Monday, March 12, 2012

Persuasion

I have to tell you the story of Persuasion. I love this book SO MUCH. I just finished it and need to talk with someone about it, so this blog will have to do! I'm going to tell the whole story. I assume that if you haven't read the book by now, you're not going to. And if you are -- well, Austen's books ALL end happily, so it's not exactly a surprise to learn ahead of time that the star-crossed lovers wind up together. There you go. Stop reading now if you want to read the book and don't want to know any of the details.

Anne Elliot is the good daughter of a stupid and prideful man, Sir Walter Elliot. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, is quite as vain as he is, and his youngest daughter, Mary, is almost as bad. Anne, however, is a gem -- not as feisty as Elizabeth Bennett, but that is perhaps her only flaw. Their mother died when Anne was fourteen years old and since that time her mother's close friend, Lady Russell, has taken over that parental role.

When Anne was young she fell in love with a good, but poor, man named Frederick Wentworth. They wanted to marry, but Anne's family was not in favor of the match. Lady Russell, in particular, opposed it. Anne was persuaded to give him up but never stopped loving him.

The novel picks up eight years later. In those intervening years Sir Walter's fortunes have sunk: he has been living beyond his income and is now forced to make changes in his living situation. Frederick's fortunes have headed in the opposite direction: as a captain in the Royal Navy he has amassed twenty-five thousand pounds.

The two meet again and, because it's Jane Austen, they have to go through a number of gyrations and misunderstandings before they are able, at last, to profess their love for each other. There are other story lines and characters worth knowing, but Austen's readers read her for the love story more than anything else.

This book contains my very favorite of Austen's love scenes. Frederick and Anne have been thrown together often. Frederick at first thinks that Anne is in love with -- maybe even engaged to -- a cousin of hers, William Elliot. She is able, by offhand remarks, to give him hope that perhaps she loves him still. Finally, he can stand it no longer. He is writing a letter on behalf of a friend while Anne and another friend, Captain Harville, have a conversation. The two men get up and leave, but Frederick returns almost immediately, to pick up his gloves which he had left behind. He walks over to the table where he had been sitting, looks at Anne, and picks up a piece of paper on which he has been writing. He sets it down and leaves. She walks over and sees that the paper is actually a letter addressed to her.

"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant...I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."

Sigh. "You pierce my soul." I LOVE that.

The only flaw in Austen's books is that after she brings the lovers together she ends the book three pages later. I always want more. I think that Pride & Prejudice is my very favorite book of all time, but this novel makes it into my top five and at this exact minute I cannot imagine loving any book more. This was Austen's last novel. She began it as soon as she had finished writing Emma; Austen died before the book was published.

90. I am so thankful for Jane Austen. She died too soon, but the six novels with which we are left are masterful. (Well -- I read Mansfield Park and hated it, but I am going to give it another try.)

More later...

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