Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The break up produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?
Welcome back to the classic novel recommendation of the month. As the avid reader of Jane Austen’s novels that I am, this time I wanted to recommend “Persuasion”. I have to say that not only is this my favorite among Austen’s books, but it’s also one of my best-loved classics ever.
The whole premise behind the novel is the engagement between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, announced eight years before and broken off by Anne after she yielded to Lady Russell’s opinion about it being an imprudent and mismatched one. Wentworth is considered an unsuitable man for a woman who holds a position in society like that of Anne’s. This event puts the story into gear and gives rise to a lot of questions about the power of persuasion and the sort of actions and feelings that are the direct results of it.
“Persuasion” is a novel about second chances, about being able and willing to trust again in people after being misled, and about finding the courage to follow your heart. Jane Austen is known to be an author who was an acute observer of human behavior and indeed, a lot of themes in this novel ring true still nowadays. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been misguided by someone or something at some point in our lives and we wondered what was the right decision to make, when faced with a choice between what the heart told us to do and what others strongly suggested us to do. Well, when reading about Anne, I greatly sympathized with her. Anne is a gentle, passionate and considerate heroine with a high sense of duty. The reader is called to decide whether her tendency to be persuaded by others is a flaw or not. Personally, like I’ve said on other occasions, I’ m a follow-your-heart kind of person, but without any doubt, Anne is a woman who knows how to balance passion with sense and she’s a great heroine.
While reading we are also faced with the question about whether we are ready to forgive someone who’s hurt us but whom we love. When Anne breaks off the engagement to Frederick Wentworth, he’s deeply wounded by her decision and we learn that he was never quite able to heal his broken heart. What happens when they meet again and memories of their love come flooding back? Will they be able to forgive one another? I’ll say that Wentworth is one of my favorite male characters in literature, the example of the ‘new gentleman’ and he’s the author of one of the best and heart-felt love letters ever written( “Tell me not that I am too late…”) I assure you that after reading this letter, it will stick with you and you’ll say “How can you not love this man?” His pride is a bit of an obstacle to his happiness, though, and he’ll have to get over it, in order to be able to build a future with Anne.
The novel also contains a very interesting and passionate dialogue between Anne and the character of Captain Harville about which sex loves deeper and truer and which one is inclined to forget a lover more easily. I found it extremely fascinating and it is written in such way that it’s as if Jane Austen is inviting the reader to join the conversation and speak up.
In true Austenian fashion, there’s also plenty of irony about the society the characters live in and about human behavior, an irony that permeates most of her novels and that I always find very interesting.
Here are some of my favorite passages:
“A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman! He ought not; he does not.”
“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning.”
“There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.”
“Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?”
A recommendation of another classic novel will be back next month 🙂