It seems strange to review a book a couple of hundred years old, moreover by a literary icon whose books have given rise to movie adaptations galore, as well as zombie and vampire spinoffs.
So rather than a review, let’s just say that I want to share some thoughts. Persuasion was Austen’s last book, written during the months of an illness that resulted in her death. The exact diagnoses isn’t known, there are various theories based on what little is known of her symptoms. So this novel had two strikes against it, ill-health and lacking the re-working and polishing of her earlier novels.
Interestingly, though, it provides the only existing manuscript. She re-wrote the climactic chapter and I found the original online, but can’t right now! (I’ll post if I do.)
As an aside, a couple of interesting historical tidbits from the novel: naval success and speed of travel. Travel by horse and carriage was 3 miles an hour. I can understand, in that context, how revolutionary trains were, increasing speed by 10x. It’s comparable to today’s fastest passenger jets relative to car travel.
War was profitable. Captured merchant vessels (probably American, who were supplying the French in the Napoleonic wars) were sold along with contents and the spoils divided among the crew, 1/4 going to the captain and smaller and smaller proportions down the line. Fortunes were made this way, the equivalent of millions of dollars today.
Back to the novel. The heroine, Anne Eliot, unlike Elizabeth Bennett and so on, isn’t a teenager but an adult (albeit young) woman in her late 20’s. She is compliant out of a sense of duty, insightful, intelligent, observant, competent, aware of her feelings which run strong though seldom expressed, and aware of how to manage her feelings.
Like other Austen novels, there is a silly selfish parent and a silly selfish sibling, as well as a selfish sibling who’s a hypochondriac. Love is thwarted through bad advice but comes out well in the end. Unlike the other novels, the heroine doesn’t overlook her true love and focus her affections on an unworthy though seemingly attractive other.
There is a character like that, who charms everyone but the heroine and turns out to be the no-good cad that is prominent in other novels. However the main thrust of the narrative isn’t affected one way or the other by that, and that is a weakness in the story.
I wasn’t grabbed by the heroine right off the bat, just as in the novel many around her aren’t, but after a bit I came to really like her quiet intelligence and zipped through the story waiting for true love and fortitude to win the day, which, it being an Austen novel, even the last one, does of course.
A good deal of the story takes place in Bath, and I wondered if there was any autobiography in the choice of heroine. By the sound of it, from what I read, Austen was rather funnier and more caustic than Eliot. And though she suffered from the same kind of financial reverses as her characters, she had much better family support.
I also found it interesting that Austen worked on novels for quite some years before being published, and that she even had to pay to get the first novel back from a publisher who never did anything with it. So, folks, it seems there is hope for all of us yet.