Author: Jane Austen
Introduction and Annotations: David M. Shapard
Publisher: Anchor Books
Number of Pages: 517
I love Persuasion. It has been my favorite Austen since I first read it in 2005. But this reading didn't leave me with the same warm feelings I've had every other time I've read it. Perhaps it's because I am still sick. I'm now to the point where I'm irritated. This cold has been going on long enough and I don't seem to be able to get the better of it. Just when I think I'm getting better it rears up again in an ugly way, with different symptoms than before. These current symptoms leave me with zero desire to read, which is agony to me: reading is my main source of relaxation!
Jane Austen began working on Persuasion in 1815. It is thought by many that the version we read today was the first draft; that Austen had every intention of rewriting and expanding it, but illness kept her from doing so. Persuasion was published posthumously, by her brother, after her death in 1817.
From the Introduction:
She managed to finish Persuasion in 1816, though it is possible she was unable to revise and polish it as fully as she wished - the principle evidence for this is its short length, especially compared to the long novels that immediately preceded it, and its sketchily developed subplot involving Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay.
What I Liked:
I like Anne Elliot, the main character. Is there any reader of Jane Austen that doesn't like her? She is cautious, mature, self-reflective, and wise. She is someone I want to be. I want to be as cautious and wise as her. To be analyzing a situation properly before making a judgment; to be careful not to judge wrong or too harshly, to be forgiving.
A helpful Annotation came in Volume I, Chapter IV. The line is:
She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned more romance as she grew older - the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.The Annotation is:
37. The normal sequence would be to start romantically, perhaps by trying to marry purely for love, and to become more attuned to the importance of prudence as one aged.Again, who wouldn't want to be Anne Elliot? To learn prudence before falling in love and being with the one you love. Being prudent beforehand would certainly save a person much heartache.
My favorite Annotation came in Volume I, Chapter XII. Louisa Musgrove's accident at Lyme has just occurred and Captain Wentworth, Anne, and Henrietta Musgrove are returning to Uppercross. The line in the book is:
Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him [Captain Wentworth] now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel, that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favor of happiness, as a very resolute character.The Annotation explains:
98. This offers a crucial lesson of the book. Its recommendation of a mean of behavior, in this case between being resolute and being persuadable, is typical of Jane Austen.
What I Didn't Like:
Perhaps it was because of the irritation from being sick, but I was quite annoyed by the Annotations, even when I found them helpful. Sometimes it distracted me from the movement of the plot and the beauty of Austen's language.
From Volume I, Chapter VIII:
Mrs. Croft: "The only time that I ever really suffered in body or mind, the only time that I ever fancied myself unwell, or had any ideas of danger, was the winter that I passed by myself at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft then) was in the North Seas. I lived in perpetual fright at that time, and had all manner of imaginary complaints from not knowing what to do with myself, or when I should hear from him next; but as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me, and I never met with the smallest inconvenience."
(This quote has special significance for me: I read Persuasion for the second time just after my husband was shipped off to Afghanistan in February of 2010. When I came across this quote by Mrs. Croft I was struck with how closely it resembled my own feelings. My husband wouldn't be returning for six months, and I was left alone in a city we had recently moved to and I didn't know anyone or have any friends close by to support me.)
In spite of my cold, which has plagued me for so long, I still love Persuasion. I still hope, one day, to be as wise as Anne Elliot. Perhaps my goal of reading great books will help me on that journey. But, like Jane Austen, I believe there should be a mean in our behavior. Believing ourselves wise would be unwise. Our beliefs about ourselves should be tempered with humility. As the Bible says: "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." (Proverbs 26:12 NIV)