Persuasion, Jane Austen, 1818
Here it is, the last Jane Austen novel on the list. Persuasion is the last book that Jane Austen wrote. It was published posthumously very shortly after her death at age 41. Some scholars consider it her most autobiographical book, because the love interest is a sailor, just like Jane’s real life love interest. Our leading lady, Anne Elliot, is the younger daughter of an aristocrat who possesses more land and ostentatious pride than sense. Anne, however, is a mellow, obedient, sensible young woman who tries to rein in her father and sister’s excessive spending. She fails because those swine don’t appreciate her pearls of wisdom or her pearlescent personality for that matter. Anne is mortified by her relation’s lack of grace. They are imperious and awkward socially, and their extreme sense of entitlement prevents them from doing anything to prevent their financial ruin. Only Lady Russel, the bosom companion of Anne’s deceased mother, recognizes Anne’s true value.
Persuasion holds no surprises for the Jane Austen fan. It contains the typical Austen elements:
- the frivolous relatives of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park paired with an obedient, sensible, long-suffering daughter; Jane and Fanny respectively and Elinor from Sense and Sensibility.
- the silly, flirtatious, social-climbing rivals of S+S, P+P and Mansfield.
- the disposal of said rivals in unexpected marriages.
- the delayed romance of every Austen novel except Northanger Abbey.
- the chronic misunderstanding between lovers caused by social conventions that require women in particular to be extremely reserved.
- a moral about the consequences of abstract elements of human nature.
The abstract element in question is persuasion or being persuadable. At a tender age, Anne allows Lady Russel and her father to dissuade her from marrying Captain Frank Wentworth, a dashing young sailor. They object to Wentworth’s lack of name or fortune. Anne would have married him for love and with hope and faith that he would improve his circumstances by distinguishing himself in the Royal Navy. He does earn fame and fortune and turns up in Anne’s part of the country again. Tension ensues.
Anne is a serene character and the tone of Persuasion is correspondingly tranquil. I found it a bit dull at first. Austen spends a good while setting up the Elliot family dynamic and describing the personalities found in their neighborhood before the men arrive. This being said, I was happy with the pacing overall. The novel has a maturity not found in Austen’s earlier work in terms of tone, material, plot and even character. Anne is the only Austen heroine past her prime marrying off years.
I suppose I should summarize my feelings about Jane Austen now. That’s a large unwieldy task, though. I reviewed all six of her novels on this blog, so if you want my thoughts on her, they are available. Instead here is my ranking of her books from my favorite to my least favorite:
You might like Persuasion if:
- you love Austen.
- you are ready for a heroine who is out of her teens.
- you like a maritime setting.
You might not like Persuasion if:
- you are bored of/by Austen.
Final thoughts: I liked it.