Persuasion is Jane Austen's last completed novel, a short one at that, written during a period of illness that would go on to take her life. If I had to sum up this book in a word, it would be 'remarkable'. Indeed. Remarkable because the heroine Anne Elliot, unmarried at 27 ( which even by modern standards is considered a tragedy), finds a second chance. Remarkable because with such minimal interaction, Austen puts across the flavour and beauty of a relationship.
Anne Elliot was engaged to Captain Wentworth, an engagement that Anne broke off after being persuaded by her mentor and friend Lady Russell who found the match unsatisfactory and the man, not distinguished enough to marry an Elliot. Eight years later, the Elliot family is in a financial strain and they sell their magnificent estate of Kellynch to Capt Wentworth's sister and her husband Admiral Croft. And Capt. Wentworth and Anne meet again, leading to an intense emotional experience for them both and indeed the reader.
The plot is simple enough, but as usual, Austen writes beautifully. The lead characters are mature adults, not the impassioned, wild youthful heroines or heroes we might be used to. Anne Elliot is no Elizabeth Bennet. She is soft, polite, well-mannered and sometimes, too good to be true. Indeed it is easy to like Anne, but equally easy to find her boring, much as some other characters do. Her opinions, wishes are disregarded by a cold sister Elizabeth and a vain father obsessed with looking good. Anne is often invisible to her direct family, excepting her other sister Mary, husband Charles Musgrove and their family. She is quite the tragic heroine in a way, except, Anne shows admirable restraint and strength in the face of many a problem.
Captain Wentworth, once slighted for being ordinary is now accomplished, rich and proud of it. He, instead of depending on family wealth, has made his own fortune. The tilt of fate that has played around with his and Anne's lives, leading to great tension between the two of them is wonderfully written. This is an intense relationship. Even when they aren't talking to each other, the feelings, the little gestures, the glances are full of meaning and emotion.
Wentworth and Anne don't have too much time together, nor do they dance, which is quite the custom you'd expect between hero and heroine of that era. But as usual, Austen presents such an impeccable analysis of the emotions of the leads. She builds up the anticipation and tension so well that the reader is involved with their relationship. You await the next chance when Anne and Wentworth are thrown in together.
The only little flaw I can find with this book is that the sub-plot with the Wickhamish Mr. Elliot wasn't too much to my taste since I definitely saw it coming. And it was rather too conveniently dealt with. However, there are some outstanding passages that stamp the genius of Austen. I especially loved the excellent argument between Anne Elliot and Admiral Croft about who feels more for their love: men or women.
Admiral Croft: "..Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman's fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men."
Anne: "Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."
Anne: " I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as--if I may be allowed the expression--so long as you have an object. I mean while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."
Captain Wentworth's passionate letter to Anne had me smiling with admiration. It is another wonderful display of Austen's many talents as a wonderful writer. Austen is quite the quotable writer and Persuasion has several such gems that are amongst the best lines I've ever read.
I do not intend to compare Persuasion with any other of Austen's novels to pick a favourite, because to me, there is no need to. Persuasion is so entirely different; a nuanced look at a mature relationship and of second chances to love. It might not be as witty and fun as Pride and Prejudice or as elegant as Sense and Sensibility. It does not boast of a vivacious heroine like Emma. But Persuasion touches you deep in the heart and strikes you emotionally, making it a unforgettable book worth cherishing.
This quote sums up this book well:
"When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth; and if such parties succeed, 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?"