Reading Challenges

January 14, 2011

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Jane Austen's Persuasion (1816) is the last novel the author wrote before her untimely death in 1817. In typical Austen fashion, the events of Persuasion revolve around the social complexities of young (and not so young) women battling for the attention of potential suitors and mending their broken hearts from the resulting "war" wounds. Anne Elliot, Austen's quiet-tempered protagonist, has never recovered from her break with former beau, Captain Wentworth, but having caved in to social pressure on the part of a trusted family friend and her snobbish father, Anne abandoned the mutual romance in the name of duty. When the Captain returns after a seven year absence at sea, her heart begins to flutter anew, but the Captain still visibly resents Anne's rejection of their old courtship and laments her previous lack of firm resolve on the matter. Or is he simply hiding behind a wall of defense in order to mask his true feelings that might make him vulnerable to her charms once more? Ah, the existential crises of the upper crust in Austen's day! 

In all seriousness, though, the book does an excellent job of conveying the claustrophobic nature of life, particularly for women of the elite class, in early 19th century century England. While we feel the undercurrent of colonialism via the men's work in the navy and expanding merchantry running underneath the principle storyline, the women are, with few exceptions, confined to sitting rooms and the occasional chaperoned outing where few adventures, except those of the heart and romantic intrigue, await them. Anne's sister Mary, far less good natured than her sibling, is an excellent example of the sad result of women's unfavorable situation: left to only household matters, Mary regularly feigns illness in order to win sympathetic attention and create entertainment where there is none to be found outside the realm of domestic duties. Alternatively, Anne, who always presents a calm front, has silently weathered seven sad and lonely years of "what if?".

Contrary to Emma (which directly preceded Persuasion in 1815), this work failed to draw me in quickly and I struggled through a good 100 pages before I felt any attachment to the novel or its characters. Other works by Austen often begin with an inviting characterization and an entertaining exposition then unfolds, but this was not the case for me with Persuasion. A romantic at heart, however, the last 20 pages more than made up for toughing it out in the beginning. 

I recently came across an interesting article that attempts to explain the revival of Jane Austen's popularity  HERE.

And for entertainment purposes, if you'd like to find your likeness among Jane Austen's leading ladies, I give you the Which Austen Heroine Are You? Quiz. As you can see in the sidebar, it's been determined that I am Marianne Dashwood and for once on an internet quiz, I don't dispute the result. :)


  1. I'm just now reading my first Jane Austen novel, which is Northanger Abbey. I've tried to get into Pride and Prejudice several times in the past, and I never got past the first few pages. I'm pleased I'm finally making some headway and am planning which to read next. It sounds like maybe my next pick should not be Persuasion, though I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.

  2. It's good to hear someone else has had trouble getting into Austen novels! I sometimes feel like the only one who doesn't absolutely worship her. Pride and Prejudice is actually next on my Austen list. I've heard rave reviews, but I sometimes wonder if that isn't due to the film versions that people have enjoyed so much (as the article in my post points out). I found Emma pretty engaging from the get-go, so that might be a nice way to continue with Austen. I love your blog, by the way! :)

  3. Great review. Funny enough, I liked Persuasion more than Emma, and had an easier time reading the former compared to the latter. I found Anne more likable than Emma, albeit a little weaker. :)

    Also, I love your insights regarding the claustrophobic nature of womens' lives during Austen's time. That never occurred to me while reading.

  4. Hi Darlyn, thanks for dropping by. I love hearing about everyone's different experiences with Austen! :) For example, yesterday someone was telling me how much they loved "Pride and Prejudice" and then today Erin (above) mentioned struggling with it.

    I do agree that Anne is far a more likable character than Emma! As a reader, I was really rooting for Anne and that's what makes the ending so satisfying. Emma is just a spoiled little snot! :)

  5. Hey - I'm Marianne Dashwood too! I never meet Mariannes. Everyone is an Elinor. :-)

    I really enjoyed Persuasion. I think it's excellent -- and I love how different Anne is, compared to Elizabeth Bennet. Austen didn't stick with a template. That's awesome...

  6. Hey Jillian, fellow Marianne! Yes! Nice to finally see another another one!

    I'm just about ready to dive into Pride and Prejudice, the most talked about Austen novel I know of! I can't wait to see which side of the fence I'll fall on (or if I fall on any one side at all- LOL).

  7. I hope you love it!! I couldn't stand P&P the first time I read it (though I recognized the talent.) I felt P&P was dull. Then I read Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life, decided I might like Austen after all, reread P&P -- and loved it.

    Hopefully you'll love it, too. :-)


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