Inspired once more by a trip to Bath I am re-reading Persuasion. I love all of Austen's writing; Sense and Sensibility, the story of the two contrasting sisters, Eleanor and Marianne; Northanger Abbey with a very silly heroine and a sharp amusing poke at Gothic tales; Mansfield Park, at first a difficult read with an irritatingly priggish heroine Fanny, but perhaps in the end, her greatest work and, of course, Pride and Prejudice about which nothing need be said. I have read all of them many times, too numerous to count, but my favourite of them all is Persuasion.
Persuasion is Jane Austen's last book and it has an autumnal, elegiac, slightly melancholy feel about it. Anne Elliot is 27 and unmarried and living at home with her vain father Sir Walter Elliot and her proud, snobbish elder sister Elizabeth. Mary, the middle daughter who is a fussy, hypochondriac suffering from a permanent state of imagined ill usage, is married and away from home. Anne is totally unappreciated by her family 'it is only Anne' which is a source of sorrow to her great friend Lady Russell who sees Anne's sterling qualities and similarity to her long dead mother. Lady Russell exerts a strong influence on her and it is she who 'persuaded' Anne to refuse a marriage offer from Frederic Wentworth, then a lowly sailor, who she deemed not good enough for the 19 year old youngest daughter of Sir Walter.
Sir Walter Elliot is deeply in debt and is forced to retrench and move to Bath, letting out Elliot Hall to an Admiral Coft and his wife who turns out to be sister to the long lost and loved Frederick.
In Bath Anne finds find her father and sister very pleased with their situation and also boasting that Mr Eliot, their father's heir, is in town and is very anxious to be reunited with the family that he, purportedly, slighted many years ago. He is charming, elegant, smooth talking and well bred and begins to pay marked attention to Anne. It seems that he is the perfect match for her and Lady Russell, once more, tries to 'persuade' Anne that this would be a good marriage and would giver her a household of her own. Anne is not so sure and while visiting an old school friend, living in difficult circumstances in Bath, finds out certain facts that are detrimental to Mr Eliot and show him for what he is, untrustworthy and scheming.
Frederick is also in Bath and now deemed a much more worthy person than before by her family. He is now a Captain and rich and can thus be admitted to their social circle. By the time Anne and Frederick see each other in Bath they have met frequently in the company of others and Anne has had to suffer in silence, noting his apparent love for Louisa Musgrove and thinking that she has lost him for ever. A surprise engagement announcement that Louisa is marrying another gives Anne hope that perhaps all is not lost.
Anne has a steadfastness and quiet determination, a quality that Jane must have had in abundance and which she has passed on to all her heroines. Eleanor in Sense and Sensibility shows this quietness and her adherance to what she knows to be the right behaviour no matter what, in total contrast to her sister Marianne; Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, despised as she is by all her relatives save Edward, sticks to her principles throughout and is the only protagonist not to be taken in by the Crawfords; Lizzy Bennett, on the surface much wittier and light hearted than other heroines, also has determination and the strength of character to admit she has been blinded by prejudice. Even Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, who seems to be the silliest of all the Austen heroines, shows remarkable tenaciousness in clinging onto Henry Tilney after she has spotted him and wins him, despite her seeming idiocy. These girls have all got staying power!
I love the ending of this book and how it comes about. Each time I reach the last few chapters I am on tenterhooks and want to read on to know what is happening, even thought I have read Persuasion countless times. Anne is in Bath, in a hotel sitting room with the Musgrove family who have come to town to buy wedding clothes for their two daughters, Louisa and Henrietta. Anne is by the window talking to an old sailor friend of Captain Wentworth, Captain Harville. He is talking to her of the pain a man feels when he says goodbye to his family on setting sail, while wondering if he will ever see them again. Anne believes that men are capable of 'everything great and good in their married lives' but then comes the sentence that galvanises Frederick into action 'All the privilege I claim for my own sex..............is that of loving longest when existence or all hope is gone'
Shortly after this Captains Wentworth and Harville depart but before Frederick leaves he gives Anne a letter and places it before her with 'eyes of glowing entreaty'. She opens it and this is what she finds:
"I can listen no longer in silence .......you pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me that I am not too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you....."
You know Charlotte Bronte did not like Austen much and found her passionless. Well, she must be barking that is all I can say after reading the above.
I love love love this book and, for me, Captain Wentworth beats Mr Darcy any day.