Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane AustenPersuasion was completed when Jane Austen was already a successful writer, and was published shortly before her death, aged 41, in 1817.  It’s her most romantic and best-loved novel, in the opinion of some, and her weakest and most mournful according to others.  It has a reputation for dividing her fans into one of these love/hate camps.

If you’ve read my Classically Challenged introductory post, you’ll know that I’ve already planted my feet squarely in the romantic camp.  I love Persuasion for so many reasons!  I’ll take you through a few of them…

First point: every time I read Austen I’m always charmed by her lightly mocking humour.  This novel begins by introducing the reader to Sir Walter Elliot: a vain and pompous man who thinks far too much of titles and class.  Austen’s is a very subtle wit, but the way she ever so gently pokes fun at Sir Walter’s skewed values, as well as those of Mary and numerous other characters (deservedly so), stood out even more for me on a second reading than on the first.

I do appreciate though that it can seem a slow start for a first-time reader to be presented with Sir Walter sighing over his family tree in the very early pages.  I can’t remember what I thought first time round, but this time I wasn’t at all fazed as I was sustained by the knowledge of the brilliance to come.  If you’re thinking of picking up Persuasion, I feel I ought to warn you not to form too early an impression of Austen until you’ve realised what she’s trying to tell you about Sir Walter.  Don’t worry – the penny drops pretty quickly!

Secondly I need to talk about Anne: the book’s heroine.  A reader’s first impression of her is of a shy, retiring type, too paralysed by embarrassment and etiquette to be able to approach Captain Wentworth, the man she still loves.  Seven years prior to the date the novel is set, Anne and Frederick Wentworth were secretly engaged to be married, but Anne was persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that it would not be a good match for either of them, and so she broke it off.  Now the two former lovers, thrown into each others’ social circles once more, are initially unable to get past this terribly awkward situation of past intimacy and present estrangement.

At first it’s easy to simply pity Anne and wish that she would speak out more, yet as you read on you become acquainted with her sweet, self-sacrificing nature, mixed with surprisingly strong opinions, which are aired only to her close friends when passionately moved to speak.  She is a character with honourable principles and a good heart, who wants the best for those she loves even at the expense of her own happiness.  She truly grows on you as the book progresses, even more so to me because I can identify with her.  I’ve always been criticised for being “too quiet”, but when moved to do so I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe in.

Of course, this character type may not be to everyone’s taste, especially in the modern age of getting exactly what you want; who on earth waits for the man of your dreams to be slowly won over by your true nature anymore?  You just go out and get him yourself, right?  I’ll leave that one open to discussion…

Moving on, the strong sense of place is another great reason to love not just Persuasion, but any of Austen’s novels.  She has a gift for capturing the details of everyday life with its small, personal triumphs and trials, and allowing readers, whatever century they are from, to believe that they are a part of the story and part of her characters’ lives.  The characters are like people we know and the social setting, although in some ways totally different to our own, is described in such a way as to allow a reader to gain a complete understanding of the time through her characters’ interactions.

Finally, although I do hate spoilers, I must just mention the ending!  I’m notorious for not being entirely satisfied with the endings of novels, but Persuasion’s conclusion is one of my favourite endings in literature, modern or classic.  As you approach the end of the novel, Anne’s character has (unless you have a heart of stone) become so dear to you that you feel genuinely delighted by her happiness (oh come on, we all know it has a happy ending).  I even went so far as to clap my hands and grin gleefully around the room – luckily I was at home with only MrBrontëSister to roll his eyes at me.  I’d love to go on (and on and on) about the ending but don’t dare for fear of spoiling it for anyone who I’m at the point of talking round to reading it.

I’m very pleased that Simon and AJ of the Classically Challenged challenge also loved the novel – hooray!  A great start to their experiment in reading more classic literature.  Click on their names above to read each of their posts on Persuasion.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

Next on the Classically Challenged schedule is The Warden.  I’m still waiting for my copy to come crashing through my letterbox (courtesy of AJ Reads) and can’t wait to get started on it.

Leave a comment if you’re participating in Classically Challenged and, whether you are or not, do tell me what you think of Persuasion!  If you’ve already started The Warden, what are your initial thoughts?

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. AJReads
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 20:36:00

    Excellent review! Persuasion was a pleasure to read. And I completely agree with you… the ending was superb!

    Sorry to hear you’ve not yet received The Warden. I’ll check and see what has caused the hold up.

    Reply

    • TheBrontëSister
      Nov 01, 2012 @ 20:48:17

      Thanks! I enjoyed your review too – although I decided I should write mine before I read it or Simon’s so that I didn’t overlap too much (it’s been in draft form for a few days and I’ve only now got round to finishing it off and posting it!).

      Oh that ending… the romantic in me could just read it again and again!

      That’s alright… I wasn’t sure if there was something wrong or if it just hadn’t been sent out yet! Thanks for checking.

      ________________________________

      Reply

  2. Carol Hunter
    Nov 01, 2012 @ 22:16:00

    I love the review of Persuasion – one of my favourite books. I read it again after a 30 year break and found it more affecting and resonant – mainly because (in that 30 year gap) I had experienced love and loss and had emerged with a better understanding of the constancy of enduring love. Persuasion is essential reading – t any age.

    Reply

    • TheBrontëSister
      Nov 03, 2012 @ 13:18:30

      Hi Carol, great to hear from you!

      I totally agree – while I enjoyed Persuasion very much as a teenager, I think you get a completely different experience out of the book once you’ve “been there and done that”. That’s not to say a better experience necessarily, just an alternative perspective. And I would add that it’s essential reading for either gender too… proper romance isn’t just for girls!

      Reply

  3. Naomi
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 00:21:51

    Persuasion is my absolute favourite Austen novel! I really enjoyed your review and agree that while Anne isn’t an especially contemporary heroine, her soul is both brave and kind. For that reason, she’s been a role model to me for much of my adult life.

    Reply

    • TheBrontëSister
      Nov 04, 2012 @ 13:14:23

      I’m glad it’s your favourite too! It always surprises me that it gets neglected on people’s “must-read” lists, and in the literary stakes always seems to come after Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. Not that I don’t love Austen’s other novels, but Persuasion just has a special place in my heart.

      And I think you’re right – it’s her soul and her genuine goodness which make her shine out from every other character in the novel and makes her inspiring.

      Reply

  4. Alice
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 11:29:16

    “I am half agony, half hope” who can dislike a book with a love letter like that! Persuasion is one of my favourite novels.

    I love how mature it is compared to her earlier work; Anne is an adult, she doesn’t fall for people’s charms easily and loves good company no matter what their social status. She is to be marvelled at! She feels like she gave in to persuasion by Lady Russell, so affectively punishes herself for letting Wentworth go but not speaking up to claim him; she acknowledges she broke both their hearts. My heart broke for Anne when she watches Wentworth woo her sisters-in-law, she isn’t a flirt and won’t embarrass herself by throwing herself at a man (unlike her sister Elizabeth).

    It is impossible not to relate to this strong women, who doesn’t feel the need to sit in front of her mirror looking pretty, has her own opinions and ideas and is not afraid to express them. Wentworth and Anne probably wouldn’t have worked all those years earlier, they are so perfect together as fully formed and opinionated human beings, and it is a wonderful example of how love really can triumph over all.

    Reply

    • TheBrontëSister
      Nov 04, 2012 @ 13:23:42

      I’m so pleased that so many other people love Persuasion too! That love letter always gives me goosebumps… followed by such deliciously unbearable anxiety as Anne frustratedly tries to get Mrs Musgrove to pass on her message to Captain Wentworth, and is then prevented from walking home alone in the hope of seeing him! Wonderful.

      She is a strong woman indeed, especially when you think of the time period and society she lives in and the restrictions she must contend with.

      Reply

  5. teacakeandaramble
    Nov 13, 2012 @ 09:08:37

    Persuasion is proof that Austen was a great writer. I actually think it is her best work, along with Mansfield Park. In both novels the plots and characters are much more thought out, and in Fanny Price you have a strong, independent female character.

    Reply

    • TheBrontëSister
      Nov 14, 2012 @ 07:20:00

      That’s interesting, especially considering all the people who say that Persuasion is her weakest. Yes Mansfield Park is another one which gets neglected on those “must-read” lists. I have to say that Mansfield Park isn’t my favourite, but then that’s probably because I read it so long ago that I’ve forgotten almost all of what happens! Perhaps it’s time for a re-read…

      Reply

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