165. Persuasion by Jane Austen

When I think about Jane Austen and her novels, and try to rank them in my mind by how mature, sombre or serious the story is – while it being witty and full of daggers aimed at society – Persuasion comes on top. Sense and Sensibility also comes to mind, but Persuasion hits a special, morose, gloomy, angsty corner of my heart that makes me want to weep for the proverbial heartbreak (that I have yet to go through).

Over the years of reading Austen, it is clear that she writes with the aim of questioning the senseless societal norms of the 18th-19th century England – which frankly speaking exists even today. The way class, rank, titles like Sir and Lady, barontage and the entire social structural benefited few and caged many others, gives a great insight into the world a few centuries back.

It also shows us how less we have progressed as a society in the 21st century. We’ve got the vaccines – well almost all of them! Come soon COVID-19 antidote – technology, and solutions to seemingly mundane problems that were problematic back then, but what about the matters of the heart? Persuasion is a story of how easily it is to influence the decision of a naive, impressionable heart by reminding it of shallow values like class, rank and wealth.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the daughter of a Baron Sir Walter Elliot; who thinks there is nothing more commendable in a person than being called a “Sir”, wealth, good looks and well good looks. Despite having two sisters, she doesn’t have a warm, sisterly bond with either one of them. They take her for granted, but Anne’s gracious personality, doesn’t cause anyone harm.

Her one friend lies in Lady Russell, her late mother’s good friend, and she shares many thoughts and opinions with her. However, her friend did do her wrong in one aspect.

“My idea of good company…is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.’
‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently, ‘that is not good company, that is the best.”

 

When Anne was 19 she fell in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth, who at the time was an up and coming youth with a promising career in the navy, but with no money or connections. Despite those circumstances, they got engaged but she was persuaded to break it off, citing her father’s rank, how it would reflect for prospective proposals for her sisters and so forth.

“’I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.’

‘Perhaps I shall.

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.’”

But it was true love… and despite getting under Lady Russell and her father’s influence, she broke off the engagement.

Now, 8 years later, their paths collide.

“She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! Alas! She must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.”

Captain Frederick is a man of money, consequence, influence and youth, whereas Anne still holds the sadness and pain of that unfortunate event all those years later, even though she was the one who broke it off. Even though Persuasion shows how their encounters are cold, awkward, and rough in the beginning, it becomes obvious that there is still some hope.

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”

What follows is a story of two lovers finding their paths back to each other, each understanding the folly of their decision, things that got lost in translation and feelings that never died. Persuasion, tugged at my heartstrings, and even though it focuses on Anne and Frederick, there is much to be said about the marital bliss, and love affairs of the other characters involved.

“She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.”

To find out their happy (or not so happy) endings, you will have to read the book, because I won’t spill any more details. I appreciated how Austen, delicately and thoroughly explained the thought process of Anne reaching her decision, and how years later she didn’t regret it, despite the pain it caused.

“There could have never been two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.”

There is so much maturity that can be learned from Anne and the way she handles situations. How she deals with her family, finds no value in titles and urges her family to take frugal measures to not become destitute, and the pressure of society to just be!

“A lady, without a family, was the very best preserver of furniture in the world.”

Anne is very sensible – despite breaking off an engagement – with the way she carries herself and tries not to be become a pawn in the shallow game of titles, connections and egos. There is so much to be said about Persuasion, but I did feel like I was feeding off of the angst the two lovers felt, meeting after 8 years.

I did feel anxious for Anne, stubborn for Frederick, and rolling my eyes at her family, especially her sisters! But this story will touch a lot of desis who understand the pressure and double edged sword called log kiya kahain ge? (what will people say?) that haunts us all even now.

Many people have made choices that caused them pain because of the pressures similar to what Anne felt. And while many of us are in this boat, maybe it is time to dig a hole in the floor, let it sink to the seabed and float above to the surface, and take a deep breath.

Or just read Persuasion to find some solace in fictional characters that depict a very non-fictional reality.

Onto the basics:

  1. Rating: 5.0/5.0
  2. Favorite quote:  “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.”
  3. Reader level: this one has to be hardest Austen I’ve read! Her style of writing isn’t easy to understand. You’ve got to read between the lines, and reread them many times to get her meaning. Or maybe that was just me.
  4. Should you read: Pretty sure you should!
  5. Would I read it again: Oh yes! Definitely, yes!!

Till next time,

-Sarah

 

 

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