Thursday, December 27, 2012
We come to my last post for December, but I’m not through with the Jane Austen theme yet! I just got on a roll! So, although I’ll be skipping January 1st, I plan to get back to Jane Austen next Friday, or maybe the Tuesday after that if I do a special New Year post. I have a couple more ideas for posts, and even more might come after that ….
And now, to Jane Austen’s last full-length novel. Persuasion was the last thing she ever completed, and there is some question as to whether she meant to edit it one more time. It was published in December 1817 after her death along with Northanger Abbey.
The heroine, Anne Elliot, is 27 years old, about 6 years older than any other JA heroine and considered past her bloom, past hope for escaping spinsterhood. Through her Jane Austen was able to present the mind of a woman who is beyond youthful self-absorption and can look back on fancies objectively, as she herself could. I wonder if Jane Austen felt any special affinity for Anne. (It sure seems odd to think of age 27 as past bloom! Nowadays 27 is still quite young.)
But Anne is not like Miss Austen, who, as much as history can tell us (what was in those letters that Cassandra burned??), was never deeply in love with someone. For Anne, there was a man -- his name is Captain Frederick Wentworth -- but eight years have faded away since their romance and engagement ended when Anne was persuaded by several circumstances to break it off.
But through the course of the novel Anne and Captain Wentworth discover, through much pain, that it was only an interruption.
Persuasion features the most touching romance by far of Jane Austen’s bibliography. Unlike her other heroes and heroines, Anne’s and Captain Wentworth’s love has been proven -- it has rekindled, never actually dying, after eight long years. They have been through more than any other couple. Their union has been eight years in coming; this story tells how it at last came about. That makes the happy ending achingly satisfying.
Anne is my second or third favorite JA heroine, and, as I am rereading Persuasion right now, I’m often reminded why. She is self-giving and unassuming, but intelligent, perceptive, and tasteful. Time and time again she proves herself the most superior person of her company, but she certainly doesn’t think of herself that way. She is a role model; I love characters I can truly learn from.
Captain Wentworth is superior, too, once he leaves his grudge against Anne behind, and when I think of the two together, I picture them on a dais of personal exceptionality, steps above the rest. They make an extraordinary couple. “He was, at that time, a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy; and Anne an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste, and feeling.” And here is there second engagement: “… how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition?” It’s perfect.
Anne’s only fault is that she is too unassuming to withstand her motherly friend Lady Russell’s persuasion to give up her engagement to young Frederick Wentworth. Hurt to the bone, he subsequently regards her as weak, yielding, and indecisive. But he learns again to observe her character, and contrast it with inferior ones. His faults include stubbornness. In the end, however, both their characters prove strong as they overcome opposition to their union -- particularly the opposition found in their own selves.
Persuasion is Jane Austen’s second novel to deal extensively with members of the Navy. In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price’s brother William became a midshipman and their family lived in Portsmouth, a seaport. Jane Austen could write with authority on this occupation because two of her brothers were naval officers, and Persuasion’s cast of naval officers are shown to be decent, upright people, more admirable than the inherited gentry. Persuasion is, I think, Jane Austen’s second best work; contrasting with Emma (which I think is her best), it’s wide in scope, more like Mansfield Park, but better done, because not so many issues are raised that aren’t satisfactorily wrapped up.
I feel like I’m visiting an old friend with a cozy mug of tea and blanket as I’m rereading Persuasion, even if I do my visiting while I take a walk in this cold, crisp weather or sit in the house I’m helping to remodel ….
What do you think of Persuasion? Any preference in movie versions?