March 01, 2008

Review: Persuasion

by Jane Austen

An acquaintance of mine shared with me that she disliked Jane Austen's works. Obviously I was very surprised. A woman? Not loving Jane Austen? What's wrong with her? She said she gave it a try once and was so bored that she put it down after only a couple of chapters and never picked it back up again. She prefers action, lots of immediate action, in her books.

So while I was reading the first couple of chapters I realised that she was right. They are extremely boring. Really, really boring. The narrator is simply telling about the family and the situation they are in, in serious debt, needing to "retrench.". In fact, there is no real action in the book until many chapters in; and then it is not really action, per se, but dialog and taking walks. You have to make it to the 100 page mark before anything truly happens.

Put away your tar and feathers. I am not a convert to the Anti-Austen League. I'm just saying. At least for Persuasion, it has its boring parts.

But what my acquaintance misses (and I suspect this of her reading as a whole) is that in order to acquire the depth of feeling and intimacy with the characters that make for good reading, this kind of stage setting is necessary. Austen has depth and intimacy.

I have another qualm though; a real one this time. I love the character of Anne Elliot. I wish my own personality was more like hers. She is upright and wise, proper and true. But she is just too perfect. Austen goes out of her way to make sure that the reader understands that Anne really never makes poor choices. At the end of the book, Anne and Capt. Wentworth discuss her rightness in being persuaded to break off their original engagement. She has such confidence in Lady Russell, in her judgements; judgements that have been proved more than once to be flawed (I'm thinking of Mr. Elliot here). According to Lady Russell's way of doing things, Anne's happiness is secondary to her need for a husband of title and honor. Yet, Anne forgives her, as any wise and upright woman ought to. Alas, I am not so easily forgiving and I don't see how Capt. Wentworth shall be either. Lady Russell may appreciate Anne better than Anne's own family but ultimately she is in alignment with Sir Walter's ideals. How foolish!

Tonight I watch the Hinds/Root movie again with a few women from the reading group, which should be a lot of fun. Then we meet to discuss on Monday night. I know a few members have not cared for this book but most of them are right sensible women. =)


Framed said...

I enjoy Austen's books enough to secure my own copy of Persuasion, but I'm not an Austen junkie. I do think they make fun movies. Great costumes.

Robin said...

This was a fun post! I love Anne Elliot, and I do agree with your feelings about Lady Russell.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I think it takes a little something to appreciate this type of fiction. It's certainly not the type I would pass on to my coworkers or even my sister who go for the action. I think maybe its just the plain appreciate of words--the masterly way that Austen creates a little world.

I haven't read this one and don't own it (it's the only one I don't own), so I probably won't read it for a while. I haven't heard great things about it, to be honest. I look forward to reading Emma and possibly Sense and Sensibility this year.

Your reading group sounds like fun! And love the green--very springy!

Jeane said...

I'm not really into action-packed books, but I haven't yet felt compelled to read Austen. It just sounded boring, I'm ashamed to say. I am going to give her a good try, one of these days!

Petunia said...

Framed-Yes. I love the movies and the costumes. If I was going to be a period actor, this is the period I would choose.

Robin-I'm glad I'm not the only one. My book group all disagreed with me.

Trish-I've seen divided reviews of Persuasion. It's either the favorite or not in the top three.

Jeane-I don't know which one I would suggest trying first but probably not Persuasion.

Kimmie said...

I wasn't crazy about Persuasion. I liked Pride and Prejudice more. Those are the only two I've read. After I finished, I remember thnking they're just 19th century Harlequins.

Petunia said...

Kimmie-I believe the book critics of the 19th century were in agreement with you. But I think there is an ocean of difference between Austen-style romance and modern day Harlequin drivel. Make mine an Austen please.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book - Persuasion is my favourite Austen, although Emma comes a close second.

And I have to say that I completely disagree with Kimmie - Harlequins lack the wit and irony of Austen. Harlequins are entirely plot-based; Austen's works are an intricately drawn portrait of Regency England.

As for Lady Russell, and Sir Walter - I found them hilarious! I've probably got the wrong idea entirely, but in my mind, I've always seen those two as caricatures of people Austen knew in real life.