Books to Love: Upon Great Persuasion

 
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As per my post Monday, this week is fully dedicated to Jane Austen. The best way I can celebrate a woman whose works have touched my heart so deeply is by sharing about my favorite novel by her and why I love it so much. Above all her beloved novels, Persuasion- ahem- pierced my heart.

Persuasion is Austen’s subtlest offering. The novel still retains the wit and humor we all adore from her. However, that humor is tempered with a depth and richness that subsumes the work with maturity. Honestly, I have often thought that much of Jane’s personal musings on her own life made their way into this book, woven to a more pleasant conclusion than that of Austen herself in her time. 

Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, a baronet forced to retrench by letting his country home, Kellynch Hall, and moving to more affordable lodging in Bath, has been brought low in her own estimation by the very people who should have been the ones to encourage and love her- her father, both her sisters, and her dear friend, Lady Russell. Furthermore, eight years prior, she had been persuaded that the love she had with Frederick Wentworth, a young man with nothing but himself to recommend him, was not enough for her. While Lady Russell and her family listed all the reasons why such a match was not seemly in society given her station, it wasn’t until Anne believed that Wentworth himself would fare better without her that she acted. 

The belief of being prudent, and self-denying principally for his advantage, was her chief consolation, under the misery of a parting—

Anne is now a wallflower. She’s integral to everyone else’s comfort, but overlooked as to her own. She is dependable and, perhaps where her relations are concerned, most importantly, convenient. She’s seen, and yet, completely invisible. Only her usefulness to everyone in their individual circumstances is valued; anything in regards to herself it blatantly ignored, even by the more altruistic intimates of her life- Lady Russell and the Musgroves. She exists in the somewhat joyless existence of being needed but unloved, at least unloved in the context of agape love (see post here). 

…and Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way;-  she was only Anne.

Once she had known consuming, complete love. Once she had been truly appreciated. Once she had been admired for herself along. Wentworth had truly seen her, and she’s carried the grandness of that attention- of being not only seen for herself, but valued thusly, and even more exquisite, LOVED- with her, even though she let herself be persuaded- in her youth and naïveté- to give him up.

More than seven years were gone since this little history of sorrowful interest had reached its close; and time had softened down much, perhaps nearly all of peculiar attachment to him,— but she had been too dependent on time alone; no aid had been given in change of pace, (except in one visit to Bath soon after the rupture,) or in any novelty or enlargement of society.— No one had ever come within the Kellynch circle, who could bear a comparison to Frederick Wentworth, as he stood in her memory.
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But all is not lost. All is never lost, dear readers. Quite unexpectedly, she finds herself thrown into Wentworth’s company. And where once she thought all feelings for him gone, she now finds they’re very much present. 

Alas! with all her reasonings, she found that to retentive feelings eight years may be little more than nothing.

With Wentworth back, Anne endures heavy introspection, continually wondering what he sees when he looks at her. Does he see the ruins of who she once was? Does he wonder at how altered she is? All her thoughts on his perception of her are negative. Not once does she think that he could be thinking anything positive regarding her; that observation says a great deal more about how she sees herself than how he sees her. She suffers under this self-effacing until they all travel to Lyme for a visit to Wentworth’s friends, Captain Harville and Captain Benwick. 

There Anne, typical to her nurturing, compassionate nature, engages the melancholy Benwick. His beloved fiancee, Fanny, has died and he’s immersed himself in grief and poetry, one feeding the other in a quagmire of despair. Anne listens to him and then with great gentleness, advises him to take in more prose and less poetry, to cultivate patience and resignation. 

When the evening was over, Anne could not but be amused at the idea of her coming to Lyme, to preach patience and resignation to a young man whom she had never seen before; nor could she help fearing, on more serious reflection, that, like many other great moralists and preachers, she had been eloquent on a point in which her own conduct would ill bear examination.

This introspection on her part is the first time she really looks at herself. For eight years, she nursed her grief and regret. She’s buried herself so entirely within it, she’s lost herself. In this acknowledgment, there is freedom and the bloom returns to her cheeks and the brightness to her eyes. In the present company of Wentworth, no less, who observes this transformation. He even observes when another man directs his attention at her. This, unwittingly, is the beginning of Wentworth’s own introspection. Coupled with Anne’s level-headedness in the chaos of Louisa Musgrove’s accident in Lyme, Wentworth comes to the crashing conclusion that he’s always loved Anne. 

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Neither Anne nor Wentworth are paragons; they are people with imperfections and great fortitude. That is what I love so much about this story. Jane Austen does not try to hide their foibles, but shows how they are far outweighed by their strengths. They are foolish, but possess wisdom. They are bitter and angry, but compassionate and forgiving. They are self-effacing, but completely worthy. They are strong and resilient, perhaps most especially for their ability to honestly assess their true selves and effect the changes necessary for their own personal growth. In the girding of their personal characters, they open the door for honesty and vulnerability with each other which provides the foundation upon which to build their love and life. 

In the deprivation of love, Anne lost herself, and so did Wentworth. But, in being forced to encounter each other, to be continually reminded of the love between them all those years ago, they find themselves again. 

There they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure every thing, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement. There they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.

To me, Persuasion is about redemption and second chances. It’s about hope, even when all hope is gone. After all, this is what Anne tells Captain Harville about herself, though she generalizes it to include all women. 

All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.

She declares this with the belief that her love for Wentworth is hopeless. Yet, there he sits mere feet away from her, listening intently, and penning with shaky hand his own ardent feelings.

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Hope is never lost. That’s the heart of Persuasion. It’s the thread woven throughout the whole, glistening and gleaming for all who wish to see it. But, as Austen demonstrates in her swan song, we must allow ourselves to truly see it in order to be sustained by it. Life can drain each of us, circumstances can suck out the marrow of our dreams, but listen to Jane Austen’s Persuasion: hope is never lost and it never dies. I believe this fervently, and have myself pitched my own tent in the land of Hope. Pitch yours here with me. While it may not always be easy, it is always worthwhile. 

What is your favorite Jane Austen novel or film adaptation? Please tell and share why you love it so much.