Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Reviewed by Lucia and Ingrid

This is our very first time participating in the Classics Circuit. This review is part of the Dueling Authors: Austen vs. Dickens tour.
Persuasion by Jane Austen

Published: 1818

It's about: Eight years ago, Anne Elliot fell in love with an ambitious and goodhearted, but poor man. Despite his promises of what he would become and be capable of providing her with, Anne allows herself to be persuaded out of their engagement. Presently, Anne remains unmarried and living with her vain yet harmless father and snobbish older sister, with Lady Russell, her friend and primary influence, frequently hovering near by. When the man Anne once rejected, the now Captain Wentworth, suddenly re enters her social circle, Anne is forced to remember the affection they once shared and wonders if they will be able to persuade themselves to love each other again.

Lucia thought: This is a very subtle book. Austen never gives anything away about the characters, although I did find the plot mildly predictable. I found that this is the primary way in which Austen creates the mood and pace surrounding the community in which her story takes place. Although the plot follows Anne's character, her quiet yet observant personality does not give the reader much chance to understand her. What the reader is often presented with, however, is opinions and remarks from smaller characters which generally have a more exposed personality. For example, it's easy to disregard Sir Walter Elliot's view of Anne because he is such a silly character, whereas flatter characters such as the Mr and Mrs Musgrove present more believable opinions because society sees them as gentle and sensible. In this way, not only are we able to comprehend Anne's personality, but Austen gives us a thorough portrayal of society. In my opinion, this is what makes Austen's work, and in particular Persusasion memorable (not to mention the weddings, of course).

Ingrid thought: I've always been hesitant about Jane Austen. However, after reading The Annotated Persuasion edited by David M. Shapard I definitely admire Austen's writing more than I ever have before. Shapard's annotations helped me realize is how complex the story is psychologically and how Austen purposefully had every single element work to move along the plot. An example of this complexity revealed through an annotation is in volume II, chapter VII, when Anne Elliot is talking to Captain Wentworth:
Emotion: agitation. Her 'fixing her eyes on the ground' here parallels his 'looking not exactly forward' just above; each evidently finds it difficult to look at the other. Her looking even more away corresonds both to her generally more reserved character and to the greater modesty that women were expected to show, especially when talking to men. 
I never would have known that the word "emotion" in this context specifically meant "agitation," and I loved how Shapard pointed out the subtle parallel between Anne and Wentworth. I loved this annotated edition of Persuasion and would recommend it to anyone else hesitant about Austen.

Verdict: We both agree that this one is absolutely going on the shelf. Lucia would even put it over Pride and Prejudice as Austen's best.

Our favorite excerpts: 'She might have been absolutely rich and perfectly healthy, and yet be happy.'

'Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him, that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel, that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness, as a very resolute character.'

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