“Persuasion” by Jane Austen

persuasion1Wikipedia tells us that this is Jane Austen’s last completed novel, finished in August 1816 and published that December. She died the following year, aged 41.

Compared to Austen’s previous works, the novel is said to employ a more biting satire against some of the novel’s characters. “Persuasion” is arguably the unifying theme of the story,  with vignettes within the story as variations on that theme. However, there is no record of what Austen intended to call her novel and apparently she spoke of the book as The Elliots. It was Jane’s brother Henry who named the published novel after her untimely death.

Of the story: the heroine, Anne Elliot, has a regretful and resigned outlook for the first part. Against this is set the energy and appeal of the Royal Navy, which symbolises the possibility of a more outgoing, engaged, and fulfilling life. It is this world view which triumphs for the most part at the end of the novel.

The book has some parallels to Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Both of the novels are set partly in fashionable Bath, a city with which Austen was well acquainted. Both portray the superficial social life of the city.

We read this in April 2014, when six people attended the meeting and three more sent comments by email.

The book was fairly well liked, though some complained of the lack of action: one reader described the plot as “Louisa Musgrove falls off a wall”. We also regretted the lack of any comic characters comparable to Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mrs Elliott. 

For a number of us, the expectations raised by Pride and Prejudice or Emma were not fulfilled, leading perhaps to greater disappointment than would otherwise have been the case. However, one reader had read it twice and enjoyed it far more the second time.

We felt that the novel could have offered a more enjoyable reading experience if Austen had revised it more. We wondered if she had been prevented from this by her oncoming illness.

One reader suggested that the book had a more serious and critical look at aspects of society, unrelieved by humour.  The book also allowed Austen to express great admiration for the navy and naval officers (according to Wikipedia, two of Jane Austen’s brothers were in the navy, ultimately rising to the rank of admiral).

The book received scores ranging from 3 to 7.5, giving an average of 6.4 from 9 readers.

Plenty of other bloggers have offered reviews of Persuasion, including 

Savidge Reads, who enjoyed the book despite finding the first page to be “mind numbing and off putting” and Stewartry, who loves the book but dislikes Lady Russell.

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2 Comments

  1. malcolmbbc

     /  July 11, 2014

    Bill wasn’t able to make the meeting, so sent these thoughts instead:

    Well the woman could certainly write. (Even though she was rejected by 18 modern publishers in a barely altered script presentation: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/jul/19/books.booksnews )

    I love Austen’s language: there’s an elegance and a rhythm to it. Each sentence seems crafted. She wrote with such humour and insight; and her wonderful observations of people and society seem accurate, even contemporarily. I was surprised, though, when I thought about it – and checked the text – how little imagery she writes. There’s hardly a metaphor or a simile in the entire text; and no descriptions of scenery: just people, society, propriety and manners. The odd allusion, but little illuminating; instead, she’s factually descriptive of people and places, with little embroidery, though she does intrude more as an author in this novel than I remember in her others.

    She is a keen observer of human behaviour, of everyday interaction; and she sees the humour in all of it: she makes us laugh at ourselves.

    Her sympathetically warm irony often embraces father figures. In Emma we have Mr Woodhouse; in Pride we have Mr Bennett; and here we have Sir Walter. But Persuasion has such weak male figures, that I felt it lost some of the satire. Are the female figures any stronger? Lady Dalrymple is no Catherine De Burgh, and Anne Elliot is no Elizabeth Bennett. For me, the novel falls short on character.

    Where did Austen gain her knowledge of character? She must have read a lot, or gone out a lot. In 1800, the population of England was only 7.5 million. This doubled in 50 years, and again in the next 50. In 1900 the population was 30 million: and the movement into towns over that hundred years was similarly dramatic. The population of Bath in 1800 was just 27,000, only 6,000 more than currently reside in Belper. Life expectancy in Austen’s time was poor: no wonder they worried at every sign of a cold, and every incident of an injury, like the one that overcame Louisa in Lyme Regis.

    And what is it about Lyme Regis that attracts so much attention from authors! Is it that all physical history is laid bare there, so it must seethe with human history?

    Jane Austen obviously liked people; and she liked them to do good – in a modest, understated way. She invites us to judge them, and the reader can’t help but be drawn in, by the wonderful writing, to do exactly that. Anne Elliot copes with the Lyme Regis crisis in exemplarily fashion, and we admire her for it; as does Captain Wentworth.

    For me, it’s not the best of Austen; but it’s a wonderful book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, for the first time, thank you.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for the link! (I really do loathe Lady Russell…)

    Reply

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