I finished Jane Austen’s Persuasion almost a month ago now, and I’ve been putting off writing my thoughts simply because I didn’t like it.
Before you attack me with incredulity, you should know that I read it in the midst of stressful and busy time of year, during a whirlwind trip to my grandmother’s funeral, and as I was also reading War and Peace in a rush. I honestly don’t think I was in the mood for Jane Austen at the time. I need to reread Persuasion, and will do so in a few months, before I read Mansfield Park.
Saying that, here are some comments on why Persuasion ddin’t work for me. I found some discussions questions online to respond to. This is not a “normal” post for me, but as I’ve said, I fully intend to reread Persuasion in a few months and give it another chance. I hope I can write a more “normal” post about it at that time.
This post contains spoilers of Persuasion.
1. Is Anne Elliot Austen’s most perfect heroine? Do you like a perfect heroine?
Are you serious? Are we supposed to like Anne Elliot? I thought she was anything but “perfect” and rather weak. She sat there and didn’t say anything for most of the beginning. Yes, she got a bit stronger as the book progressed, but at the end, she was still the silent stoic type. I don’t like that type. I much prefer the gutsy, honest Eliza Bennett.
2. Is Wentworth Austen’s most perfect hero? Are you persuaded that his entanglement with Louisa Musgrove was unintentional? What do you suppose the impact of Anne’s presence as spectator had on his attentions to the Musgrove girls?
How on earth was Wentworth a hero? It seemed to me that because Anne was visiting with the Musgroves he was trying to make her jealous by flirting with them. He wanted to see a reaction from Anne, and he didn’t seem sincere until the very end
Confession: Before I began reading, I knew that Amanda from The Zen Leaf didn’t like Wentworth, so I wonder if that colored my reading of his character from the start? Given all that was going on in my life when I read this novel, I wonder if I gave him a fair chance to prove himself.
3. Mansfield Park is a book that seems to regret change, to value stasis, and the traditional. What about Persuasion? What values do the men of the navy bring to the society of the book? What value is placed on titles and the aristocracy? Is the society of Persuasion in flux? Does Austen approve of its direction?
I have not yet read Mansfield Park, so I can’t comment on that one, but I did think Austen was commenting on the ridiculousness of the aristocracy. Sir Walter was a ridiculous man, and I liked how by the end Anne was the only one of the Elliott’s who did not look ridiculous. Away with aristocratic silliness!
4. In a particularly famous passage Anne Elliot says that men have had the pen in their hands when assigning strengths and weaknesses to the sexes. Now that the pen is in Austen’s hands, what does she use it to say about men and women?
Austen is saying that men are just as fickle as women, that women can be just as consistent in their love. Each gender has similar strengths and weaknesses. Although, that said, it does seem Austen finds the men more ridiculous. Interesting coming from her perspective.
5. Captain Wentworth has doubts about the marriage of Captain Benwick and Louisa Musgrove. How do you rate their chances of happiness? Will they be happier than Charles and Mary Musgrove?
Charles was on the rebound. I don’t think they’ll be any happier than Mr and Mrs Bennett. But then, how many relationships described in Austen are happy? Although her books are all about hooking up, the marriages depicted in the midst of the stories all seem rather doomed or miserable.
6. In Bath Anne begins to believe that Wentworth still cares for her. Why can’t she simply tell him she is uninterested in Mr. Elliot? Does this drive you nuts? Would you say something to him if you were Anne? Is it still the man’s job to pursue, the woman’s to be pursued?
This is what drove me crazy about Anne. I hated how she just let things be. Even at the end where I’m supposed to find her a stronger woman, I thought she was weak and stupid for just remaining silent. Again, I wish she were the Elizabeth Bennet of the novel. But no, she was the silent type, waiting to be pursued. Blah!
7. Explain the title.
Apparently, Austen died before naming this novel. I’m not sure about the title. Wikipedia’s commentary on Persuasion says Austen was fascinated by the import that other people’s persuasions had on a young woman’s decisions. I can see the implications in the novel: Anne’s family convinced her not to marry Wentworth, Wentworth had to be persuaded that Anne still loved him.
8. Unlike Austen’s other heroines, Anne is almost entirely isolated. She lacks close sisterly relations, friendships or respectable mentors. She is instead relegated to role of listener, advisor, patient carer, alienated from her own family where her word has no weight (“she was only Anne”), she is a quiet heroine (“her convenience was always to give way”) and she moves from community to community. Do you ever just want to tell Anne to stop being so self-sacrificing, already, and just tell everyone that Captain Wentworth was in love with her once? And, to apologize to him and be reconciled?
Yes! This may be the reason I disliked her. Maybe this goes back to the previous question: Is she too “perfect”? But no, I don’t think never considering yourself is strong or perfect. I think it’s a fault.
9. Who is your favorite non-Anne character? Least favorite? The one you love to hate?
I don’t think I really liked any of the charcters in this novel.
10. In all of her novels, Austen casts a gentle, satirical eye on English society. In Persuasion, her gaze seems more critical: what might she be saying in this work about rank and property—and about the possible rise of a middle class?
I think this is the reason I did keep reading: I find the development of class in England to be fascinating (and I just read a Gaskell novella that likewise explores the issue). Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliott were old school upper class, while the navy men were new middle class, self-made men. Austen obviously find the old school ridiculous. I liked her subtle commentaries.
And finally, I found this comment somewhere:
It is a love story that starts in the middle.
I didn’t like this about the novel. I wanted to fall in love with Wentworth, I wanted to see why they loved each other. And I couldn’t see any of that, since it started years after that initial attraction. Instead, I didn’t see any attraction. I was disappointed.
Maybe upon my reread (which I’ll do at a less stressful time!), I’ll see more of the attraction and the humor. Maybe I’ll find the characters less frustrating and more honorable. Maybe I’ll see Anne Elliott as a selfless woman getting stronger.
Maybe I won’t dislike it next time.
What classics were you disappointed to dislike? Do you think Persuasion will improve for me on rereading?