Persuasion tells the story of Anne, middle daughter of a baronet who followed her family's advice in her youth, didn't marry the man she loved because they didn't think he was good enough (read: rich and distinguished enough) for her, and is now in her upper-twenties and uncertain that she made the right choice. In the predictable manner of a Jane Austen novel, Anne is presented with other young men who she might want to marry her, if she feels them worthy, and the man she turned down makes an appearance.
Anne is, of course, greatly superior to her two sisters. The younger, married sister wants to be in the center of everything and feels very put upon when she isn't the most attended person in the room. The elder sister, Elizabeth, has taken on the role of lady of the house, after her mother's death. As the story opens, Anne and her family are moving out of the family estate due to financial troubles - they let the family to a naval captain and go to live in Bath. Her father and sister, through-out the book, are more concerned with appearing not to be let down in station than in adjusting their behavior to keep from losing more money. Anne is more rational about circumstances, but her father and sister don't listen to her.
A central problem of the book is whether "true love" can ever fade, in any circumstances, or if a shift in affections
indicates a faulty character and an insincere love. We, of course, have Anne and her lost love, and the question of whether either of
them are justified in marrying someone else. If you are rejected by your love, does it weaken your character to allow yourself to fall in love with someone else? If your love dies, are you obliged to remain unmarried in order to honor that love? In the end, though, I think the central problem is: if you love somebody, how wrong is it to listen to the advice of all of your friends and family when they tell you you should not marry them?
The last question is one that is echoed in many of Austen's other works, and she seems to be uncertain what to conclude. There are clearly cases in her books where young ladies believe themselves to be in love and make choices that are catastrophic (see Lydia in Pride and Prejudice for one). However, if a woman is sensible and knows her love is true, and not based, as say Mr. Bennett's (from Pride and Prejudice as well) love for his wife is, on physical attraction and flattery, one may be right to marry against the advice of one's friends and family. In Mansfield Park, we are shown three sisters, one of whom marries for love against the advice of her family and ends up the least happy.
Ultimately, I think Persuasion answers the question by saying that one can go against the wishes of one's family, but it takes a mature and tested mind to do so, and should not be done lightly. It gives a direct answer to the disturbing fact in Mansfield Park that the miserable sister is the one who married for love. Fanny's mother married a young sailor who hadn't proved himself or made a way for himself in the world yet. She jumped in, and her husband was tied down by a family and didn't achieve what he might have. In Persuasion, Anne's love is also a young sailor just starting out. In this case, she does turn him down, and we get to see what happens when time, thought, and hard work are brought between two people in love.
I think this is one of Austen's more thoughtful books, with less of the witty banter and lighthearted romance that some of her earlier, more popular works include. But I recommend it, for both fans, but even for readers who are interested in getting to know the author. A definite '+'.
Review written June 2001.
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