Persuasion was the only major Austen novel that I had not read, so I was thrilled when Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine announced her read-along. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the novel quite as much as Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, but I'd heard enough positive reviews to whet my curiousity. And so I plunged in.
Anne Elliot is one of three daughters of Sir Walter Elliot, a vain baronet who is obsessed with the peerage. While her sister, Elizabeth, is somewhat bossy, and Mary proves a proud, yet questionable, invalid, Anne shows a quiet reserve with more than average good sense and judgement. Eight years ago, her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth was almost certain, but without a mother for guidance, and influenced by a respected friend of the family, Lady Russell, she broke off the engagement with a deep regret.
|Manor House, Somersetshire (Halsway Manor)|
Initially, Captain Wentworth is all resentment and cool responses, but gradually, as he sees Anne's quiet sacrifices, calm demeanour, and strength of character, his acrimony softens towards her. Yet, at the same time, he appears to be playing the eligible bachelor, and it is uncertain as to which woman he will chose to be Mrs. Wenworth. Both of Anne's sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa, vie for the title and Anne must watch the perceived courtships with an uneasy mind. A near-tragedy causes introspection in more hearts than one, Mr. Eliot, Anne's cousin and heir to Kellynch, enters the picture to further obscure the matters of courtship, but the final culmination exemplifies that a steadfast love is strengthened by misfortune and time, and the past lovers reunite in a now more matured and seasoned alliance.
While Austen, as per her usual method, allows the reader to examine certain segments of society, in this book especially, she seems to be highlighting the movements between the social classes, either by marriage or by economic necessity. Within Anne's family, we not only have the family as a whole dropping in perceived standing by the lack of money to maintain their position at Kellynch, we also have the numerous characters dealing with the descent with different outlooks. Sir Walter is obsessed with his Baronetage book and the importance of his place within the realm of society. At first, he employs denial as to their new position, but thanks to a rather blind self-importance, is able to be persuaded to accept their new situation as if nothing has practically changed. Anne's sister, Elizabeth, too, acts as if nothing has altered, yet you can see at certain points in the novel that she is aware of the disadvantage of their new situation and that they must have a heightened awareness of appearance to maintain the respect and dignity that they view as a societal necessity. Anne does not seem to be bothered by the family's reduced circumstances, as position to her comes secondary to character and honesty and integrity. In the old governess, Mrs. Smith we can examine what has come from her rise in stature upon her marriage, and then her subsequent fall upon her husband's death when she finds herself in financial troubles. Finally, cousin William Elliot falls from his seat of grace with his scandalous behaviour at the end of the novel.
|Pulteny Bridge, Bath|
"I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now. To me, she was in the place of a parent. Do not mistake me, however. I am not sayng that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice. But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman's portion."
In the book Anne is consistently dutiful, to her friend, Mrs. Smith, to her family and, more importantly, to her own conscience; and so we learn that a strong sense of duty and obedience to it is more crucial than any personal inclinations or aspirations.
|Sandhill Park, Somerset (1829)|
J.P. Neale/W. Taylor