As an ardent fan of Austen’s works, I’m excited about watching Persuasion starring Dakota Johnson, out on Netflix on 15th July. And I thought it was a good time to revisit the book.
I read Persuasion much after some of Austen’s others but it quickly became one of my favourites. It is a little different in that it is a more mature story, perhaps because it is her last completed novel (it was published posthumously).
Persuasion talks of a second chance at love.
19-year-old Anne falls in love with the handsome (but penniless and title-less) Captain Wentworth. She is persuaded by her friend and mentor against marrying him. Eight years later Captain Wentworth returns. Now he’s wealthy and very eligible. His time in the Navy has somewhat elevated his social status. While Anne continues to be in love with him, he remains polite but distant. To make matters worse there are younger, more vivacious women vying for his attentions.
Persuasion has all things typical of an Austen novel; long walks that give us glimpses of the English countryside, carriage rides and conversations that help us get to know the characters better as also balls and dancing. These are the reasons why I love Austen so much, this is why I keep going back to her books.
That said, it does put out some ideas that challenge traditional thought. Austen does so rather gently in the most subtle, non-challenging manner, in keeping with Anne’s character.
Anne is no revolutionary. She doesn’t have Elizabeth’s sparkling wit or manner nor Emma’s absolute self-assurance. She is a quiet presence; sedate, sensible and responsible. Austen imbues her with confidence and the capacity for independent thought. For that, she must be applauded.
I love that love plays an important role in Austen’s heroines’ lives
Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot, thinks nothing of Captain Wentworth because he isn’t nobility. Sir Elliot is downright insulting to him. He resents the fact that being in the Navy elevates one’s social status. According to him, one has to be born into nobility. However, Anne is able to look beyond the boundaries of class. She can see the goodness in Captain Wentworth.
Then there’s the titular issue of ‘Persuasion’
At the beginning of the book, Anne is ‘persuaded’ to decline Captain Wentworth’s proposal. That was the norm back then. Girls did pretty much what they were told to do. Austen’s heroines, however, continue to challenge that. Anne grows up to be an independent-minded woman who can stick to her own decisions, and she does.
A second chance at love
Austen believed in second chances. We see it in Pride and Prejudice with Mr Darcy and Elizabeth and we see it again here. That it comes after eight long years makes it even better.
Marriage as an equal partnership
In Persuasion Austen talks about a couple — Admiral Croft and his wife Mrs Croft. They share an idyllic relationship. She travels the world with him while he’s on ship, they redecorate their house together, they even take turns driving their carriage.
It is for all these reasons that I love losing myself in an Austen. It’s like entering a whole different world, one which I am reluctant to walk out of.
Last thought: If you haven’t read this one, do pick it up. It’s a short read and you can wrap it up before the film drops.