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.

Rating: $$

7 comments:

  1. It has been at while since I've read a Jane Austen. I mus remedy that soon. Have a great weekend Bailey.

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  2. Whilst Anne is no Lizzie Bennet (who is?) I didn't see her as a whimp or a weakling. She was operating is a very restrictive era and in a very restrictive family setting. Throughout the book she set her mind to something - in this case Captain Wentworth - and got what she wanted (eventually). She also managed to avoid the plans of her scheming cousin who she was expected to marry. All in all I thought that she did quite well for herself despite all of the obstacles in her way. I imagine that many of her original readers saw her as a heroine.

    I think that the book was mostly an attack on snobbery and the rigid class system of the time. Both her father and sisters were insufferable snobs who's prime motivation in life was how their actions would play out in 'Society'. Anne's visits to her old school friend who has fallen on hard times is a classic case of where she should have (according to the 'rules') had nothing to do with her - yet she endangered her reputation/position out of friendship and stood up to her family in the process.

    I think the book was also about the changing times. When Captain Wentworth first proposed marriage he was considered to be unworthy because of his social position in relation to the Elliot's. When he came back from war a rich man - because of the accumulated prize money - he was considered suitable. I read this as a comment on the shift in importance from position to wealth as a measure of social standing. One could no longer assumed that birth alone was good enough.

    I understand what you meant when you used the phrase "typical Victorian ways" but Persuasion was published before Victoria came to the throne - though no doubt little had changed between publication date and 1837 when Victoria became Queen.

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  3. Yes, absolutely, Persuasion is undoubtedly about the class system and it's irrelevance. And yes, I suppose it's true that ultimately Anne got what she wanted and did as she pleased, as much as she was able within the confines of her time.

    That said, I expect more from Austen's characters. I want vivacious, lively, adventurous women. I suppose I was disappointed in Anne from page 1 because she allowed someone to influence her engagement to a man she loved.

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  4. Well, she was only 19 and although she would've married for love he was still pretty much an unknown prospect. As much as I disliked her family I can understand their concerns. Even Anne saw the practicalities of the issue no matter how little she liked it.

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  5. What CyberKitten said. :)

    Interesting review!

    Although not my fave Austen, I appreciate the stifling atmosphere that she creates in this one. Rather than an Elizabeth to laugh and mock with, I wanted to hold Anne's hand. Even today, there are many women stifled and at a loss. It's good to wish for the strong woman, but more of us than not make dumb decisions. Imagine trying to choose a path in Anne's time.

    Other Austen novels paint a hopeful picture, and I love them for that, but this one paints a more realistic one.

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  6. Yes, I know it's true. Women all over the world are struggling with the same limits that Anne dealt with. Perhaps it's just my age. Being a single 30 year old woman, I am infuriated by the idea that society and family have any effect on a woman's choices in life. I acknowledge that it happens, but I don't have to like it. ;)
    And yes, Monica, you're right. Other Austen novels are hopeful, and I suppose that's what I love about them... Something to ponder.

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  7. Must be an enjoyable read Persuasion by Jane Austen. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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