Before reading Persuasion, the only novel I had ever read by Jane Austen was Pride and Prejudice, which I adored. I actually read the two back to back, which I quickly realized was a bit of a mistake. I found there to be a distinct difference in the tones of these two novels, and I was not expecting the more melancholy mood of Persuasion directly after finishing the more upbeat P&P. Elated by the love finally blossoming between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, I was disappointed when I realized that Persuasion would not deliver the same cheery spirit, at least not at first.
One of the major strengths of Persuasion is Austen’s ability to make you really feel for Anne, the main character. You can tell that she is obviously not happy with her life, yet she has come to terms with this. I couldn’t help but feel incredibly sorry for her, and I found that I could relate with her a lot more than I thought I would be able to. Haven’t we all felt lonely before at one point or another? My heart ached for Anne as she struggled with her unreciprocated feelings for Wentworth, and I’m sure that my heart was not alone in doing this. Again, haven’t we all had feelings for someone that were never mutual? The problems that Anne faces are ones that people still confront today, making readers all the more interested and invested in her plight.
Yet somehow Anne manages to balance her misery with what seems to be happiness. Moments of loneliness and sorrow are masked with a blanket of contentment by the clever hands of Anne. Take this scene, for example:
“The evening ended with dancing. On its being proposed, Anne offered her services, as usual, and though her eyes would sometimes fill with tears as she sat at the instrument, she was extremely glad to be employed, and desired nothing in return but to be unobserved.”
Even though Anne is obviously very sad– there are tears in her eyes!– she puts a positive twist on the situation by being grateful for her usefulness (I believe she is playing an instrument in this scene). I suspect that her optimism is a form of self-preservation, a way of protecting herself from the emotional pain she is actually feeling. Anne’s inner strength and positivity is both remarkable and admirable, especially in light of the way her peers treated her. People viewed her as someone destined to live alone forever, someone who was nothing more than an old spinster, essentially. However, Anne did not let their negative opinions prevent her from being a hopeful, intelligent, and kindhearted woman. She does not compromise her wit and independent personality in an attempt to win Wentworth back; instead, Anne continues living her life as usual, unwilling to change herself simply to appease a man. For this reason, Anne was definitely my favorite aspect of Persuasion.
I have no complaints whatsoever about the ending; in fact, the last third or so of the novel was the most exciting and surprising part. There was actually a twist that I definitely wasn’t expecting, but I won’t say anything more about it so I don’t spoil anything for anyone. Moreover, I really liked the final conclusion of the novel. It was certainly predictable and I basically knew what would ultimately happen from the very beginning, but there’s no denying that it was adorable, sweet, and absolutely well-deserved by Anne.
Despite these positive aspects, I was nevertheless disappointed by the rather lackluster plot up until the end. The pace was extremely slow and not much seemed to happen in terms of major events, with the exception of a woman falling and fainting. I couldn’t help but compare it to the more fast-paced, exciting P&P, in which opinions and personalities were always changing. This novel is only a little over two hundred pages long, yet I still feel as though it could have been shorter without taking away much from the general arch of the story.
Overall, Persuasion is certainly an enjoyable novel that is well worth reading; however, I don’t believe that it is Jane Austen’s best work. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to reading more by Austen in the future!
What are your thoughts on Persuasion? What Jane Austen novel would you recommend I read next? (I’ve only read this one and P&P.) Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel? Let me know in the comments section below!