Review (Amazon): First published in 1818, Persuasion was Jane Austen’s last work. Its mellow character and autumnal tone have long made it a favorite with Austen readers. Set in Somersetshire and Bath, the novel revolves around the lives and love affair of Sir Walter Elliot, his daughters Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary, and various in-laws, friends, suitors, and other characters, In Anne Elliot, the author created perhaps her sweetest, most appealing heroine.
At the center of the novel is Anne’s thwarted romance with Captain Frederick Wentworth, a navy man Anne met and fell in love with when she was 19. At the time, Wentworth was deemed an unsuitable match and Anne was forced to break off the relationship. Eight years later, however, they meet again. By this time Captain Wentworth has made his fortune in the navy and is an attractive “catch.” However, Anne is now uncertain about his feelings for her. But after various twists and turns of fortune, the novel ends on a happy note.
My Review (Spoilers!):
Executive Summary: Sweet
You know what the best thing is about classics? They’re free! Thanks to the Gutenberg project, you can get any book that is out of copyright for free.
This book is our classic for the year, and in general, I’m pretty meh on classics. Typically they are so slow and I feel like the story has been retold in countless portrayals over the year so if I haven’t read the book, it’s typically not a fresh read for me. This is only the second Jane Austen book which I have read (I have read Pride and Prejudice before which I liked).
The main character of this book is sweet 27 year old Anne Elliot. She lives with her older sister, Elizabeth, and her megalomaniacal father, Walter. Her younger sister Mary is married and lives with her husband and two kids. Anne’s father has wasted his money and refuses to cut back his lavish habits, so the decision is made for he, Anne, and Elizabeth to move to Bath and rent out their expensive home in Somersetshire to an Admiral. Anne has no desire to go to Bath, so she remains in Somersetshire, planning out a few places to stay as to prolong the eventual move.
Anne stays with her sister Mary to start out with as Mary has all sorts of issues, particularly hypochondria. Anne helps out with the children, and while there, Captain Wentworth comes to Somersetshire to visit his sister who now lives at Kellynch. When Anne was 19, she was engaged to be married to Wentworth, however her family friend Lady Russell (replacement mother of sorts) convinced Anne to break it off because she was too young and he had no status. Both Anne and Wentworth are cautious around each other, and Wentworth seems more than interested in Mary’s husband’s sisters.
A small group including Mary, Anne, and the two sisters, agrees to travel to Lyme Regis with Wentworth to visit some of his officer friends. One is in mourning as he has just lost his fiancée. Anne connects with his somber situation and they realize they both love poetry. While walking along, she catches the glimpse of a man who is walking alone, and she finds out from Mary that he is none other than the presumed heir of their estate. He had a falling out with their father years ago when he did not marry Elizabeth, securing the situation. While in Lyme, one of the sisters takes her flirting with Wentworth too far and falls, getting a severe concussion. She remains in Lyme to recover while most of the others return home.
By this time, it seems Anne needs to move out of Mary’s for her own sanity, so she decides to travel with Lady Russell to Bath. She finds from her family that William Elliot, the same man who Anne encountered in Lyme, has shown renewed interest in being part of the family. It’s initially suspected that he wants to pick up things with Elizabeth since his wife died, however, Lady Russell believes instead that it is Anne who is the object of his attention. Although Anne much likes Mr. Elliot, she believes that he is hiding something.
She is still trying to figure out exactly what he is hiding when Captain Wentworth appears in Bath. Wentworth is icy toward Anne, but upon the announcement of engagement for both of Mary’s husband’s sisters, Anne assumes it is because he is disappointed by that. She receives information that an old classmate of hers is also living in Bath, and she decides to go see her. Mrs. Smith, widowed, is completely destitute, and she explains to Anne the reason–Mr. Elliot!! When Mrs. Smith heard from her nurse that Mr. Elliot was courting Anne, she knew that she had to warn her. Mr. Elliot was solely focused on money and married his wife solely for that purpose. It had not worked out the way that he wanted and he led Mr. Smith into expenses beyond what he could afford, eventually leaving Mrs. Smith with nothing.
Anne knows that she needs to inform Lady Russell about this information as she has already disapproved of Wentworth once but seems quite taken by Mr. Elliot. Charles and Mary arrive with Charles’s sister and her fiance. Mary appears to see Mr. Elliot out the window, although he was supposed to have already left Bath. When Anne looks, she sees him speaking to Elizabeth’s friend Mrs. Clay. The arrival of Mary has detoured the plan to speak to Lady Russell. In the meantime, Anne and Wentworth reconnect and decide that they were right so long ago and should be married. Even Lady Russell agrees that it is nice to see Anne happy. Obviously the announcement foiled the plans of Mr. Elliot. He left Bath shortly thereafter, followed soon by Mrs. Clay, who had also been trying to get into the family wealth by hoping to marry the widowed Walter Elliot. Anne and Wentworth marry, and help Mrs. Smith get back onto her feet.
Verdict: 3.5 stars
For a classic, this read fairly smoothly. Austen’s work always feels more modern due to her strong women characters. The downfall, like many classic novels, is that it never got really interesting. The book sort of hummed along at a steady pace, perhaps the only exception being when we find out about Mr. Elliot’s past which is still fairly tame in modern experiences. All in all, I thought it was good enough to finish!