Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A young woman listens to her elders and mentors that the man she loves is not a good—social—match for her and breaks her engagement, she regrets it ever since. Persuasion is the last completed novel of Jane Austen that was published after her death, which follows a woman who must interact with her former fiancée now a war hero.

The story begins seven years after the broken engagement of Anne Elliot to Frederick Wentworth, the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall and a young undistinguished naval officer with a low social standing. Anne’s father and her older sister, Elizabeth, maintained that Wentworth was no match for a woman of their family and Lady Russell, a distant relative whom Anne considers to be a second mother, sees the relationship as imprudent for one so young and persuaded Anne to break off the engagement. All this happens when Anne’s younger sister Mary was away at school. The story begins the Elliot family is in financial trouble on account of their lavish spending, so they rent out Kellynch Hall and decide to settle in a cheaper home in Bath until their finances improve. Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s new companion, Mrs. Clay, look forward to the move; Anne is less sure. Mary is married to Charles Musgrove of Uppercross Hall, the heir to a respected local squire. Anne visits Mary and her family, where she is well-loved. As the war against France is over, the tenants of Kellynch Hall, Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia—Frederick’s sister—have returned home. Wentworth, now wealthy and famous for his service in the war, visits his sister and meets the Uppercross family where he crosses paths with Anne. The Musgroves, including Mary, Charles, and Charles’ sisters Henrietta and Louisa, welcome the Crofts and Wentworth, who makes it known that he is ready to marry. Anne still loves Wentworth, so each meeting with him requires preparation for her own strong emotions. She overhears a conversation in which Louisa tells Wentworth of Charles first proposed to Anne, who turned him down. This news startles Wentworth, and Anne realizes that he has not yet forgiven her for letting herself be persuaded to end their engagement years ago. Anne and the young adults of the Uppercross family accompany Wentworth on a visit to see two of his fellow officers, Captains Harville and Benwick, in the coastal town of Lyme Regis. Benwick is in mourning over the death of his fiancée, Harville’s sister, and he appreciates Anne’s sympathy and understanding. They bond over their mutual admiration for the Romantic poets. Anne attracts the attention of Mr William Elliot, her cousin and a wealthy widower who is heir to Kellynch Hall despite having broken ties with her father years earlier. On the last morning of the visit, the youthful Louisa sustains a serious concussion at the sea wall while under Capt. Wentworth’s supervision. Anne coolly organizes the others to summon assistance. Wentworth is impressed with Anne’s quick thinking and cool headedness, but feels guilty about his actions with Louisa, causing him to re-examine his feelings for Anne. Louisa, due to her delicate position, is forced to recover at the Harvilles’ home in Lyme for months. Benwick, who was a guest as well, helps in Louisa’s recovery by attending and reading to her, resulting in them getting engaged. Following Louisa’s accident, Anne joins her father and sister in Bath with Lady Russell while Louisa and her parents stay at the Harvilles’ in Lyme Regis for her recovery. Wentworth visits his older brother Edward in Shropshire. Anne finds that her father and sister are flattered by the attentions of their cousin William Elliot, secretly believing that if he marries Elizabeth, the family fortunes will be restored. William flatters Anne and offhandedly mentions that he was “fascinated” with the name of his future wife already being an “Elliot” who would rightfully take over for her late Mother. Although Anne wants to like William, the attention and his manners, she finds his character opaque and difficult to judge. The Crofts arrive in Bath with the news that Louisa engagement to Benwick. Wentworth travels to Bath, where his jealousy is piqued by seeing William trying to court Anne. Wentworth and Anne renew their acquaintance. Anne visits Mrs Smith, an old school friend, who is now a widow living in Bath under strained circumstances. From her, Anne discovers William’s true nature. The Musgroves visit Bath to purchase wedding clothes for Louisa and Henrietta—long engaged to a cousin—both soon to marry. Wentworth and Harville encounter them and Anne at the Musgroves’ hotel in Bath, where Wentworth overhears Anne and Harville discussing the relative faithfulness of men and women in love. Deeply moved by what Anne Wentworth writes her a note declaring his feelings for her. Outside the hotel, Anne and Wentworth reconcile, affirm their love for each other, and renew their engagement. William leaves Bath with Mrs Clay soon following him to become his mistress, ensuring that he will inherit Kellynch Hall. Lady Russell admits she was wrong about Wentworth and befriends the new couple. Once Anne and Wentworth have married, Wentworth helps Mrs Smith recover the remaining assets that William had kept from her. Anne settles into her new life as the wife of a Navy captain.

A lot of things happen in a short about of pages, but Austen’s writing made it all come together well. Anne is not the greatest protagonist that Austen has written but given she comes after Emma and Catherine she is welcome change especially since she is older than most, if not all, of Austen’s other protagonists. None of the other characters really stand out, but it was interesting that Anne’s younger sister Mary was written as the annoying character instead of the usual widowed or unmarried older relative.

Persuasion is a fine novel, while it is not Jane Austen’s best work it is not her worst either. While I would not recommend it as your first Austen novel to read, I would recommend it if you’ve enjoyed one of her best works.

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