Friday, February 17, 2017
The unique elements in Austen's Persuasion and why it's a favorite among some readers
Persuasion has the Austen ingredients but so far, about half-way through, as the various families shift from the Somerset region and resettle, at least for "the season," in Bath, the novel just doesn't have the lift and inspiration of her earlier works. I know Persuasion has its advocates, and I think what many readers find appealing about it are first, the unabashed romanticism - the couple that's meant to be, Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, come together after years of separation, she's still as beautiful to him as she was before they were forced apart not by their own trepidation but by the snobbish, ill-considered opinions of others, particularly Anne's family and friends who thought he wasn't good (i.e., wealthy, titled) for her, and, second, but this being the only Austen novel in which the heroine a mature woman - she's 27 think; though Emma and Eliz Bennet and others are wise for their years, they're still quite young, teenagers for the most part, and likely to make bad decisions. In Persuasion those decisions are in the past and we're looking at romance not in its blossoming but in its autumnal stages. In 1816, 27 was pretty old - and Austen emphasizes that fact by imbuing this last of her novels with the presence of death. Captain Benwick's fiancee died young, while he was at sea; we have of course the inevitable Austen malady - in this case a fall while leaping from the top of a boulder - that leads to a character's being invalid (for at time) and center of attention and solicitation - practices that seem quaint today but were obviously part of daily life in the 19th century. another peculiarity of Persuasion is that it's the only Austen novel, I think, with any reference to world events - in this case the was (which to Americans is the War of 1812) - but there's not discussion of politics, no sense of fear as to what might be the results of the war - the war plays a role in this novel only insofar as it affects matrimony: the end of the war means an influx of naval officers who are eager to marry, a baby-boom phenomenon - because of the war their marital timeclock is out of synch w/ the rest of their cohort - all of which gives a sense of urgency and darkness to the Wentworth-Elliot courtship: time is running out, this may be their last chance. All these are important and sometimes unique aspects of the novel (at least among Austen's works), but I still think the plot tension is too slack as it's obvious to any reader where this story is headed, even though Anne herself can't see it (supposedly).