I’ve only ever read one other Jane Austen book (Pride and Prejudice, unsurprisingly). I chose Persuasion next based pretty much on the age of the main character: 27, older than all of Austen’s other heroines. I liked the idea of the two leads reconnecting after several years apart, of how a very young love could have developed, changed, and strengthened over those years. Persuasion is a story about a mistake made while young that is rectified later on; it’s about how we change, but there are some parts of us that remain the same.
Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth fell in love when Anne was nineteen and Frederick was a 20-something naval officer. Anne is persuaded by one of her mentor-friends Lady Russell that a match with Frederick is not suitable for a person in her station, and she breaks it off. She regrets it for the next eight years, when Frederick reappears, now a captain. They reconnect because Frederick’s sister is a tenant at Kellynch Hall, Anne’s family’s home, which is being rented out in order to save the Elliots from financial ruin.
Like Pride and Prejudice, much is communicated between Anne and Frederick without words. There are looks and gestures, each subject to interpretation and misinterpretation, and each is unsure whether the other feels the same as they did eight years ago. Frederick is still smarting from Anne’s rejection, wondering if she is weak of character, to be persuaded so easily. Of course, as he becomes reacquainted with her, he finds himself just as much in love with her as before. Anne, too, harbors her doubts – could Frederick forgive her for her mistake? Could he still love her?
We as readers are never in doubt of the happy ending, but getting there is a treat. Austen’s ancillary characters are hilarious here. I loved all of their conversations about what type of person makes the best tenant, whether being in the navy (or any profession) ages men prematurely, and how men and women each think of romantic love. Anne’s sister Mary is particularly funny, unintentionally on her part, as she is somewhat of a hypochondriac and a complainer and no one is particularly happy to spend much time with her. She always seems to be around, though, because not inviting her along would be rude, even if she wouldn’t enjoy the occasion anyway. We all know this person.
What really makes this book, though, is a letter from Frederick to Anne near the end. It beats any letter or speech in Pride and Prejudice and whenever I want a pick me up, I re-read it and place my hand over my heart and sigh. Quite literally. I’ve reproduced it for you below so you can do the same if you so desire.
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.
Is there anything more romantic than “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope”? I am hopeless sometimes.