My online book club is discussing Persuasion this month. It was great to have an excuse to reread it.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
First of all I should say that I have read Persuasion before, but not for at least ten years. It was so nice to rediscover it because I’d forgotten how much I liked it. Other Austen novels like Pride & Prejudice and Emma pop up so much in popular culture that I feel like they are never far from my mind, Persuasion, though, was a dim memory.
My copy of Persuasion is in a box in the attic of my parents’ house so I listened to one of the versions available through Librivox (version 5, read by Madame Tusk), which I quite enjoyed.
Ok, let’s begin with Anne. I’m sure there is some inaccurate Facebook quiz that will determine which Austen heroine you are, but I think I can easily cast myself as Anne. I am often overlooked even (and especially) when I am the voice of reason. And like with Anne, those who do recognize my worth, appreciate my good judgment and abilities. I am often overpowered by my sister and her strong personality. I dislike (and am not particularly good at) confrontation and (especially at work) often find myself being the person tasked with calming the waves and keeping the place from falling apart when others can’t seem to get along with each other.
One of the discussion questions centered around the fact that Austen once described Anne Elliot as "almost too good for me." I don't find Anne to be too good to be true (of course I've just admitted that I relate to Anne). Yes, I think she is a good person, but she is by no means perfect in her goodness. While she is outwardly good to most everyone, her inner thoughts about certain people are not always charitable. She is at least a bit selfish and occasionally disgruntled about being overlooked and taken for granted. So, perfect she is not, though she may be more "good" than Austen's other heroines.
I was also taken by some of the questions regarding Captain Benwick and his role in Persuasion. Why is Benwick in the story? Well obviously Louisa needed someone to get her unstuck on Captain Wentworth. Even if I hadn't read Persuasion before I wouldn't have been expecting things to progress far with Benwick because Anne was so clearly destined for Captain Wentworth. I think Benwick and Anne were drawn together because of mutual sadness over love lost (and the commonality of being misunderstood by others). I suppose Anne's role was to draw Benwick out enough that he was able to make a connection with Louisa. It also didn't hurt for Wentworth to see Anne giving attention to and getting attention from another man. I think it is telling that Anne suggests to Benwick that he read more prose. Reading the kind of poetry Benwick is drawn to allows him to dwell in and nurture his melancholy rather than begin to get over the death his fiancée and get on with his life.
Of additional interest is Lady Russell and how she was able to persuade Anne to give up Wentworth. The fact that Lady Russell was able to influence Anne shows passivity on Anne's part. I'm not sure whether we can definitely say it was good judgment or not. At least Anne is persuaded by advice from someone worthy of her trust.
At the end of the novel, Anne says that despite the fact that Lady Russell's advice caused her to be separated from Wentworth, she (Anne) was right to have taken it. I'm not sure if Anne would have felt the same way with Wentworth had married someone else though. Hindsight through rose-colored glasses? Though there is also that whole argument against long engagements to help Anne in feeling like she made the right decision at the time.
This all gets to the central question of persuasion. Louisa obviously suffered from her inability to be dissuaded from recklessness so I can't say that anyone could hold her dedication as a model. Early in the novel persuadability seems to be a character flaw, but as it progresses it becomes something that is quite important in moderation.