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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jane Austen's PERSUASION

When one speaks of Jane Austen's (1775-1817) works, the discussion would immediately lead to  Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma; perhaps Mansfield Park.  But if anyone wanted to start a Jane Austen discussion with me, I would want to talk about her final book; Persuasion. 

Set during the Napoleon War era, Persuasion is about a totally different of all Austen's heroines- Anne Elliot. She's the middle child of the family; the first daughter  being Elizabeth and the youngest  one is Mary. Elizabeth is as vain and self-absorbed as their father; Sir Walter while Mary Elliot Musgrove, the only married one among the three girls- is whiny and  likes being the center of attention.

Eight years before the main events of the book, Anne was dating a naval officer she was very much in love with, Frederick Wentworth, who however was poor and in those days; a girl from good family is not expected to marry a poor man as such an alliance was deemed 'unsuitable.' Anne was persuaded by a family friend, actually a friend of her late mother who was Anne's godmother/advisor to the family; Lady Russell, to reject his proposal of marriage because of his poor status and Anne (and I have to say foolishly) did what she was told, leaving Captain Wentworth heartbroken and bitter; he then left the country.

For years, Anne was haunted by her decision as she was still in love with Frederick, which made her turn down Charles Musgrove's offer of marriage, thus turning his attention to her silly sister, Mary. Anne blamed herself for giving in to the persuasion in the first place rather than Lady Russell and her inner unhappiness was made worse by her family's complete disregard of her; and she kept asking the same question over and over... did she do the right thing by yielding to Lady Russell's advice? And, how would things have turned out if she'd defied the advice and married him anyway?

Modern readers would say she was very foolish to have broken up with Captain Wenworth because of his poverty but all the same, Anne cannot seen as a mercenary girl who cares only about money; she's nothing of the sort. Remember things were different in those days; women, mostly women of the upper class did not work hence had to marry men who would be more than capable of looking after them. Of course there were the rare modern women at the time who would use their hearts (love) rather than their heads(practicality). Anne's flaw was that she was easily led and should have shown more firmness when Lady Russell gave her so called well meaning advice. But being young and fond of her godmother, she felt Lady Russell  was wise and always right, hence the breakup.

Now Anne is 27 and resigned to remain a spinster. Meanwhile, Sir Walter has squandered most of the family fortune and is advised by Lady Russell to rent out the family home, while they move to Bath for sometime. The tenants are Admiral and Mrs. Croft and to Anne's horror, Captain Wentworth, back from the war,  turned out to be Mrs. Croft's brother! The war had benefited Captain Wentworth hence was now a rich man but still very angry and bitter with Anne for what she did to him, more so at Lady Russell for persuading her to do it. Anne had to watch in pain as he assumed a cold attitude towards her and he begins to court one of her brother-in-law's sisters, Louisa; refusing to so much as be friends with Anne. But after Louisa suffers a mishap (which was entirely her fault), Captain Wentworth saw how Anne took charge of the situation and realised she was still the sweet, level headed girl he fell in love with and how he had allowed his anger and wounded pride come between them.

Finally, he manned up and sent her a love letter, not doing her a favor of giving her another chance but asking her to give him another chance!

Tell me not that I am 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 years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! 

Isn't that enough to make any girl feel so loved and lucky?

The book isn't just an old era romance; it's pretty much a satire. It reminded me of the historical romances I've read over the years, some by Barbara Cartland. How class and family were put above a person's integrity and accomplishments and how the self made men who made their money in trade- even those who pursued legit trade- were looked down upon and contemptuously called the  nouveau riche,  new money.

Lady Russell saw Captain Wentworth as a man with no money, no social class and no future prospects; writing him off as an unsuitable husband for Anne; I see her as a snob and an interfering busybody. What was the guarantee that a richer upper class man would have made Anne happy? Mr. Elliot, Anne's cousin only wanted to marry her to secure his position as Sir Walter's heir presumptive, not because he was in love with her, hence- he was marrying for money, not love; making him the mercenary one. Anne found love with a self-made man and was more than lucky enough to reconnect with him.

Like most classics, this novel has movie adaptations; my favorite being the 1995 adaptation starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. My favorite scene was their meeting on the street, where he took off his hat, took her hand and said to her: 'I tried to forget you. I thought I had'. After which, the kiss and later on Captain Wentworth showing up at Sir Walter's party to inform him, smiling at Anne the whole time, that his proposal of marriage to Anne was accepted and he wanted his permission to fix the wedding date. Oh... the scowls on Mr. Elliot and Elizabeth's faces!

Of Jane Austen's books, I like this one best.

Quote from book: 

"If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk. When I yielded, I thought it was to duty; but no duty could be called in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk would have been incurred and all duty violated."

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