Persuasion by Jane Austen (Literary Fiction)

I reread this for a book club and am so glad I did. We’ve all seen the BBC period dramas that have brought all of Austen’s books to life, and they are all wonderfully delightful, but upon rereading I found a lot of depth that simply can’t be put easily into film.

Persuasion — the story of a woman who was once persuaded to reject the man she loved upon the recommendation of a trusted family friend — brings together all of the thoughts, manners, and considerations of a woman in the landed gentry at that time (~1815). While I am no expert in literary history, I wonder if this isn’t one of the first books to emphasize marital happiness and harmony over passionate love or a business like negotiation for status and money. Austen looks at the essential temperaments and morals of her characters and makes those considerations paramount in thoughts of marriage. And like many classics, the lessons are completely apt for today, despite their being couched in an “olde” patter. Plenty of early feminism, too, in the more open consideration of women as full beings in their own right, without application of the stereotypes of the day.

Delightful characters, thorough descriptions of the rules of society, and a real description of what is and isn’t important in considering one’s place in society, one’s duty, and one’s hope for happiness. The style is not modern — there are many long sentences with a great many commas liberally applied — but once I was back in the rhythm of the thing I had no problem.

Some good quotes:

“She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or a hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.”

“Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others.”

“She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character.”

“…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 bear ill examination.”

“His looks shewing him not pained, but pleased with this allusion to his situation, she was emboldened to go on; and feeling in herself the right seniority of mind, she ventured to recommend a larger allowance of prose in his daily study; and on being requested to particularize, mentioned such works of our best moralists, such collections of the finest letters, such memoirs of characters of worth and suffering, as occurred to her at the moment as calculated to rouse and fortify the mind by the highest precepts, and the strongest examples of moral and religious endurances.”

“We never shall. We never can expect to prove anything upon such a point. It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof. We each begin, probably, with a little bias towards our own sex; and upon that bias build every circumstance in favour of it which has occurred within our own circle; many of which circumstances (perhaps those very cases which strike us the most) may be precisely such as cannot be brought forward without betraying a confidence, or in some respect saying what should not be said.”

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