“…She believed she must now submit to feel that another lesson, in the art of knowing our own nothingness beyond our own circle, was become necessary for her.”
I doubt there are many who are not familiar with the plot of “Persuasion”. If there is ever the hope of second chances in life, this novel illustrates that indeed, that hope not only exists but is not a vain hope! Anne, at nineteen, and having lost her mother several years before, is strongly influenced by her friend and surrogate mother, Lady Russell, to refuse the hand of Captain Frederick Wentworth (who at that time had not attained his status in the navy, nor yet had made his fortune). Citing her youth and his lack of prospects, Lady Russell cautions Anne so strongly against the match that she caves, and for eight more years lives in regret and in the ‘what ifs’ of her decision.
Now, however, Anne’s father has proven to be improvident himself (such a vain figure is unparalled in literature!) and must resort to letting his home, Kellynch Hall, and to none other than Frederick Wentworth’s sister.
I enjoyed this (re-) reading of “Persuasion” so much. Jane’s quiet touch, the way she puts her finger so cleverly upon human foibles and pokes fun at distinguishing characteristics never cease to amuse and entertain.
“Though better endowed than the elder sister, Mary had not Anne’s understanding or temper. While well, and happy, and properly attended to, she had great good humour and excellent spirit but any indisposition sunk her completely; she had no resources for solitude; and inheriting a considerable share of the Elliot self-importance, was very prone to add to every other distress that of fancying herself neglected and ill-used. In person, she was inferior to both sisters, and had, even in her bloom, only reached the dignity of being a ‘fine girl’.”
Anne Elliot may truly be my favorite heroine in literature and more specifically in Jane Austen’s novels. She is perhaps more reserved than she needs to be, but her forgiving nature (who could put up with such a family as hers?) and her forbearance and lack of resentment of their neglect are all qualities to be greatly admired. Anne is not only constant in her affections, she is also able to laugh at herself (as when she arranges her concert seat so as to be near Captain Wentworth) and the reader laughs with her, able to identify with her desperation that results in such an unlikely (for an Anne Elliot character) maneuver.
Austen’s quiet writing brings solace and comfort to the reader; her clever plot twists (who could predict that Anne’s compassionate friendship of Mrs. Smith would result in such revelations?), her gradual build-up of character are all woven together in one short volume. With wit and humor, the author reveals Anne’s true nature in sharp contrast to not only her sisters Mary (a joke and a half!) and Elizabeth, but also the mysterious cousin and heir Mr. Elliot.
There are other clever contrasts as well. Anne finds pleasure in the company of the happy Admiral and Mrs. Croft. Their cheerful congenial natures cannot but stand out starkly against the self-absorbing, turbulently emotional home atmosphere of Anne’s sister Mary and Charles Musgrove. The hospitable Harville family, generous to offer their home in a crisis ( although themselves lacking an abundance of comforts) are set in contrast to the pretentious Elizabeth Elliot, who hesitates to tender a dinner invitation while residing in Bath lest guests should notice their reduced circumstances. Among Anne’s choice friendships there is the unsinkable Mrs. Smith:
“Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial, but generally speaking it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick chamber; it is selfishness and impatience rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of. There is so little real friendship in the world! – and unfortunately” (speaking low and tremulously) “there are so many who forget to think seriously till it is almost too late.”
It is no wonder that Jane Austen is one of the most beloved novelists today! Countless discerning readers seek the answers to her renowned popularity, (and her sentence structure *can* be quite involved and lengthy), but there is really no mystery to it. The best of literature not only entertains with a well-written story, revealing true human nature that both resonates and identifies with the reader but also moves the reader to self-improvement. When the vicissitudes and circumstances of life itself becomes almost insurmountable, Jane Austen gives her readers, along with her characters, reason to persevere and surmount each difficulty with fortitude, determination and strength of character… and best of all, she teaches us to laugh at ourselves.