Persuasion – Jane Austen

Many of you may know that I have always wavered a little in reading or wanting to read this classics. In my head this conjures up English Literature lessons in school being forced to read the same sections of a book over and over and over, analysing it to death and taking all the fun out for reading. This has lead me to having missed out on many a ‘canon’ author including Jane Austen, and people said a small collection of her early work didn’t count, so when I embarked, with AJ Reads, upon the idea of Classically Challenged she was the first author I wanted to try and thanks to you, and your votes, I did so with ‘Persuasion’. Did it persuade me to read anything else by her though?

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1817 (2008 edition), fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

If they had had the expression ‘middle child syndrome’ in the early 1800’s then I think Anne Elliot, the heroine of ‘Persuasion’, would be a prime example of someone who could suffer it, though being a heroine of course she doesn’t. She has a vain and wealth obsessed father and sisters, elder unmarried Elizabeth and younger married Mary, and so really she is overlooked by most of her family. Fortunately she does have the attention of neighbouring Lady Russell who was her sadly deceased mother’s best friend. However Sir Walter Elliot though obsessed with his position in life and wealth, is lacking in how to keep or make the right amount of money and so has to rent his estate, Kellynch-hall out which in doing so brings a former, rather fortunately unknown, engagement, Captain Wentworth, of Anne’s younger years back into her life and also a whole host of people that change her perception of what life can be and what can indeed be made of it.

I have to say that I really, really enjoyed ‘Persuasion’. I will happily admit that I found the first page to be one of the most mind numbing and off putting pieces of fiction that I have read in some time (which is interestingly the same thing, only for fifty more, that has stopped me getting anywhere with ‘Pride and Prejudice’) as Sir Walter reads about an almost encyclopaedic history of himself and all its pomp, which reads a little woodenly. Yet, just another page on I was suddenly hit with a beaming smile as the wit I had heard Jane Austen has, but didn’t believe she did, smacked me round the chops as Sir Walter’s pomp, causes him to look at everyone else around him, and I found it very funny.

“It sometimes happens, that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost. It was so with Elizabeth; still the same handsome Miss Elliot that she had begun to be thirteen years ago; and Sir Walter might be excused, therefore, in forgetting her age, or, at least, be deemed only half a fool, for thinking himself and Elizabeth as blooming as ever, amidst the wreck of good looks of everybody else; for he could plainly see how old the rest of his family and acquaintance were growing. Anne haggard, Mary coarse, every face in the neighbourhood worsting; and the rapid increase of the crow’s foot about Lady Russell’s temples had long been a distress to him.”

From this point in the book was honestly a real joy. I felt that I actually ‘got’ Jane Austen and the more I read on the more and more I realised that my preconceptions of her were way off the mark. I had imagined this would all be rather twee and sentimental but have the happy ending I was expecting. Here I must say I did guess the ending but firstly I loved the twists that went on throughout and secondly doesn’t the ending have a dark ominous overtone?  What I actually got was a very witty, often a little darkly so, and intelligent and wryly perceptive author who clearly watched and observed and then, in wonderful prose – though it took me a little while to get into the Olde English, writes it almost to a level of pastiche, yet so convincing it never goes too far, for the reader to enjoy.

I must add here that I am never ever letting my editor moan at me about how much I over use comma’s. I shall simply say ‘have you read Jane Austen?’ and leave it at that. I liked the fact we had this in common and as I read on I became more and more sure that had I sat with her, people watching over a pot of Earl Grey tea, I would have very much enjoyed her company and possibly laughed quite a lot as I did throughout the book. I am not sure I was always meant to find everything as hilarious as I did, Louisa’s fall in particular, but I giggled, occasionally wickedly a lot, sometimes at the most subtle of things.

“’There we differ, Mary’ said Anne. ‘I am sure Lady Russell would like him. I think she would be so much pleased with his mind, that she would very soon see no deficiency in his manner.’
 ‘So do I, Anne’ said Charles. ‘I am sure Lady Russell would like him. He is just Lady Russell’s sort. Give him a book, and he will read all day long.’
 ‘Yes, that he will!’ exclaimed Mary, tauntingly. ‘He will sit poring over his book, and not know when a person speaks to him, or when one drops one’s scissors, or anything that happens. Do you think Lady Russell would like that?’”

The other aspect of her writing is how much of an insight it gives into the social state of the country at the time and indeed the plight of women. Firstly there is the fact that all women seem to be failures if they do not marry ‘up’ or, heaven forbid, marry at all. No wonder Anne is disproved of when she turns down Charles, who Mary then marries (awkward much?) and isn’t sure the debonair and seemingly wealthy Mr Elliot is right for her. More interesting for me was the cases of Miss Smith, who I really loved and wanted to look after, illustrated the plight of a widowed woman of no wealth and at the other end of the spectrum was the rather matriarchal Lady Russell who seemed to have it so easy, well apart from the loss of her husband that is. I found this all rather fascinating, the shock of Anne wanting to associate with a woman who couldn’t even afford a servant rather hit me, and also highlighted what a bunch of pompous pests she unfortunately was related to.

This does bring me to my only slight qualm with the book and Austen’s writing. Here we go, get ready for everyone who is sat thinking ‘see we knew you would like her and find her faultless’ to get a little more annoyed, but I want to be honest. In some of the characters, having seen so many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, whilst not having read it I know, I felt that I had seen them before. There were a few Mrs Bennett’s and indeed a rather Wickham like character which whilst never stopped me enjoying ‘Persuasion’, indeed all the ‘vexing’ is wonderful, did spoil one twist in the tale alas. It made me wonder if all her novels have the same set characters and aim to achieve the same moralistic, yet also rather fairytale like, ends. I shall have to read more to make up my mind.

If you haven’t guessed already I was quite smitten with ‘Persuasion’ and also with its author. I got a whole lot more than I bargained for and indeed had my misconceptions of Austen and her writing have been fully highlighted and I see the error of my assumptions. If all of her novels contain this level of observance, wonderful characters be they good or bad, illustration of the human condition (and amazingly people still behave like this, maybe why it resonates to this day), emotion, humour and wry commentary I could become a hardened fan.

I will definitely be reading much more of Jane Austen’s work in the future, so if you have any recommendations for the next port of call do let me know, in the meantime though I am really excited about reading the rest of the Classically Challenged titles (next is ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope) with AJ, whose thoughts on ‘Persuasion’ will be live here in due course, over the next few months. For now though… what are your thoughts on ‘Persuasion’?

P.S I am so sorry this post is so lengthy, the book gave me so much to write about.

40 Comments

Filed under Books of 2012, Classically Challenged, Jane Austen, Oxford University Press, Review

40 responses to “Persuasion – Jane Austen

  1. Oh, I’m so pleased you liked it, Simon! I think the problem with classics is that they have been forced on us at school, so we all have traumas pertaining to them (Tale of Two Cities? Pshaw!). But with Jane Austen the problem is that there have been so many TV and film adaptations, so much fan fiction and sequels etc. that by now we all have a rather distorted view of her writing. I don’t think she is sentimental and twee at all – in most of her novels I can detect quite a dark and vicious side, she can be quite merciless at exposing frauds and foibles and human weaknesses.
    Look forward to hearing what you think of the rest of the challenge. I have to read Trollope myself…

    • I completely agree with both the issues of both being taught these books at school, which leads to over reading and some resentment, well it did for me, and also the issue of too many adaptations. I admit I adore the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice but not even having seen Emma all I can think of is Gwenyth Paltrow looking a little bit smug.

      Fortunately I had no idea what the plot was with Persuasion as it seems the one that has been adapted the least.

  2. So thrilled to see that Persuasion worked out. Sadly, I must inform you that, while I feel each novel is very different, certain characters types do repeat. For that reason, I would probably suggest Northanger Abbey next as it’s the most different from the others. Plus, it’s basically about a girl who reads too many Gothic novels, which seems like it would be right up your alley.

    My Austen ranking: Persuasion, Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Mansfield Park, Sense & Sensibility..

    • I don’t think it is sad if the characters repeat, as they are great characters and I liked what they brought to the table and morals that they highlighted. I think it just means that I have to space her novels out, but with a limited amount that is no bad thing.

      Yes, I think actually Northanger Abbey will be my next read of hers, or maybe Mansfield Park as its the mad one apparently.

      • I would totally join you in a read of MP as it’s the only one I haven’t reread since taking a night class in Austen years ago. In fact, I’m not even sure I finished it then.

      • Well that may just be something that I do in the New Year, though it might be a sudden random read as apart from finishing Classically Challenged and doing the Persephone Project I have banned myself from more challenges haha! I will give you warning before I start it, if I do, I promise.

  3. I like my classics but like you, stall at works like Austen. I wish I could like her more. But really happy you enjoyed it. Another one I think you would like would be the Forsyte Saga. I only got into it because I watched the BBC version and was hooked! The books are equally fabulous. Who knew I’d develop a liking for Galsworthy!

  4. gaskella

    Blimey Simon! Next you’ll be wanting to go to Lyme Regis to see the Cobb where Louisa fell. Failing that you could watch the marvellous BBC adaptation from some years ago with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root. Didn’t get my act together to read the book along with you sadly,

    • Hahahaha I spent the initial mentions of Lyme thinking it was Lyme Park hahaha. I have never been to Lyme Regis and would quite like to for the start of The French Lieutenants Woman, though having said that I never finished that book. Now I have two reaons.

  5. Laura Caldwell

    I love Persuasion. I do agree with you that the characters do seem similar between the books so I think it probably best to space out Austen books with other things in between. I am probably going to read Emma next, but not for a few months. I really enjoyed the The Forsyte Saga (mentioned by mywordlyobsessions), which is the first three books of the Forsyte Chronicles. The newer television series of them is quite good too. (I remember my parents watching the old ones when I was young.) Looking forward to The Warden having never read anything by Trollope. I have the first book of Middlemarch done. I need to space that out over all the months. Don’t be scared off by the beginning of that one, either. I’m loving it!

    • I think I will space out Austen, though it does feel like this would be the perfect time of year to read Northanger Abbey. But maybe I should hold off.

      I was looking at Middlemarch a little warily the other day and thinking ‘should I start you now?’

      I am quite excited about Trollope too, not often you hear that expression. Ha.

  6. I’m glad you pushed through the dull beginning and then enjoyed this one! I would recommend Emma next…I think it’s the most fun! Or Sense and Sensibility (I may be the only one who prefers it–but just barely–to Pride and Prejudice).

    • I think Emma would be a good one from all I have heard about it but as it is the most fun I am wondering if I should leave it to the last. I would hate to end my readings of Austen with a dud.

  7. Shukriyya

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Who knows, maybe you’ll give Pride & Prejudice another shot one day – you might like that one too if you stick with it.

  8. EMM

    I think Mansfield Park is the most under-rated Austen book and therefore think you should read it next. Everyone loves to hate Fanny, and I can’t blame them, but the plotting! This may have the best plot of all her books.

  9. sharkell

    I had exactly the same reaction to this book as you, although I have read Pride and Prejudice before and have listed to Mansfield Park. I wouldn’t recommend reading P&P soon after Persuasion as they are quite similar, as you have picked up. I can’t recommend another as I can’t remember Mansfield Park and haven’t read any of the others. Something I plan to remedy now that you have inspired me!

    • I will definitely be reading more so if you fancy doing the occasional joint read here and there that could be fun. That said I think, as everyone is saying, I need a nice break between them so I don’t get bored with her… though it is tempting to binge when an author new to you wins you over.

  10. I can’t say Persuasion is a favourite of mine, but I’m so happy to hear you like Austen! It’s brilliant how she remains to be funny today even if the society is so different now. You can’t help but think that she’d fit well enough into our world today. I’d recommend Emma🙂

    • Persuasion seems an interesting one because it seems that people either really love it and its there undoubted favourite or it really isn’t. Either way I loved it and its made me want to try more of Jane Austen’s novels. All good for me.

  11. Pingback: Savidge Reads Does Pride & Prejudice… | Savidge Reads

  12. I haven’t read Austen that I can remember, but would like to read Persuasion definitely. I did recently see the Jane Austen bookclub movie on DVD and that was excellent, perhaps at the end of your reading you could permit yourself to indulge in the whole ensemble of her books and enjoy the bookclub ride through the film. I wasn’t really expecting too much, but thought it was well done and very engaging.

    • Oh I saw that film, which I quite liked, after I read the book of The Jane Austen Book Club which I did and didn’t love. I think to read one a month might kill it maybe with the similarities!

  13. Pingback: AJ Reads – Persuasion by Jane Austen – Classically Challenged Book 1

  14. I absolutely love Jane Austen and this is one of my favorites. Glad you enjoyed it as well.

  15. Wow, I just listened to your podcast yesterday and how you couldn’t get past the first paragraph of Persuasion, so this is quite a turn-around!

    Like you, I have never read Jane Austen – I always mean to but never seem to get to it. I have had Emma sitting on my shelf for probably 5 years, gathering dust and waiting patiently. Also like you, I have privately worried that I wouldn’t like her novels, despite so many people gushing about them!

    So, you have inspired me and given me some extra incentive to finally read some Austen. Wish I could have joined you in Persuasion but too many book group obligations at the moment, including Middlemarch which I need to finish by mid-November and haven’t yet started!

    Sue

    Book By Book

    • It has indeed been a real turnaround for me with this book and indeed with Jane Austen. Good luck with Middlemarch I will be reading that for March and think I should be starting it now.

      Do give Austen a whirl, she is much more vicious and observational than you might think.

  16. Simon and AJ – the challenge is off to a great start! I loved Persuasion (although I knew I would) and I’m so glad that you’ve come around to love Jane as so many of us do. You had me worried with your assessment of the first page – which I thought really set up the tone and introduced us to the characters quite nicely. So I’m glad that she won you over only a few pages later. I read P&P and S&S when I was much younger and now that I’m…ahem…more mature I realize how much of her social commentary I must have missed back then. Reading her now I really appreciated her humor and her word choice and all the things she left up to the reader to interpret.

    • I am really glad that you enjoyed it Jennifer, even if you knew you would. I think the start just came across a little wooden but then a few pages on I realised why and it all got much, much better.

      Now for The Warden…

  17. Pingback: Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen « TheBrontëSister

  18. Well, hurrah and hurray! So glad to hear this, Simon. My nagging (and everyone else’s) has finally paid off😉

    This is my least favourite Austen novel, but I haven’t read it since 2003 – I might appreciate it much more now. She is certainly an author who is always witty and always perceptive, so if those are the qualities you liked in her, then you won’t be disappointed by any of her other novels. But don’t expect any twist endings! (Having said that, there are – of course – twists along the way. The ones in P&P are rather brilliant, although you probably know them now. A very good one in Emma, and one in S&S. But happy endings all round!)

    • I actually think all the nagging (ha) was partly what put me off. It was definitely the conversation with AJ and having someone on the same page as me, aka knowing nothing, and starting out with a positive and fun element than sense of duty that set it off.

      I wanted to try her, if I am completely honest, to see what all the fuss was about and I really enjoyed it. I can’t say that she is my favourite author, or indeed will be, as there does seem to be this slight samey quality, but we will see.

      If this is your least favourite Austen then I have some exciting and even more joyful reads ahead.

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