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Persuasion - Jane Austen
Member Name: AbsintheFairy
Persuasion - Jane Austen
Advantages: Absorbing story
Disadvantages: Not as humorous as Austen's earlier work
From Jane Austen's first full-length novel to her last: after reviewing Northanger Abbey, I've moved on to Persuasion. Both novels were published together after Austen's death in 1818, but whereas Northanger Abbey had been completed in 1798, Persuasion had been finished only two years before, in 1816. It is more subdued than Austen's previous novels, particularly the youthful Northanger Abbey (especially as both are set partly in Bath), but it is still a very enjoyable novel.
Persuasion tells the story of 27-year-old Anne Elliot, daughter of the vain Sir Walter Elliot, and sister to the haughty Elizabeth and selfish Mary. Several years before the story began, Anne fell in love with the dashing Captain Wentworth but in view of his position in society and his unlikely prospects she was dissuaded from the match by her well-meaning friend, Lady Russell. Now, the family home of Kellynch Hall must be let to save money, and the new tenant Admiral Croft is the brother-in-law of Captain Wentworth which makes his presence in the area inevitable. Will Anne be allowed a second chance at love?
I have read the novel a few times now and I find it a very easy book to read. It is shorter than many of Austen's novels, and has a comparatively simple plot compared to, say, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. While I was reading it I was never in a great deal of doubt as to the eventual fate of the central character. Many of the characters seem to be toned down from previous Austen creations, such as Elizabeth Bennett's sisters. Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, for example, while being rather flighty, are not really malicious or nasty, and Anne's sister Elizabeth, though she is certainly a character to be disliked, doesn't have a great deal of impact on the story. On the other hand, the characters are well-described and Anne's feelings are particularly well-documented: it is a testament to Austen's talent that the story remains absorbing and moving even though it is reasonably obvious what is going to happen.
The novel is interesting for having as a main character a woman who was 'past her sell-by date' as far as the early nineteenth century was concerned: an unmarried woman of this age was well on her way to being left on the shelf. The unmarried Austen was growing older herself and the book may have been written partly as a comfort to her and other women who felt they were 'past-it'.
The book also deals with the issue of old versus new money. Sir Walter Elliot represents the old landed gentry, and is not a wonderful example - he is lazy, obsessed with titles and unwilling to cut down on his expenditure, leading to the necessity of letting the family home in order to save money. Lady Russell is another example: much more sensible, kind and decent than Sir Walter, she is nevertheless blinded by status and position. These two are contrasted with Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft, who make their money in the navy and are portrayed as kind and decent.
Though I found the novel's ending to be in part predictable, there is a sense of unease which is explained by the date of the novel's completion and the events which took place in real life shortly afterwards. Will there be a happy ending?
Overall, Persuasion is not my favourite Austen novel, lacking in the satire and strong humour to mark her earlier work. However, it has strong characters and is an absorbing read, so I definitely recommend it.
Summary: Jane Austen's final novel