Author: Jane Austen
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.)