Persuasion (Barnes & Noble Classics)

Persuasion - Susan Ostrov Weisser, Jane Austen More than any of Jane Austen's other novels, "Persuasion" is about second chances. Yes, Lizzy and Darcy, Jane and Bingly all get another shot, and Harriet eventually gets to marry Mr. Martin, and so on, but nowhere is the idea explored in more detail, and nowhere are the chances of success less likely than in "Persuasion". "Persuasion" begins long after most of Austen's other novels end. The heroine, Anne Elliot, has arrived at the advanced age of 27 without being married. Her father, Sir Walter, is a vain and minor nobleman who spends most of his time admiring his own name in the book of baronets and wasting his fortune on lavish spending rather than caring for his children. Anne is the middle of three sisters. Elizabeth is the eldest and is as vain and class-conscious as her father, so much so that it is unlikely that she will ever marry in spite of being a great beauty. Mary is vain, but insecure and resorts to hypochondria to get attention, and constantly looking for ways in which she has been slighted. Only Anne possesses any depth of character. She is serious, quiet and observant, and able to accurately assess the characters of others. Anne is also deeply wounded. At 19, she fell in love with Frederick Wentworth, a young man with no title or fortune who entered the Navy. He returned her love and they were engaged to be married, but Anne was persuaded by a family friend to break the engagement. With no one to help her stand firm, Anne followed this advice, much to her regret. In the years that separate their engagement and the beginning of the book, Frederick prospers in the Navy and grows wealthy, while the fortunes of the Elliott family wane due to Sir Walter's wasteful spending. As the book opens, the Elliotts are forced to rent Kellynch, their estate, to an admiral and take up lodgings in a smaller home in Bath. There, Anne and Wentworth are re-introduced, to their mutual surprise. Haunted by the past and hindered by the expectations of friends, family, and by the rules of polite society, Anne and Wentworth find themselves in a very awkward position. Though once on the most intimate terms, they are no longer able to communicate directly or openly. Anne, with no one to intercede on her behalf is particularly constrained. She cannot approach Wentworth and let him know that she has never stopped loving him. A desperate game begins where she must attempt to communicate with him through the most indirect methods imaginable, and discern what lies behind his every word or gesture. Rarely has a glance or handshake been more pregnant with meaning. The slightest misunderstanding on either part could be disastrous. The situation is complicated by the introduction of competing love interests on both sides. Wentworth, single, successful, wealthy, and handsome, finds himself in the midst of several admirers, particularly the young, attractive, but headstrong Louisa Musgrove. Anne is pursued by Mr. William Elliott, a cousin and the heir of Kellynch. Suspense builds as Anne and Wentworth both must learn to look beyond appearances and evaluate the true character of those around them. What they learn and whether they are successful is the essence of "Persuasion"."Persuasion" is rich in so many ways. The writing is beautiful. Like all great artists, Austen gives one the impression that the work is effortless. Her command of language is firm, and flow of her prose carries the reader securely through the plot. Her characters are well developed and believable. We care about what happens to them, particularly Anne and Wentworth. We want them to find happiness together and we grow anxious as people and circumstances threaten to separate them forever. It is easy to sympathize with Anne and experience her emotions with her. Mr. Elliott arouses our suspicions because he arouses Anne's. "Persuasion" is also rich with irony and social commentary, much of it centered around class. Sir Walter looks down on the untitled members of the Navy, but nearly all the sailors in the book conduct themselves with greater nobility than those of the gentry. This is brought into sharp focus by the contrast between Anne's two suitors, Mr. Elliott and Captain Wentworth. The former turns out to be a scoundrel, while, for the most part, Wentworth behaves with dignity and honor. Further, in spite of his obsession with class, Sir Walter is attached to a divorced woman who stays with his family, though she is not titled and threatens to bring scandal on the entire family. And, yes, the character of her heroes, as always, inspires the reader and gives us something to which we can aspire. In some ways, Frederick Wentworth is one of the least appealing of Austen's heroes. When he is first introduced, for example, his behavior toward Anne is shockingly cold. But as the book proceeds, we understand that his reaction is motivated by the pain of her rejection eight years before. Gradually, as he moves beyond his pain, his true character is revealed, and he shines forth as a true noble man.As with all of Ms. Austen's novels, reading "Persuasion" was a deeply rewarding experience. I recommend it to everyone.