Book Name: Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen
First Published: 1818
Jane Austen was forty years old when she penned her last complete novel, Persuasion. Her health was failing as she wrote and she would die at the young age of 41 before this novel would see print. Persuasion was bundled together with an earlier novel, Northanger Abby, and would prove to be her biggest bestseller. It was also the first of her novels to be published under her real name. Previously, all her novels had been written by the pen name “a lady”. While Persuasion lacks some of the polish of her earlier works due to the little time she had left to revise it to perfection, there are many who claim that it is her finest novel and most mature work of all. Persuasion has not been out of print for at least 150 years and is considered in the public domain.
Until this novel, Austen had always taken as her heroine a young inexperienced woman, falling in love for the first time. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is twenty-seven years old, a spinster with common sense and decency, but with a beaten spirit. For her, love is something that belongs to her past, not the present. Before the novel opens, Anne is briefly engaged to marry a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to break off the understanding by her god-mother for reasons of prudence. She has spent the last eight years regretting this decision, and she does not expect to discover love again.
At the opening of the novel, Sir Walter Elliot, a vain and imprudent baronet, must rent his country house and move himself and his family to Bath to pay off his debts. Where once he and his three daughters were rich and respected, now they are poor and the subject of ridicule. His new tenants are Admiral Croft and his wife, Captain Wentworth’s sister. The pair move into Anne’s former home and invite Wentworth to join them. The tables have turned on the fortunes of Captain Wentworth, where once he was a poor navel officer with dubious prospects, now he is wealthy and an eligible bachelor. Being paid off by the navy, he is of a mind to settle down with the “first woman between 15 and 30” to catch his eye. Anyone, that is, except for Anne Elliot, the woman who had broken his heart.
Anne remains in the area to care for her ill sister, Mary Musgrove and tend to her nephews. Time has not been kind to Anne and she has become wane and thin, exhaustion taking its toll on her appearance. Anne and Captain Wentworth meet again due to proximity. The captain treats Anne with cool formality as he flirts with Mary’s two sister-in-laws. The younger women hero-worship Wentworth as they vie for his attentions, each hoping to capture his heart. At the same time, Anne notices small gestures of kindness in Wentworth’s behavior toward her, as if he can not bear to see her in discomfort, gestures that pull the spinster into a private mix of hopeless pleasure and pain, as Anne realizes that she still loves the captain.
During a two-day visit to the village of Lyme, the Musgroves and Anne meet the naval friends of Captain Wentworth and are charmed by their warmth and hospitality. Released from her obligations and refreshed by the sea air, Anne begins to regain some of her youthful complexion. This is noticed by not only Wentworth, but she is admired by other gentlemen in the village. The party’s visit is brought short by an accident on the Cobb and it is Anne’s common sense that saves the day.
After the visit to Lyme, Anne rejoins her father and elder sister in Bath, convinced that Captain Wentworth is to marry another woman. She takes the addresses of her cousin, William Elliot more seriously as she tries to move on with her life. Bath’s society paint the two as all but engaged. Then word comes that Wentworth and his intended have parted and she finds that the captain has suddenly arrived in Bath. Anne is overjoyed that this might mean she has a second chance at happiness with her captain, but how is she to let him know that he still is in her heart and that she has not accepted William Elliot’s offer of marriage? Would the captain risk making a second offer to her after she had refused him all those years ago?
Attempting to branch out my reading habits from a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy novels, I found a list of classic literature that I decided to use to guide my choice of novels from the local library. One of the authors on this list was Jane Austen. I could not decide which of her novels to begin with and because Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were not available in the public library, I picked up Persuasion to be the first to cross off my list of recommended Austen classics. Opening the book, I found myself lost in a world of loneliness, sadness and of the hope of a second chance, not only by this quiet young woman, but by a dashing naval captain who was all to human in his hurt and memories of the past. I not only found myself in sympathy with Anne Elliot, but I was fascinated by the culture of the time. The breaking down of the tradition English class system, the elevation of men based on their merits instead of their birth, and the pride that the English people had in their navy. Persuasion reads today as a historical novel with contemporary overtones although it was penned during the Regency period itself. The characters are timeless and the situations as believable today as they were over 200 years ago. I’ve gone on to read all of Austen’s novels, but Persuasion remains my favorite of all her works and to my belief, is the most romantic of them all.
You may find Persuasion at Project Gutenberg and in your local library.