Thursday, April 14, 2011
Persuasion: Jane Austen
Persuasion is like a tween movie. Very little happens, and what little action the book does contain, is reserved to longing sideways glances and bated breath. Someone takes a bad fall. Some folks fall in love. In the typical Victorian ways, many people go calling on other people. One gentleman is exposed as a cad. In the end, they all live happily ever after. It's not a complicated plot, and it's certainly not unique. It is, however, like every Austen novel I've read, simply charming.
Anne Elliot is an old maid. She's 27 years old and unmarried. She may as well be dead (I can relate!). What makes her situation so much worse is that she had a suitor in her younger years, but was persuaded to forego the attachment because of Mister Frederick Wentworth's lower standing. The poor girl is now alone and heart-crushed, watching as her friends and sisters marry (I can relate!). Then things take an interesting turn when, down on his luck, Anne's father, Sir Walter, must rent out their estate at Kellynch because they have fallen so far in debt. And wonder of wonders, who should be the new renters, but The Crofts--sister and brother-in-law of the newly Captained Frederick Wentworth! Now that Wentworth is a Captain, he is welcomed into the neighborhood and the two sisters of Anne's brother-in-law, Louisa and Henrietta, begin vying for his attention, hoping to make a fortuitous match. A chain of events follows that ultimately shows Captain Wentworth that he never stopped loving Anne--who, of course, has never stopped loving Wentworth. There is a bit of manipulation in which William Elliot--Anne's cousin--makes a few overtures in her direction, but she sees through him, and has no trouble shutting him down. And they all live happily ever after.
Maybe I've been blind to it before, but I have never heard Austen write with such sexism before. I felt like throwing the book across the room on multiple occasions. While Anne is a lovely character, she is so stifled. She is surrounded by people, all telling her what to do, who to marry, what to think. And she does it! The insipid characters of Louisa and Henrietta are no better. Anne's elder sister, Elizabeth is a pushy broad, and the younger sister, Mary, is a hypochondriac. The only female character I can respect is Lady Russell, who also happens to be the woman who persuaded Anne not to marry Wentworth. Where are the Elizabeth Bennets? The Emmas? Austen, you have failed me with this one.
Aside from the characters, the plot was just too played out for me. There is so little romance in this romance novel, that I lost interest multiple times. Of course Miss Austen regales us with plenty of sweeping landscapes and rich tapestries of conversation, but there's very little to get excited about. The biggest event in Persuasion comes when a young lady takes a fall and gains a concussion.
An interesting tidbit about this novel; Jane Austen once played the role of Lady Russell in the life of her own niece. It is commonly believed that Jane Austen later regretted having such an influence over her niece, wishing instead that the young lady had made her own decision. This, her last completed novel, examines the many ways in which we can be persuaded, and how we may be effected. It is with my dearest wishes that I choose believe that Jane Austen wrote a novel full of weakly women as an illustration of what kind of person can be so easily swayed. Surely it is a farce--an encouragement to women everywhere to avoid being an Anne by making their own decisions and choosing happiness before it's too late.