It has been a long time since I read any Jane Austen. Brought up on the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, I read what was the proscribed Austen intake at school without a worry. So when Persuasion came my way from a friend who was getting rid of her second copy, I thought I would continue my canonical education. However at first, I regretted the impulse. The narration seemed so dry; the comedy of manners totally overwhelmed by the officiousness of the dull manners themselves. But slowly, surely, my gosh Captain Wentworth and his broodiness; Anne Elliot and her sharp and caring mind: I fell totally in love. It was a slow burn of a book that completely paid of with a delightfully gorgeous ending.
Our heroine is Anne Elliot, middle of three daughters of Sir Walter, a vacuous, prideful man, concerned only with the inheritance of his Baronacy and appearances. With their mother dead at a young age, eldest sister Elizabeth is the lady of the house and the favourite of Sir Walter; youngest Mary is married and living nearby; and kind and smart Anne is forgotten by all with the exception of her mother’s old friend and Anne’s, Lady Russell.
Persuaded by the advice of Lady Russell eight years earlier, Anne broke off an engagement with Captain Wentworth, by all accounts an amorous meeting of the minds but an ill-advised one considering station and duty to her family. Through somewhat vexing circumstance and coincidences, Captain Wentworth and Anne meet again all those years later. It is tough, and she continues to attempt to remain unmoved by his presence, as he becomes part of her social circle when she stays with Mary when her father and Elizabeth move to Bath.
I really had to tell myself to be patient with the narration of Persuasion. The manner was so dry, so unfeeling and distanced, everything in the present tense and full of confusing commas and an almost abusive frequency of semi-colons. But the commitment was so, so worth it. The rising agitation, the glow in the cheeks, the memory of feeling through all those years, the confusion, the hurly burly of the social circles, how to talk, how to ascertain if he feels the same way! Oh!
And that ultimate letter from Captain Wentworth: to discover it on the table, to hold yourself together, to get outside and walk and indulge in the joyous thoughts and feelings it gives you:
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half home. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago…I have loved none but you.”
There is a lot to get through to reach this jubilation of a culmination, but all the manners and rules and back and forth was so worth it.
It all feels like classic Austen. There are bad relatives, prideful fathers, silly sisters, big houses and a trip to the sea that changes everything. It is full of fuss, narrated at a distance, almost stifled by convention and rules, but Anne is a strong, interesting character and the slow burn romance with Captain Wentworth is delightful to relish in.