I was hoping to like and understand Persuasion better than I did thirteen years ago. Unlike my re-reading of Sense and Sensibility, it wasn’t that successful. Persuasion is quite a short novel. It was published posthumously in 1818, along with an earlier written novel, Northanger Abbey, and with a few pages of biography written by Henry Austen (brother of Jane).
The novel’s main character is Anne Elliot, who at the age of nineteen had to break off an engagement to Frederick Wentworth, an officer in the Navy. Her father, Sir Walter, is a terrible snob and won’t associate with most people, including the Navy. The story takes place as the Elliots are obliged to let their ancestral home, due to financial issues. By coincidence, their new tenants are friends with Captain Wentworth and so Anne can’t avoid meeting her former admirer again. She’s twenty-seven now and still waiting for a suitable match. A suspiciously smooth cousin is in the picture too. You can kind of guess what will happen in the end.
I liked the characters we’re supposed to like – Anne and Captain Wentworth. The rest of the characters are unpleasant and not even in a ‘love to hate them’ way. No one really values Anne’s opinions and they gossip about her when she’s in the room with them. The story isn’t a romance, in my opinion. It’s a commentary on the oppression of young unmarried women in this era, who were dependent on the income and goodwill of their families.
The writing certainly shows how Jane Austen’s style matured over time and I can see that the novel is a sophisticated achievement. Yet, there is not much dialogue and very little humour compared to her previous novels. I just didn’t find it very engaging.
This edition was by Oxford World’s Classics (2004) with an introduction by Deirdre Shauna Lynch. I discuss the 2007 film adaptation in this post.