spirits, lively, proud. Because we’re reading this novel from Anne’s perspective, it seems (other than the fact that Anne knows him very well) that every emotion crosses through Wentworth’s face; the man is just not good at hiding his emotions. Even Mary noticed when Wentworth coldly treated Anne when they were re-acquainted at Uppercross; I remember when I first read Persuasion years ago how angry I was towards Wentworth for treating Anne so coldly and without offering her an opportunity to maybe explain herself. But it’s his powerful association to his emotions, his frank earnestness in conveying his feelings, that attracts Anne and as an Austen heroine makes him all the appealing.
Wentworth’s connection to his emotions probably also explains why his letter to Anne at the end was just so…moving. Personally, it’s the best love letter I’ve ever read…ever. This part has always been my favourite in particular:
‘I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan.’ (p. 280)
“For you alone I think and plan…” Excuse me while I go weep in the corner at how sweet this is <3 It's also a very satisfying letter because it pretty much confirms everything that Anne has been hoping--that Wentworth still loves her, that he wants to renew their engagement. Plus, he also admits to his own failings earlier in the novel in the way he had treated her and how he conducted himself. Who knew such a letter could mean so much all at once? On the matter of quotes, re-reading the book this time around I was personally struck by this line:
…but Anne, at seven and twenty, thought very differently from what she had been made to think at nineteen. (p. 34)
As someone who is around the same age as Anne and reflecting to who I was at the age of nineteen and what I thought then, it strikes me as rather true. Strange what eight years can bring *random personal observation*
Anyways, it’s always a delight to re-read Persuasion; it never seems to grow old on me–the story, the characters, the feelings that go along with it. As an aside, I highly recommend Amanda Grange’s Captain Wentworth’s Diary (review) if you love Persuasion, she pretty much encapsulated everything I understood about Wentworth’s side of the story and his personality.