by Jane Austen
This has unintentionally become a year for reading Jane Austen. Earlier this year I read Northanger Abbey, a graphic novel of Pride and Prejudice, and the last book in the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trilogy. A few weeks ago I finished Persuasion, Austen's final completed novel, and I have the graphic novel of Sense and Sensibility waiting in my to-be-read pile. Funny how these things work out! I'm almost tempted to try and squeeze in Mansfield Park and Emma, just so I can claim that I read (a version) of every single one of her major works this year.
So Persuasion is about the Elliot family, and more specifically about the middle daughter, Anne Elliot. Several years back, her friend Lady Russell convinced her to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome young man who was not Anne's equal in rank or wealth. He sailed away with the Navy, and in the intervening years amassed a tidy fortune. An improved connection for Anne never materialized, so she is now twenty-seven and likely to be a spinster all her life, especially since her vain father and sister have squandered the family's fortune down to nothing.
This book is so fast-paced compared to her other novels. I felt like I was being rushed from one scene to the next, with characters almost tripping over each other as they were whisked in and out of the narrative. Given that this book was written at the end of Austen's life, when she was quite ill, I wonder if this book was still a working draft, and she meant to add more to it. That's pure speculation, of course, but the book feels a bit unpolished to me.
This may just be the American in me, but I really liked that so many of the characters in Persuasion were self-made men. What's more, the fact that Wentworth and his fellow naval officers had prospered through talent and, admittedly, good luck is celebrated, especially in comparison to a man like Anne's father, Sir Walter, who is virtually useless and can do nothing to help his family when they run into financial troubles.
Anne is such an interesting heroine, too. She's quite a bit older than her fellow Austen heroines, and her maturity makes her quite different from Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse. She has had to live with a regret that increases with every passing year, and her family is more or less indifferent to her. This makes her quite tragic, like a Cinderella stuck, forgotten, in the ashes. But as events in the novel force Anne's world to open up, she blossoms, and I can't help but cheer for her.
This was a fairly middling Jane Austen novel to me. I didn't like it nearly so much as Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey, but it wasn't as if I disliked it. As I said, there were certain aspects about it that I quite liked. It just doesn't quite...sparkle.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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