Monday, April 19, 2010

Persuasion - Jane Austen

Rating: 9/10

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?"


Vaishnavi said...

Kudos to a splendid review!! Very few people can write about Austen's book without compromising the essence of what her books stand for and you have done exactly that :) Persuasion is a favourite of mine! It's the third in my list.....behind P&P and Emma...I actually like it better than Sense and Sensibility. And I love the letter that the Captain writes :)

Hannah Stoneham said...

What an interesting review - you have really brought out the fact that Persuasion is very different from the rest of the Jane Austen collection.

Thanks indeed for posting
Happy Tuesday!

Dana said...

Ooh I love that last quote. I think I love Persuasion the best of Austen's works because, as you said, the characters are more mature. Great review!

Kals said...

Vaishnavi - Thank you for such high praise :) I loved Persuasion, probably second only to Pride and Prejudice if I had to pick!

Hannah - Thank you for the lovely comment :) Indeed it is different and in the best sense possible :)

Dana - Yep..that's my favourite quote too. She sums up the whole point of the book so well. Thanks :)

The Book Mole said...

Very nice review indeed. I enjoy reading Persuasion because of the maturity of the leading characters, and it being all about second chances. Persuasion is the Austen book (and movie) I turn to when I want to feel good - the message is one of hope, and The Letter is probably the best love letter in literature!

Kals said...

Thank you :) And yes, there is a lovely message of hope that puts a smile on your face when you read Persuasion :)

Jessica said...

Im glad you liked it! I seem to read alot of negative reviews on this book, I think because it is so different to any of her others.

Kals said...

Ah..I can see why some people might not like it, but I definitely think it's worth reading at least once :)

Kim said...

What a great review -- it gave me a new appreciation for this book. I couldn't relate to Anne or hate it when romances keep missing their chance. Just say what you feel, NOW. :)

Kals said...

Actually..I couldn't relate to Anne either. But I sympathised with her :)

Whitney said...

Persuasion is such a sad tale, but also full of hope. I've always thought of it as the "chick flick" Austen book, a feel good read. What a lovely review, you've inspired me to reread this classic.

Anonymous said...

You know...I found it rather heavy going probably because it is so different from other Austen books.

But I loved the quotes you have pulled out of the book, and I guess I must somehow try to keep going

Kals said...

Whitney - It is indeed a feel-good read, but Northanger Abbey is the chick-lit of Austen's books, if you ask me :) Thanks! :)

Nishita - I can relate to you in a way, because I found it tough to read Mansfield Park. I still haven't gone back to it, but I'm planning to read it in May.

If you pass through the first few chapters, I think you'll really enjoy Persuasion :)

vvb32 reads said...

*sigh* this one is still on my tbr pile. captain wentworth is just the best.

Priya Iyer said...

you might consider it blasphemy, but i have never read any books by austen. no classics, in fact! :( somehow i never read them...

your posts make me want to pick up austen NOW!! :) i will try to remedy the situation soon!

Kals said...

Velvet - Get to reading it! Capt Wentworth is indeed amazing :)

Priya - LOL. It's okay..a lot of my friends haven't read Austen. :) But I totally think you should read her books when you find time, perhaps just to experience the writing of one of the most famous writers ever.

I'm so glad my posts make you want to read Austen - thank you for the lovely compliment :)

Priya Parmar said...

oh i missed this! persuasion is my favorite of her novels. it is the undiluted way that they love each other and the wonderful modern sensibilities of croft and his wife. genius!

Kals said...

You make an excellent point about the modern sensibilities of Croft and his wife! I loved that when I read it. It was such a forward-thinking aspect and had an Austen stamp on it :)

Sam McCall said...

Persuasion is by far my favorite book of all time. Besides Anne of Green Gables that is lol I loved every word of it, every character, every twist no matter how small and Captain Wentworth ... sigh... they don't make men like that anymore hah Its funny that you mentioned being 27 and unmarried is a tragedy because I am exactly 27 and sometimes it feels that way. We are all in such a hurry to get married and procreate aren't we? lol

Kals said...'s sad that today's society makes it seem tragic when someone, a woman especially, is unmarried at 27. I'm always amazed that Austen wrote about this ages ago! I adore Capt Wentworth and Persuasion is just a beautiful book :)


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