Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion (Everyman's Library)Title: Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen
Pages: 304
Published: 1992 Everyman's Library (orig.1817)
My Rating: 5 stars

You could totally read Persuasion just for the love story and come out happy and sighing, content as cat.  All the quality ingredients are here: the lost first love, the pining, the modesty and humility, the confrontations, the complications, the righteous anger.  But the love story isn't the only reason I love Persuasion.  In fact, it has been many years since I've swooned over a love story at all--if there aren't other layers, simple love stories tend to exasperate me.

So what is it about Persuasion that I love?  For one thing, the writing is splendid.  Jane Austen really shines here.  There are none of the tedious stretches that I found in both Emma and Mansfield Park.  Every sentence counts, and the story is always progressing.  The wit and insight found in her other books is refined in Persuasion, and while you may not have as many outright laughs as in Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey, there is plenty of irony and subtle humor to keep you smiling.

Mainly, though, I can identify with the characters: their circumstances, feelings, and failings.  I can feel the tension and loneliness Anne Eliot felt day in and day out from being misunderstood and undervalued by her family and friends.  I can understand the difficulty of having to continually put your own needs aside to care for others (what mom can't identify with that?) and the isolation inherent with being an introspective, observant person.  More than in any other of Austen's novels, the characters in Persuasion seem like real people.

I love how Austen lets you feel the environments of different households: the Eliots are cold and critical, the Musgrove home is jolly and free, the Crofts are warm and inviting.  I love the tension that builds between Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth because they cannot determine, with any reliability or assurance, what it is that the other is thinking or feeling.  And best of all, the ending isn't quite as abrupt as it is in her other novels.

Persuasion is filled with layers, and gets better upon rereading.  Pick it up for the love story if you like, or for the social observations, for the bits of history about the Royal Navy, for the writing or the wit, or simply to say that you've read Jane Austen.  I doubt you'll be disappointed--this is no trifling titillating tidbit.  I've read this one a few times now, and it always makes me feel so satisfied, so empathetic, so understood.

(If you've never seen a film adaptation, I highly recommend this one with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds.)

16 comments:

  1. This is a great review. I've read Persuasion (and seen the movie version that you suggest above). Unfortunately, I didn't love this book like I do most of Austen... though I know many say this is her best work. Perhaps I need to read it again along with someone who loves it, so they can point out what draws them to it along the way?

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  2. I've overlooked this book (and that shouldn't be so hard given that Austen only wrote a small handful of novels). Great review! I admit to not being over the moon about Austen like many book bloggers I've met, but I would like to try this.

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  3. The only Austens I've read are Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I've been leaning towards Persuasion next and I'm glad that there's not the long stretches where not much happens there is in Emma.

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  4. Jane Austen isn't really my cup of tea... and for what you've written, I think I could not indetify with the characters. But, thanks anyway for the review; maybe as soon as I leave college and if I become a mother, I will understand it all.

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  5. Wallace--could be that Persuasion just isn't your thing. Her wit isn't as biting here, everything is more subtle and introspective, so it's just a different speed. That being said, I love your idea of a read-along...I need one of those for Dubliners.

    Teacher/Learner--Persuasion tends to hide in the shadow of Pride and Prejudice it seems. I think the biggest influencer in my love of Austen was simply that she's what got me back into reading after some intense young-mother years. She made me remember that classics needn't be tedious or frightening. I do love her wit and insight, but her writing is not without faults. (oh, and thanks for the award! I'll go check it out)

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  6. Sam--it is definitely more concise than Emma. It's also pretty different in style, so it's an interesting comparison. Go for it!

    booksandreviews--Jane Austen makes me laugh, but she isn't for everyone. She is one of those authors, however, that I think is more enjoyable to read the more you know about her and her times. Otherwise a lot of the little jokes don't make sense and it all comes off as silly little stories. Persuasion is more serious than her other books, and shorter too...something to keep in mind if you ever decide to give her a try.

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  7. Persuasion was my second Austen read and the first time I read it I was looking for another Pride and Prejudice. So, I was disappointed. But the second time I read Persuasion for a class and I really liked. Having a discussion about it and my teacher to shed some light on the era helped, too. Nice review!

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  8. P.S. I see you'll be reading Gilead soon. It's very introspective, not something I tend to read, but I really liked it... but I'm from Iowa so maybe I'm biased.

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  9. I've been wanting to reread this one. I read it in high school and enjoyed it but honestly couldn't remember a thing about it - a sure sign I didn't read it the way I should have. Thanks for an insightful review.

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  10. This is one of my favorite Austens. I think that might be because the last scene of this book is one of the most romantic of all of Jane's novels. It's so sweet and beautiful. However, I saw that version of the film, and definitely didn't love it. I want to see one of the other versions.

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  11. Thank you Melody! I study English Literature but still, she is just not my cup of tea. However, Persuasion sounds much better than Pride & Prejudice.

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  12. Chelle--it is very different than Pride and Prejudice, isn't it? I'm glad that you got a second chance to appreciate it. It really does seem that the more you know about the era, the more you are able to enjoy it. (and I'm looking forward to Gilead!)

    L.L.--I hope you do reread it, I'd love to know what you think about it the second time around. I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of those books that benefits from some maturity on the part of the reader.

    Vicky--that love letter at the end is pretty amazing. That may be one of my only complaints about the film adaptation I mentioned, that they don't make the letter easier to hear. What didn't you like about it? I thought they did an amazing job overall. Have you seen the one with Sally Hawkins?

    booksandreviews--if it's the lighthearted romantic humor and social banter that bugs you about Jane Austen, then you'd probably like Persuasion a lot more. There are still elements of those things, but overall it is much more mature of a book.

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  13. I've already got Persuasion sitting on my shelf for a good re-read. I read it last when I was in college, and while I don't remember the finer details I do recall that feeling that Austen had mature a great deal in this novel and that the story was more wholesome.

    Your review has given points to keep in mind while I sit down for an enjoyable re-read.:)

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  14. Thanks for your advice Melody. I will consider reading Persuasion before Sense & Sensibility.

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  15. Yes, this can be read as a simple romance, but as you pointed out there is much more to be gleaned from the book by those who are willing to dig deeper.

    By the way, I at first thought Anne was too wimpy. When I began to understood her as someone much stronger, it transformed my feelings about the book. It's my favorite Austen novel now.

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