Persuasion is said to be the best work of Jane Austen. While I have reservations on that point, I do see why it is said so. Persuasion is quite different from most of her preceding work. In many of them, her writing is light and glows with “sparkle and spirit”. But in Persuasion, her spirited and sparkle writing is replaced by more mature writing. It is still light but there are more warmth and emotion in her writing as well as more depth and colour. In short, Jane Austen has written Persuasion with so much feeling to make it stand tall among all her other work.
The main female protagonist, Anne Elliot, is a mature heroine who has lost her “youth and bloom” over the years as a result of her pining for a lost love. She is unloved and neglected by the family except by the dear friend Lady Russel. But she is courageous and has a superior, cultivated mind to bear all indifference and to endure her loss without resentment. Anne reminded me of Cinderella; the only difference was that she had an indifferent father instead of a wicked stepmother. Anne is strong. She is self-made, kind, and has a keen intelligence. She secures her happiness more or less by her means supported by circumstances rather than any support rendered by family or friends. Anne stands out from most of Austen heroines. Perhaps she is equal in stamina to the much loved Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. And I don’t know if it is because of my partiality and obsession with Elizabeth Bennet over the years, but I couldn’t help feeling that Anne is sort of a mature version of Elizabeth, only that Elizabeth would not have been easily persuaded.
Captain Wentworth is yet another beloved hero and could easily be placed in line with Darcy, Knightley, and Colonel Brandon. I’m amazed at Jane Austen’s ability to create these heroes and heroines who are felt so real and who would undoubtedly occupy a place in all reader’s hearts. No Austen hero or heroine is ever forgotten and for centuries they have survived to become “immortal”.
Like in all Jane Austen’s work, Persuasion too has a sweet love story. But unlike in others, it is a mature love; one that was found, lost, and found again; one that has endured an eight and half years of separation. And what is more striking is Austen’s excellent and emotional writing of Anne’s feelings: her pain and suffering for having given up the man she loved; her painful situation at having to meet him after eight and half years; her pain at his cool reception of her; her agony in watching of him pursue another woman very much younger than her; her knowledge that her once pretty looks and youth have been robbed over the years and she would no longer be attractive in his eyes.; her knowledge that she has lost her chance to be happy again; and above all her profound realization that she still loved him deeply and dearly. All these emotions are detailed and beautifully and touchingly expressed that they almost broke my heart.
In addition, there is also Austen’s social commentary, criticism, and realism. Through the characters of Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Mary, she exposes the vanity of the titled and mocks them for their air of superiority. At the same time, she gently hints at the decline of superiority maintained by the titled class through the declining in wealth of Sir Walter and shows the emergence of a new wealthy class in Naval Officers who would gradually elevate their position in the society with their wealth, gaining respect and admiration. Two brothers of Jane Austen were Navy officers and perhaps, this was her tribute to them.
Overall, it is a beautiful book. I loved every minute of reading it. And I believe this will be my most favourite of Jane Austen novel.