After indulging in Dickson’s Illustrated Treasury of all things Jane Austen a few months ago, I knew I had to dive into an Austen novel again. The Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 gave me an excuse to delve into the seemingly simple world that Austen creates.
Many of Austen’s critics believe(d) her writing to be “fluffy”…not of serious substance. But she truly understood the nature of relationships and most of all she understood the plight of women who were unable to marry: destitution and being at the mercy of their relatives awaited. This made for some pretty silly tactics used by women trying to present themselves as a most suitable candidate for Mrs. Austen’s most admired protagonists are women who are aware of their predicament: marriage, and therefore a lifetime of security or a life of ridicule and poverty. Yet, they refuse to settle for anything less than love.
Anne Elliott is by far, my favourite Austen heroine – closely behind is Elizabeth Bennett, naturally. Anne is mature and exudes the many characteristics, that for some reason, have fallen to the way-side in our modern society. Presently, it seems that in order to be admired and in some cases to succeed, a personality that is open, boisterous, busy (and, all things extroverted) is required. Humility, patience, restraint, thoughfulness, reflection, silence (in favour of thought) ~ all things introverted ~ are not quite so readily acceptable, or admired. Only once the introvert has “opened up” if you will, do others notice that we can be just as charming as our extroverted pals. This is precisely why I think Jane Austen created such a wonderful character in Ann Elliott.
In Persuasion, Austen brings us into the daily life of upper class country families. I wish I could spend my days walking through fields, reading, writing and receiving notes, having tea, shopping and visiting friends; then having a really great dinner at my in-laws that would inevitably turn into a lively night of drinking and dancing -being able to sleep in the next morning, and then doing it all over again the next day. Oh, what a difficult life, indeed. Please note, this is the life of Anne’s married sister, Mary. Anne joins in the fun with a controlled temperament, knowing that she is considered extended family and she will have to leave behind all the fun with the Musgrove family soon.
Austen allows us to peek into the feelings of a woman who knows she made a mistake in her youth. She must now watch the man she still loves, Captain Frederick Wentworth (gotta love his name), almost ten years later, appear to fall in love with a much younger, much livelier and lovelier woman whom Anne actually likes. Simultaneously, she must cope with constant belittlement at the hands of her sisters and silly father. Her restraint is astounding.
In the past I’ve heard people say that Austen’s novels are just so boring, and that nothing happens. I can’t argue with that – her plots aren’t exactly quick and exhilirating. But, I guess I love the study in character. And, in case you haven’t picked up on this from my previous posts, I am enamoured with knowing about the way women have lived across the ages and how we still tackle our lives.
Anne Elliott does not “go after her man”. She remains true to her principles. She is herself – quiet, intelligent, a good conversationalist, sweet, compassionate and strong-minded when required. Austen moves the action from the country to Lyme and then to Bath – offering us a deeper look into Anne’s personality with each move.
Wentworth notices that Anne has matured into a centered, beautiful woman. Naturally, it helps that his jealousy is peaked when he sees that Anne is being openly courted by her cousin (an acceptable, even desired, occurence in Austen’s day – that way Anne would get to keep the name Elliott and its accompanying fortune). Inevitably, Wentworth must face his feelings for Anne Elliott and decide which woman he wants.
I have to admit, there were moments where I felt like I was reading an adolescent’s diary of paintstaking details like “he looked at me and then I looked at him and then I had to leave before I could say anything”…but, it was fun.
Persuasion is a short Jane Austen novel with a mature character. If you loved Pride and Prejudice and haven’t gotten around to any other Austen novels, definitely give Perusasion a try. It will not disappoint.