For anyone who enjoys a classic love story between a smart young heroine and her suitor, I would recommend any one of Jane Austen’s novels. For me she is one of the greatest authors of all times, writing about independent women when this was very uncommon. Whilst her most famous novel is Pride and Prejudice (1813), she has written countless other novels, which deserve just as much attention.
Unlike many of her other novels, Persuasion is based on personal experience. This involved Jane Austen’s young niece Fanny Knight, who was about to enter a very long engagement. Since she looked up to her aunt and loved her dearly, she asked for her advice on the matter. Jane Austen spoke in favour of the suitor since she liked him. However, she was deeply concerned about the influence and responsibility she was given. She believed that the reason behind an engagement should be love rather than money and shame. Consequently, she tried to explore this further. Whilst most of her novels have this as a theme to some extent, especially Persuasion deals with the influence, which the elders have on the younger girls when it comes to marriage.
The story’s heroine is Anne Elliot, a sensible woman who is part of a family, which neither respects nor acknowledges her. Her father, Sir Walter Elliot and her two sisters Mary and Elizabeth are all very vain and silly and her mother died several years prior to the beginning of the plot. Her closest connection is Lady Russell, who was an intimate friend of Anne’s mother and who has a strong bond with Anne. However, it was Lady Russell who persuaded Anne not to marry her true love Captain Wentworth, due to his low status in society. Whilst Anne does marry him in the end and everything is forgiven, the couple has lost eight years due to Lady Russell’s intervention.
Marriage is a strong theme in almost all of Jane Austen’s books, however, in Persuasion, it is particularly prominent. As a female reader, I am continuously thankful for being born in my time and having the freedom I have, to choose my own partner. In the 1800s, marriage would have determined my success in life. Nevertheless, Jane Austen does show how an unmarried woman could lead a fairly comfortable and successful life, but only if she has the money. Whilst Elizabeth does not marry at all and Lady Russell decides not to marry again, they both have the financial support to make those decisions without dire consequences. Miss Smith, on the other hand, lives in a state of poor health and poverty without the support of a husband. Whilst some might say that this goes against Jane Austen’s message, I believe that that was the reality in those times and she wanted to represent her fictional worlds as accurately as possible.
Most of Jane Austen’s novels feature a strong, ferocious young heroine who is full of life and defies conventions – e.g. Catherine in Northanger Abbey (1817) or Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. However, Anne is nothing of the sort. She is older, in her late twenties, sensible and well-composed. In many ways, she reminds me of Elinor, one of the heroines in Sense and Sensibility (1811). The difference is, that in Sense and Sensibility Marianne counteracts Elinor’s sensibility. In Persuasion, there is no other main character to act as a balance. Whilst Anne’s father, sisters, and Louise and Harriet all act on their impulses and are far less respectable than Anne, there is no real balance as the story is told from Anne’s perspective. Initially, I was slightly disappointed by this, as I enjoy the classic Austen heroine. Nevertheless, soon after my initial disappointment, I noticed that this change in personality added another dimension to the novel. Especially since the essence of all of Jane Austen’s books is the same, this made for an interesting contrast to her usual work.
As someone who has read most of her novels, I would strongly dissuade anyone who likes surprise endings to read Jane Austen. We all know that by the end of the book, the heroine and her suitor will be reunited. However, the way in which this is achieved is always surprising and full of suspense. Persuasion is one of those examples. Whilst I was certain that Anne and Captain Wentworth would marry in the end, Louisa’s fall, her subsequent marriage to Captain Benwick and Mr. Elliott’s motives for re-joining the family made sure I was continuously intrigued.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed reading Persuasion. It is definitely not one of my favourite Austen novels, however, it differs from most of her other novels, which sets it apart.