I hadn’t planned on re-reading Persuasion this month, but I had such good memories of reading it the first time that I couldn’t help peeking in when I sat down with my Jane Austen reader for Austen in August. I remember loving the sweet story of how Anne Elliot and her Captain Wentworth were thwarted in love the first time, only to be reunited years later, older and wiser. I remember liking it even more than Pride and Prejudice. To be honest, though, I was a little fuzzy on the details.
She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.
I settled into the story like sitting down in a cozy cafe with an old friend. Austen’s writing is so immediately familiar, so inviting, that you can’t help but want to sink into it. Reading Austen is the ultimate in comfort reading for me, and Persuasion in particular because Anne Elliot is so likable and relatable.
The writing has all the trademark Austen qualities–wit, social satire, and ridiculous family members (the whole Elliot family, with the exception of Anne, is a bit of a disaster). The heroine is one whose true worth is found not in her wealth, but in her character, and Anne is very good (while also being possessed of a noble status, natch). Austen manages not to write her as a stereotype, though, because we see that she gets as exasperated with her family as the reader does, even if she seems to bear them with the patience of a saint. I like that Anne prefers the warmth and openness of the naval family and friends of Captain Wentworth more than the company of her own noble relations.
Wentworth, of course, has to have something going for him, and so he’s made his fortune over the past eight years that he and Anne have been apart. She is no longer marrying beneath her in choosing him. Being the constant lovers that they are, neither of the couple have moved on with someone else, so the only thing standing in their way is their pride and need for reassurance. They both need to be persuaded that the other has not forsaken them.
This is accomplished almost entirely with actions, rather than words. The main thing I noticed about Persuasion this time around was that the main characters hardly ever speak to one another directly. At first, it’s because they are both shy and unsure, but even later there is very little dialogue between them. Yet by the last few chapters of the book, Anne seems absolutely sure that Wentworth is still in love with her wholly based on the way he acts and the things he says to other people, something which I found quite astonishing. Can so much really be conveyed without words?
That confidence was one of the things that impressed me that most about their love story–Anne is so sure of Wentworth, to the point the his eventual declaration hardly comes as a surprise, even as she is delighted by it. I couldn’t help but feel that they knew each other well, despite their years apart, and that they had a solid base on which to build a life together.