BR: ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen

Anne Elliot, the protagonist of ‘Persuasion’, is the oldest Austen heroine by far, at the ripe old age of 27. She was persuaded by her mentor to reject the proposal of her first love and has regretted it ever since. When they are thrown together years later, she finds that he still resents her dismissal and must watch as he becomes entangled with someone else, with the ever-growing fear that happiness will never be hers. This was certainly an interesting premise, and ‘Persuasion’ has been recommended to me by several people, yet it is probably my least favourite Austen novel (the only one I haven’t read is ‘Mansfield Park’).

There were still many enjoyable aspects to the book. I liked the descriptions of the vain Sir Walter, whose room is full of mirrors, and Anne’s selfish sister Mary, who is continually convinced that she is being ill-used by others. Captain Wentworth’s constancy to Anne and final letter to her were also very romantic. As was only to be expected, the text was sprinkled with witty and often scathing remarks from the narrator, such as this description of a very one-sided conversation: ‘minutiae which, even with every advantage of taste and delicacy good Mrs. Musgrove could not give, could be properly interesting only to the principals.’ 

I know that ‘Persuasion’ is supposed to be more serious in tone and subject matter, perhaps because it was written towards the end of Jane Austen’s life, but I cannot help but feel that it does not have the charm of books such as ‘Emma’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’. In these novels almost all of the characters have amusing quirks or endearing features, yet in ‘Persuasion’ I found that there was nothing particularly memorable about several members of the supporting cast, such as the Miss Musgroves and the Harvilles. Even the more entertaining characters like Sir Walter and Elizabeth were rather one-dimensional. Captain Wentworth was not my favourite hero – he was clearly very noble and loyal but I never really got a feel for his personality. Anne was a pretty bland heroine, so flawless that her thoughts alone were ‘almost enough to spread purification and perfume all the way‘. I realise that I was supposed to feel sympathy for the crippled Mrs Smith but her air of martyrdom just irritated me.

I understand that this review is quite harsh but it is only because I was disappointed. I admit that the first time I read ‘Northanger Abbey’, I did not enjoy it at all, but after returning to it years later it went up hugely in my estimation. Perhaps I will give it a few years and a re-read will persuade me to change my opinion in this case, too.

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