Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion is a quiet novel, with a quiet heroine who is the exact opposite of the bold and headstrong Elizabeth Bennett, the famous heroine of Pride and Prejudice.  Anne Eliot, who Austen herself once described as “rather too good for me,” is shy, reserved, and gentle.  When a very young lady of nineteen, she was courted by a young man whom her overbearing family considered unsuitable for her.  Despite all her own wishes, she was persuaded to give him up, and Frederick Wentworth, who is the bold and headstrong character in this novel, was offended as well as heartbroken, and in consequence left the country.

The real action of the novel begins eight years after this episode, when Frederick Wentworth—now Captain Wentworth of the navy—comes back into Anne’s life.  Released from his duties by the war’s end, he comes to stay with his sister and her husband, who happen to live in Anne’s vicinity.  There he makes a dashing figure among the ladies.  Anne, whose long-ago history with him is generally unknown, has the pain of seeing him cool and distant only with her.

Captain Wentworth is in some ways the most interesting character in the book.  Anne’s feelings, despite her family’s unfortunate interference, have never wavered, but Wentworth is clearly reveling in angry pride and unaware of the true nature of his feelings toward Anne.  His high-spirited manners toward the ladies eventually land him in deep trouble—an implied engagement that he feels honor-bound to keep.  Only when he is nearly parted from her forever does Captain Wentworth come to his senses and recognize that the person he truly loves is Anne.

To use the words of Shakespeare’s Puck, “the path of true love never did run smooth.”  Of course, Anne and Captain Wentworth are reunited and finally married, but the fun is in following the twists and turns, which in this novel include one of the most dramatic scenes Austen ever wrote, as well as her finest proposal scene.

Jane Austen is one of my favorite writers, and this is one of my favorite of her novels.  Anne’s kind, gentle heart wins over more than one character in this book.  There is something so satisfying about seeing an underrated jewel of a person finally noticed and esteemed as she should be.

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