Thursday, March 24, 2011

Persuasion (Top 100 #41)

By Jane Austen

Four Things I Like About Persuasion:
1. Bath
2. Captain Wentworth
3. Anne's family members (for comic relief)
4. Secret letters

I'm just plugging away at the Top 100 list lately, aren't I? And I'm currently reading #42 (The Hobbit)!

I was tempted to give Persuasion only three stars, until I realized that the low rating would have been for fault of mine, not Miss Austen's. To be honest, I didn't give Persuasion the attention an Austen novel deserves. I was reading it in full distraction mode, in small blips of time on the go while in transit during my spring break - riding the D.C. metro, flying from D.C. to Indy, in the car between errands - rather than my preferred 30+ minute-long sittings. Which is all well and good to realize, but still left me in an ambiguous situation, rating-wise. Should I rate up, assuming it was better than my spotty reading was able to appreciate? Or do I rate down, on the basis of actual enjoyment, permitting that perhaps Persuasion just isn't my favorite Austen novel? I thought it over and settled on the former, deciding that I did in fact enjoy the consituent parts of the novel, even if I didn't read it closely enough to satisfactorily stich them all together.

Our heroine, Anne Elliott, and a Mr. Frederick Wentworth fell in love when she was 19, but parted ways when Anne was persuaded to break off their engagement on the grounds that he had little to offer in the way of social standing or support, and Frederick - a sailor - set off to make his fortune at sea. Seven years later, the novel opens with the Elliott family finding it necessary to relocate, Mr. Elliott having frivolously squandered the nest-egg Mrs. Elliott left behind when she died. Unable to afford the upkeep of their estate, Kellynch Hallf, they decide to rent it out to Admiral Croft, a respectable retired naval officer, and his wife. While Anne's father and her sister Elizabeth go ahead to their new lodgings in Bath, Anne first spends a month staying with her sister Mary, just three miles from Kellynch Hall. The proximity requires that Mary's family, the Musgroves, receive Mrs. Croft's brother, newly ashore from the navy - none other than Anne's former fiance, now Captain Wentworth, who has made a name and fortune for himself. The reunion proves at first almost unbearably awkward for Anne, perceiving that Captain Wentworth has not forgiven her for her rejection. But when the families move on to Bath and Anne is pursued by a new and engaging suitor, it appears that all hope may not be lost after all (much to our surprise).

Phew. I did not expect that summary to take so long. I guess Austen is more complicated than you might think, which really shouldn't surprise me considering the complexity of the social graces back then, her primary subject matter. My apologies if I've over-complicated it; I'm a bit tired, and writing this straight into the post rather than typing it out in Word, because my computer decided that spring break would be a good time to have a harddrive breakdown. Hrmph.

Persuasion has all the requisite wit, perceptiveness of social and emotional subtleties, and diverse and realistically quirky cast of characters one expects of Jane Austen, with just enough of the differences that keep her novels distinct and interesting. For one, Persuasion is the shortest Austen novel I've read, capping at just under 250 pages. For another, this is not a novel of first impressions (see: Pride and Prejudice), but second chances. Rather than detailing the many uncertainties, missteps, and excitements of falling in love, Perusasion navigates the grey area of repairing burned bridges and breathing new life into flames thought to be extinguished.

My only major qualm with Persuasion is the suddenness of the conversion from Anne and Wentworth awkwardly orbiting one another to sharing flushed, meaningful glances that ignite the short fuse from 'I'm still interested' to 'I must confess my never-forgotten love for you immediately!' I felt there could have been more time spent developing the middleground. I mean, they hardly even talked! What was supposed to have altered the balance of the status quo? Perhaps this qualm is again more a fault of my own poor reading rather than a flaw of Austen's writing, and if so, please do contest me and let me know. I've also been informed that Austen was writing Persuasion whilst ill (it was her last finished novel), so perhaps she hastened through the final stages of courtship so as to finish before a death that felt to be drawing near, I do not know. In any case, if you've read and enjoyed other Austen novels, I guarantee you will feel the same about Persuasion

Books Read This Year: 26
Top 100 Progress: 41/100

No comments:

Post a Comment