The ending of the plot is easily guessed—it’s still an Austen novel—yet the means to that end is rather unpredictable and unconventional. It is filled with great dangers, emotional barriers, and several twists that makes the reader question his/her certainty of the end of the novel.
In many ways Persuasion differs from her previous works starting with the heroine, Anne Elliot, who happens to be much different from the other female leads. This heroine is not searching for love like her life depends on it—she has already had the chance of marrying the love of her life but was persuaded not to—and has since outgrown her beauty. She is just a shell of her youthful self. Yet despite being, in modern terms, mildly depressed, she focuses on self-improvement and self-knowledge as a way of coping with unhappiness, rather than blaming circumstances or the people around her. Even in moments hopelessness and self-abnegation, she waits patiently for the things to change. It’s this fortitude that makes Anne Elliot the most unique of Jane Austen’s heroines, representing a distinct departure from the author’s typical characterization of female protagonists.
Since the very beginning, Anne possesses great wisdom and maturity. But being twenty-seven and worn down by the years, she lacks the usual verve and playful irony associated with Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse. What’s remarkable is that her attitude and behavior are quite consistent from beginning to end. Her character can hardly be said to “develop” in the usual sense of the term. Again, unlike Pride & Prejudice and Emma, this isn’t a story of a smart woman who realizes that she needs to change in order to grow up. Anne has had years—eight years prior to the opening of Persuasion—to look at her motives, her behavior, the characters of the people around her, and form her own opinions from her inner values.
Persuasion may also be more intellectual and introspective than some of Austen’s other works: the commentary about poetry is resonating, poignant even; the verbal and oral conversations pull at the heartstrings; the interesting argument about the strength and longevity of feeling in men and women; and Anne’s psychological portrait is central to the story.
Not to mention, Anne’s unassuming romance between Frederick Wentworth is unique and painstakingly adorable. The heroine, Anne Elliot, is quiet and unassuming and the story of her romance with Captain Wentworth can hardly be more different from that between Elizabeth and Darcy, yet it is perhaps more deeply felt and written. (Hello! Wentworth’s letter and Anne’s reaction!1) Whereas Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s love is expressed quite outwardly, the passion between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth—while probably equal to that of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy—is more reserved. This can be attributed certain aspects of the plot, in that for the majority of the book Anne and Wentworth are performing a socially awkward “do you still love me or not?” dance. (The rekindling is quite real.2)
I imagine that when asked which of Austen’s novels is their favorite, far more people would choose Pride & Prejudice or Emma than Persuasion, yet I find Persuasion particularly interesting—Anne’s journey from resignation to joy is beautifully and sympathetically delineated by Austen, without the loss of her usual sharp wit. In fact, Austen’s comments in this particular comedy of manners is sharper than ever with the addition of Mr. Elliot’s pride in his family legacy as well as actual explicit defenses of women and feminist commentary.3 I could go on and on why I believe Persuasion is unique and amazing, but I have to end this post somewhere so—Read it. If you’ve read it already, read it again. I don’t know how else to end this other than mentally pushing you, the reader of this post, to borrow or buy Persuasion with a nice cup of hot chocolate or ice tea. Do it. Now.
Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from. Half an hour’s solitude and reflection might have tranquilized her; but the ten minutes only which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquility. Every moment rather brought fresh agitation. It was overpowering happiness.
Le sigh. With a guy who can use words like that, no wonder Anne Eliot never found Captain Wentworth’s equal.
2 It took 15 chapters (Chapter 8) to go from this ↓ to that ↑
They had no conversation together, no intercourse but what the commonest civility required. Once so much to each other! Now nothing!…Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.
3 Demonstrated in these passages (There are so many, I’m choosing some of my favorites. If you have any that I didn’t put, please leave it in a comment!)…
That Lady Russell, of steady age and character, and extremely well provided for, should have no thought of a second marriage, needs no apology to the public, which is rather apt to be unreasonably discontented when a woman does marry again, than when she does not; but Sir Walter’s continuing in singleness requires explanation.
Louisa Musgrove // Chapter 10:
“What! would I be turned back from doing a thing that I had determined to do, and that I knew to be right, by the airs and interference of such a person, or of any person I may say? No, I have no idea of being so easily persuaded. When I have made up my mind, I have made it…”
Mrs. Smith // Chapter 17:
“She is a shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman . Hers is a line for seeing human nature; and she has a fund of good sense and observation, which, as a companion, make her infinitely superior to thousands of those who having only received ‘the best education in the world,’ know nothing worth attending to.”
Anne Elliot // Chapter 23:
“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
And my all-time favorite…Sophia Croft née Wentworth // Chapter 8:
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”