I’m a romance writer, right? So, I should probably do something for Valentine’s Day. I haven’t had time to do a short this year (sorry!) so instead, I’ll offer a review of one of my own very favorite classic reads, Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
Persuasion isn’t Austen’s most popular novel. In fact, between the romantic wit of Pride and Prejudice and the comedic intricacies of Emma, I feel like Persuasion is often overlooked. When I was 16, my favorite Austen was Pride and Prejudice. When I was in college, it was Sense and Sensibility. I’d read Persuasion, but it didn’t seem quite as witty or funny or romantic as Austen’s other novels.
But somewhere around thirty, I read Persuasion again. And my more mature brain, the one who had seen the challenges of love and life and family and relationships woke up and said, “Oh. Yes. Now, I get it.”
When was the last time you read Persuasion?
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it features Anne Eliot, who is, I believe, Austen’s oldest heroine at age 27. Practically a spinster in those days, Anne is one of Austen’s quieter heroines. The middle daughter of a landed (but spendthrift) father, she had broken off her engagement to the hero of the book eight years before the novel opens under persuasion from her family and a close (and truly well-meaning) friend. Her suitor, Captain Wentworth, is a dashing self-made naval officer who comes from a family of no particular social significance or money, which was the reason Anne’s family objected to him.
At the opening of the novel, Wentworth re-enters Anne’s life. Having made a fortune in the war, he is now a very eligible bachelor. He resents Anne at the beginning of the novel for rejecting him (also quite relatable!) and is determined to marry a woman of good character… as long as it is not Anne.
Plot twists ensue. Motivations and miscommunications slowly reveal themselves, and in the end, Anne and Wentworth find their way back to each other. Anne is older, and thus more confident in her own decisions than she had been at 19. Wentworth learns temperance and forgiveness. They both respect the path that led them to start their life together a little later than originally planned, but a life sweeter for the valuable lessons learned through loss.
Persuasion is a second chance at love. And one of the things that I love about it is how fervently the main characters grab on to that love when it is offered again. In the end, Wentworth pens in a letter to Anne one of the most fervent declarations that Austen ever wrote:
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”
They’re older. Wiser. And no less in love then they had been. More, in fact. They appreciate and respect each other more than they would have eight years before. In my opinion, Anne and Wentworth have one of the most equal and progressive partnerships in Austen’s novels. It’s a wonderful relationship, where both parts strengthen the other.
Have you read Persuasion lately? Read it again if you haven’t, and appreciate Anne and Wentworth’s second chance at love.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
(And here’s the trailer for the 1995 film. Please ignore the cheesy voice-over and just enjoy Ciaran Hinds in that rather awesome uniform.)