Persuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
It took me a while but I finished my first Jane Austen novel read! Apparently this was her last novel she wrote. My advice to Jane Austen book newbies, don't start with this one. If you like the movies and were drawn in by the romance between Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot, you will find that this isn't quite the focus on the novel. Instead it's about society and the way that people behave as influenced by society and others around them. Anne believed and trusted her dear friend Mrs. Russell when she advised against marrying Captain Wentworth. He was of 'low birth' and had not yet made his fortune. Out of fear, she broke off her relationship with him, and for eight years nursed a broken heart. In that time, she has seen what she rejected him for, and it has not made her happy. But when he returns, she realizes that her love for him never died.
I did enjoy the ending very much. It's a good payoff for sticking this book out. I found the writing descriptions a bit tedious and it didn't seem like Anne and Wentworth were hardly together much. Instead, we see Anne watch life pass her by, stuck with her pompous, ungrateful father who has pretty much spent their money so they can't afford to live in their house anymore. Her father and two sisters are obnoxious people, and I got this feeling of Anne living a life of quiet desperation, acceding her needs and wants to the people around her. She has had eight long years to repent her decision. When Wentworth comes back, he seems to have moved on from Anne and actually seems to dislike her (in a polite kind of way). Anne can't hold that against him, since she brought it on herself (by rejecting him) in her mind. But it hurts because he's still the man she loves.
When she meets Mr. Elliot (her cousin), she thinks he's a nice guy and he seems to have a good reputation, and is well-liked. But this is another lesson about appearances being deceiving.
Far be it for me to criticize a great author of her times, but I felt that this book was tedious in its narrative style. Especially Sir Walter (Anne's father)'s long monologues about how superior he is to everyone else, and with his sycophantic daughter Elizabeth eagerly agreeing, not to mention their (and her youngest sister Mary's) endless social climbing efforts, and Anne suffering it all in in silence. The story really gets interesting when Anne meets some of Wentworth's fellow captain friends, and her interactions with them. At the time, I wished that she was actually spending more time with Wentworth, but even as written, this was when I became emotionally connected to the story in a way that I was not before.
I think it's all about expectation. One who has seen the movies expects a straightforward romance, but this is more of a book about society and choices. The persuasion in the title refers to the fact that Anne was persuaded to make a decision that she later bitterly repented. It could also be about how people are persuaded too easily by appearance or what's on the surface or going along with the crowd.
I found Anne to be sympathetic and likeable. Eminently good-hearted, which makes her rejection of Wentworth really just a common and forgivable flaw that any young, inexperienced girl might make. The fact that the years have matured her and she has learned what is important in life makes her more sympathetic. While Wentworth is not friendly to her most of the book (often he ignores her and seems to spurn her), she doesn't hold it against him.
Wentworth's actions don't reveal much of what he's thinking. I think the major weight of his character is revealed through the high level of regard that Anne continues to hold him in, and the respect that his fellow mariners, friends and family have for him. As time progresses, he seems to warm to Anne, and you get the impression he isn't indifferent to her. His letter was wonderful and was definitely a payoff for hanging on and finishing this book. Wentworth is moved by Anne comments to his friend (that he overheard) and it gives him the courage to admit his feelings for her. It is understandable that he is slow to risk being hurt again, in that he was rejected once by her. In the end, the reader cannot be angry at Wentworth either.
This book has no true villains per se, but it shows that society different kinds of people, and there is a morale in that one must be careful what they assume about others, because the surface rarely exposes what's underneath if someone is skilled at playing the game. I think if the ending wasn't satisfying, I would have been much more disappointed in this book.
I couldn't give this more than 3.5 stars because of the plodding pace. Again, it's definitely a matter of expectations. I love the movie with Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones, so I think my expectations were a bit too high.
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