Persuasion by Jane Austen
“Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?
Jane Austen once compared her writing to painting on a little bit of ivory, 2 inches square. Readers of Persuasion will discover that neither her skill for delicate, ironic observations on social custom, love, and marriage nor her ability to apply a sharp focus lens to English manners and morals has deserted her in her final finished work”.
Unlike the others in the novel, Anne enjoys life in the countryside and does not long for the leisure town, Bath. The countryside reminds her of old memories from when her mother was still alive and when she was not alone. Anne’s “reactions are expressed more through descriptive details than through exposition. The tone of the landscape controls the passage”.
“The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth, and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory”.
(Here, it is clearly seen that Jane Austen was inspired by the Romantic poetry of the early nineteenth century, e.g. Byron).
Anne’s dislike for Bath is presented several times in the story: “first from the circumstance of having been three years at school there, after her mother’s death; and secondly, from her happening to be not in perfectly good spirits the only winter which she had afterwards spent there with herself” (‘Persuasion’). At times, the story of Anne becomes almost autobiographical by Jane Austen e.g. that Jane Austen did not like to live in Bath, she believes in true love but is also aware of the importance of tradition and social status like Anne.
Jane Austen described Anne’s character in a letter to Fanny Knight: “pictures of perfection as you know make me sick and wicked […] you may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me” (‘Letter to Fanny Knight ‘).
Furthermore, biographer Claire Tomalin characterizes ‘Persuasion’ as Austen’s “present to herself, to Miss Sharp, to Cassandra, to Martha Lloyd . . . to all women who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring” (Tomalin, Claire: ‘Jane Austen – A Life’) due to the fact that Jane Austen never married during her life. She was a strong and unique character herself; She accepted a proposal but changed her mind after 12 hours because she did not truly love him.
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”
After saying no to Frederick Wentworth’s proposal, Anne begins to regret the decision and the unhappiness that follows with it eventually affects her so much that she loses the bloom of her youth, expressed by Jane Austen in a letter to her sister, Fanny Knight. With her heart broken, it takes longer than expected to recover from the relationship she had with Frederick
“[…] but not with a few months ended Anne’s share of suffering from it. Her attachment and regrets had, for a long time, clouded every enjoyment of youth, and an early loss of bloom and spirits had been their lasting effect”.
Anne challenges society’s norms and expectations of the 19th Century’s ideal vision of a woman. The fact that they mostly think and act with their hearts creates a portrayal in literature which is considered very modern compared to society of the time.
“…when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure.”
Unlike Jane Austen’s other stories (“Pride and Prejudice”, “Emma”, “Mansfield Park”, and so on), it is very different and does not compare itself easily, due to Anne’s age (27) which is quite old, so she has more experience and more of her own voice than the other female characters that we know of.
But Anne is indeed a true heroine. The story touched me deeply and every time I think of my time in Bath, I smile.
As a reader you experience all of Anne’s thoughts vividly, you feel her pain and sorrow, and you feel the hope that she keeps on clinging to.
A beautiful and spell-bound story!