Monday, February 27, 2017
Persuasion, for better or worse
Book group last night weighed in on Jane Austen's Persuasion, with general feeling that it's a "classic" example of romantic comedy or, I would say, comedy of manners. We were struck by the narrow scope of this novel, and of all of Austen's novels for that matter, a small piece of England, a small segment of society, no outsiders, no dissenters, and almost no reference to events in the world at large: we debated a bit what it means that she has all these naval officers in the novel, which is a nod to the just complete Napoleonic wars (or War of 1812 as we call it) - a war that merits no mention whatsoever in her earlier novels written in time of war. We remarked that it seems that the whole purpose of the war in her novel was not provide a sudden influx of eligible bachelors. (Similarly, as I noted, P&P suggests that the function of the English army is to provide dance escorts.) All that said, I remarked on the darkness of Persuasion, with the war as one of the dark elements - people died in the war, and there are so many of the dead and dispossessed across Persuasion. I also noted the unpleasant nature of all of the main characters except for the two "leads" - different from other Austen novels in which the siblings & friends of the heroine are supports or comic foils, but not malevolent. RiRi noted that the conclusion of Persuasion seemed curt, and I agree - I think she rushed it because she knew she was near death. Clearly, she wrapped things up too quickly: She certainly should have had a scene in which Lady Russell apologizes to Anne Elliot. And what about Captain Wentworth? Satisfying as it is to see the 2 of them finally get together - he's really just a drink of water. His dialogue is so wooden and stilted, and you just want to reach into the novel and shake him (and her for that matter) and say: Why don't you just talk to each other like normal human beings? All told, we recognized that Austen was probably not writing in order to produce "great literature" but in order to write books that would sell & earn her a little money and some acclaim (even if she had to use a pseudonym) - but she was so smart, observant, and witty that she far surpassed the standards of the genre, opening the door for many novelists, female novelists especially, to follow.