I’m positive that I read Persuasion somewhere back in the mists of time, but it had been years, and possibly decades, since I read it. So, when my sister asked if I wanted to read it along with her, I said sure! Especially since I had a shiny new copy that I’d purchased for my birthday back in 2016 and never got around to reading!
Persuasion is actually my sister’s favorite Austen, mainly because it employs one of her favorite tropes – lovers reunited after a space of time. Funnily enough, that’s one of my LEAST favorite tropes. Mary Rose (my sister) sees the romance in two people still loving each other after that time apart. I just see the years wasted because someone, or both someones, weren’t willing to fix the problem – which probably illustrates the differences between our personalities haha
At any rate, I quite enjoyed my reread of this one. It had been so long since I had read it, that I couldn’t remember exactly how events unfolded. In brief, in case you, like me, don’t really remember, the story is about Anne Elliot, who lives with her father and her older sister. Her father, a baronet, is rather a silly man, quite stuck on himself, and the older sister, Elizabeth, fits the same mold. Lady Elliot passed away several years before the story opens. There is a younger sister, Mary, who is married and lives a couple of miles away. The Elliots’ neighbor and close friend is Lady Russell, who is especially fond of, and influential over, Anne. In general, Anne is rather underappreciated and overlooked by her family, as she is a quiet, unassuming, helpful person past the blush of her first youth.
When Anne was but 19, she fell in love with a young sailor, Frederick Wentworth. Frederick wanted Anne to marry him, but Anne allowed herself to be persuaded by Lady Russell, and by the overall sense of disapproval of her father and sisters, to say no. Frederick left in a huff, and in the intervening eight years has gone on to become successful and moderately wealthy, and is now a Captain.
The story opens with Sir Walter being somewhat in debt and having to lease out their ancestral hall. Sir Walter and Elizabeth decide to stay in Bath, but Anne goes to stay with her sister Mary for a few months. Meantime, the individuals who lease out the house turn out to be Frederick’s sister and her husband – which means that, after all these years, Anne and Frederick will come together again! *cue dramatic music*
This is a rather quiet, domestic tale. Unlike some of Austen’s other stories, there are no moments of grand drama (like Lydia’s elopement or the betrayal of Willoughby), yet I was still completely drawn in by the entertaining characters and subtle humor. I didn’t find myself laughing out loud like I did while reading Northanger Abbey, but there were still plenty of entertaining moments.
I especially enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the time when Anne is staying with Mary, who lives next door to her in-laws. Here, there is a whole lively cast of characters all virtually living together, despite their differences in personality and hobbies. Honestly, this little paragraph reminded me so strongly of my own (large and lively) family that I couldn’t help but laugh –
It was a very fine November day, and the Miss Musgroves came through the little grounds, and stopped for no other purpose than to say, that they were going to take a long walk, and therefore concluded Mary could not like to go with them; and when Mary immediately replied, with some jealousy at not being supposed to be a good walker, “Oh, yes, I should like to join you very much, I am very fond of a long walk;” Anne felt persuaded, by the very looks of the two girls, that it was precisely what they did not wish, and admired again the sort of necessity which the family habits seemed to produce, of everything being to be communicated, and everything being to be done together, however undesired and inconvenient.
I, too, have a family in which “everything being to be communicated, and everything being to be done together,” and honestly long walks are a frequent event. And no matter how much you’d rather not have the entire family along, there seems to be some compulsion to invite everyone!
At any rate, Anne’s story unfolds gently and steadily. She’s a very likable and relatable heroine, and I was glad that she eventually landed her happily ever after. I do feel that she and Frederick have a very good chance of making a go of it, having tested their love through separation, and having matured past the impulsiveness and sensitivity of a younger age. It did seem that once Anne and Frederick did finally talk it out, that everything immediately fell into place and then the story was over – it felt like I didn’t get to see very much interaction between the two of them. But Frederick’s letter is everything swoonworthy for sure – You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I also very much liked that, in the end, Anne realized that, despite her sufferings, she didn’t really regret telling Frederick no originally. She had followed her conscience, and had she gone against it, hers was the type of personality that would have always felt residual guilt over going against the advice of everyone else she loved. Frederick also acknowledges his own folly and pride as being part of the problem, asking her if she would have accepted him if he had come back after his initial success on the sea. Anne says that yes, she most certainly would have, and Frederick realizes that while Anne’s refusal separated them originally, it was his pride that kept them apart for so long. The balanced blame is part of what makes me so confident in the overall success of this match.
While Persuasion isn’t my favorite of Austen’s tales, it was thoroughly enjoyable and a worthwhile read. It’s also on the shorter side, and I was surprised at how quickly I flew through the pages. 4.5* for this classic, and highly recommended.