I always approach reviewing or even commenting on a classic novel, in a public domain with some fear and trepidation. I’m not quite sure what I can write that could ever do justice or add to the wealth of comments already out there. However this is one of the classics that I decided to read as part of my 5 literary classics for 2016 and so for what its worth I shall add my thoughts.
You’ll see from the picture that my copy is just a little battered. This edition is from 1968. I picked it up in a second-hand book shop for 20p years ago and I love it! Even as I was reading it bits of the cover were dropping off. I like to think of it as much loved, and well read copy that has passed through many eager hands.
Anyway, down to the novel itself. Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot. Anne had the misfortune to be born in to a snobbish English middle class family. Some years before she had been engaged to the naval officer Captain Fredrick Wentworth. Her questionable family and in particular her friend Lady Russell felt he lacked both fortune and character and had persuaded her to break off her engagement. Fortunes have turned since then and the Elliott family as a result of the spend thrift ways of Anne’s father Sir Walter have been forced to rent their home Kellynch Hall to Admiral and Mrs Croft and retreat to Bath. Captain Wentworth is the brother of Mrs Croft and by way of this connection has now come back into Anne’s life, reigniting those long hidden feelings.
There are few characters who deserve sympathy in this novel. Anne’s father is careless, her sister Elizabeth is selfish and her sister Mary is ungrateful and self-absorbed. Anne on the other hand is entirely likeable . She is selfless, kind, patient, bright and considerate. All these qualities endear her to the reader and has us onside early on as we root for Anne and Captain Wentworth’s love to be rekindled. As is the way the course of true love does not run smoothly and Anne must endure an interminable time with her sister Mary and outings with Mary’s frivolous sister in-laws Louisa and Henrietta. In the end it is Louisa’s recklessness which brings Anne to Captain Wentworth’s attention, as she deals calmly and quickly with an accident Louisa had when to all intents and purposes she was flirting with Wentworth.
For a while it seemed that Louisa would be engaged to Captain Wentworth. However during her convalescence she diverts her attentions elsewhere. Anne expresses such relief when she realises that Captain Wentworth is not engaged to Louise. She allows her self to hope as we the readers are also hoping.
“No, it was not regret which made Anne’s heart beat in spite of herself, and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate. They were too much like joy, senseless joy!”
Despite Anne’s quiet nature and Captain Fredrick Wentworth’s gentlemanly ways there is passion in this novel, none more so than when he declares his love to Anne.
“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 hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant……”
I wanted to cheer at this point. It would be hard to find a woman more deserving of such passion than the tolerant, patient and intelligent Anne Elliot. In Austen terms, at the ripe old age of 28, Anne is ‘mature’ and it is pleasing to see an ‘older’ heroine find happiness.
Pride and Prejudice still remains my favourite Austen novel but I’m pleased to have finally read Persuasion and have no doubt that I will do so again in the future.