Updated on August 5, 2015
2. ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen
With ‘Persuasion’, I have now read half of Jane Austen’s novels – a bit of an embarrassing confession for a literature graduate. I have also read ‘Mansfield Park’ (at university) and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (because there’s no excuse with that one).
Having seen television adaptations of the story – in which (from what I remember) Anne weeps more often than she speaks, and spends an inordinate amount of time running across Bath – I was expecting the novel to be a little more overwrought than it was.
The fact that its tone was mellower than I anticipated is no bad thing. Austen handles tense and difficult social situations deftly and realistically, rather than lapsing into the relative melodrama that better suits the screen.
As with ‘Mansfield Park’, I found the main character, Anne, to be a little too virtuous and contained in places. She rarely allows herself to indulge her dreams, and chooses to say too little – rather than too much – in public. Even the final love confession is dealt with in a few distant sentences, which left me feeling a little cheated.
Perhaps the only scene in which she really speaks her mind is in Chapter 23, when she and Captain Harville discuss which of the sexes forgets the other more quickly. This is a not-so-subtle conversation to be having within earshot of Anne’s previous love, Captain Wentworth, and the dialogue (and the letter it transpires Wentworth is writing at the same time) are simply brilliant.
The abundance of names in the novel – typical of the time it was written, maybe – can be confusing. But overall I enjoyed ‘Persuasion’. I loved it when Austen’s cutting, satirical voice showed through, as she poked fun at the more ridiculous characters. And of course, when it’s done well, I do like a happy ending. In fact, Captain Wentworth says:
“I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.”
Auctions are an absolutely fantastic place to find books. When I can, I go to my local auction house and find boxes upon boxes of old, unwanted books (and vinyl records, but that’s another story…).
They tend to be grouped together like with like, so I can skip past the boxes full of trashy chick lit, or crime novels (for some reason I am incapable of following crime/detective stories), and find the stuff I want to read.
Then it’s just a matter of bidding and – after a few hours of standing around, and a cooked breakfast – I go home with a hundred or so books for a tenner. Bargain. This copy of ‘Persuasion’ was from just such an auction, so it probably only cost me a few pennies. Not bad for a classic of nineteenth century literature.
I read it partly on the train, on a weekend trip visiting friends in Bristol – a city which will, hopefully, some time this year, become my new home.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?