Saturday, January 19, 2008

Becky's Thoughts on the Novel Persuasion

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways....

Persuasion by Jane Austen has to be--without a doubt--my favorite, favorite Austen novel. I've only read it twice, but each time was oh-so-magical. Though I will *admit* that it perhaps isn't a book that will "grab" you from page one. It might take some patience and effort, but give it a chapter or two (or three) and you might just find yourself swept up in the story of Anne Elliot.

Sir Walter Eliott, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Barnetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs, changed naturally into pity and contempt, as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century--and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed--this was the page at which the favorite volume always opened: Elliot of Kellynch-Hall.

See what I mean about NOT being an opening that will hook you? Long story short...or three reasons why you should read Persuasion despite its verbose, pompous opening....

1) It is the story of Anne Elliot. A middle child, a daughter obviously, born into a pompous and atrocious family muddles through the best she can while waiting for her Prince to come. (Okay, she's not really waiting for her Prince to come and rescue her. She's all but given up on love since she's also, at age 27, an "old maid.")

2) Despite coming from a ghastly, horribly obnoxious family, Anne herself is not only intelligent and genuine but she's also thoroughly enjoyable and likable. She has a wit and cleverness about her. She actually sees the world around her. She isn't blind to reality like so many of the other characters.

3) Persuasion is all about second chances. Anne Elliot, a girl who truly deserves good things because her family is so rotten, lost her one chance for love and happiness eight years before our narrative opens. Her heart belonged--then and now--to a young man, a sailor, Frederick Wentworth. But her family and friends deemed him unworthy and unacceptable. And forced into choosing between her family and her love, she chose her family. A decision she regretted from the moment she broke her lover's heart.

When Persuasion opens the reader learns that hard times have come to the Elliot family--a family mostly known for its arrogance and pride. The family is *forced* into renting out their estate to an Admiral Croft and his wife. The Elliot family--all but Anne--will reside in Bath year round. Anne, poor Anne, only Anne, will be parceled out as need be between Bath and her father and older sister, Elizabeth, and her younger sister, Mary.

What can I say about Mary? Mary is interesting--and by interesting I mean obnoxious and annoying--in a completely different way than her father, Sir Walter, and her sister, Elizabeth. Mary is married to Charles. Charles Musgrove. Charles and Mary and their two children live on the estate--in a smaller house--as his parents and his sisters. They (the they being Charles' parents) live in the "great house." Anne's time spent with her sister and her sister's in-laws is interesting to say the least. Mainly because someone has just arrived in the neighborhood. A Captain Wentworth. Captain Frederick Wentworth.

Just the sight of him makes her heart skip a beat--or two or three--she loves him like she's always loved him. But he's out of reach. He's now courting--of all people--one of the Musgrove sisters.

Love. Requited. Unrequited. Broken hearts. Regret. Jealousy. Disappointment. Frustration. It's all there with just a little more besides.

I do not want to spoil this one for anyone. Really. I don't want to. So please, please, please stop reading if you haven't read the novel. I mean it.


There are just a few scenes--one really big scene--that makes this novel oh-so-magical. That takes it from nice to really really great.

I love, love, love the conversation between Anne Elliot and Captain Harville. Their discussion on which sex--which gender--loves most, loves deepest, loves truer is one of the best dialogues ever. Seriously. Mostly because of the heart-felt letter that is the result of Captain Wentworth overhearing that conversation. That letter? The best, most romantic love letter of ALL TIME. Who could not love this guy?

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan.

The letter goes on, but I think you get the idea. Anyway, as much as I love Pride & Prejudice (and I do) I've just got to give the award to Anne and Captain Wentworth when it comes to love and romance. Okay, it only wins by a small margin--because Darcy is quite a letter-writer as well. And he is oh-so-dreamy in his own ways. But Anne, Anne is what makes this book so wonderful. She's a heroine that has nothing to recommend her but her self--her true self. A self that only a few recognize as a thing of beauty, a thing of great worth.

Let's compare Wentworths...first the 1995 Persuasion, then the 2008 Persuasion.

Now let's compare Anne Elliots...first the 1995 Persuasion, then the 2008 Persuasion

There is a cool character chart for the new movie.

As for the movies, I think I will *always* prefer the 1995 version. Even though none of the characters are glamorously beautiful, they're real and genuine. And that movie is *closer* to the book than this latest version. The real crime--in my opinion--is that they DID NOT HAVE the ultra-romantic scene with Captain Harville and Anne Elliot. They abbreviate that conversation down to a few lines, put it very nearly in the beginning, and have it taking place between Anne and a Captain Benwick. Therefore Wentworth can't overhear it, and doesn't have the *proper* motivation to write that beautiful, beautiful letter. Instead they invent a new excuse or else completely gloss over motivation entirely and have the letter showing up without provocation or reason. It's just suddenly there in the script. Silly, silly writers. Why mess with the majesty of the perfect scene???? If the new movie HAD bothered to get it right, perhaps there would be some competition between the two.


Unknown 8:06 PM  

AAHHHH! They killed it.

Maybe I won't watch it now. Ciaran Hines is just perfect as Captain Wentworth, anyway.

"That letter? The best, most romantic love letter of ALL TIME. Who could not love this guy?"

I've been extolling the virtues of this letter for years, trying to get people to read this book. The absolutely most romantic letter ever written. Period.

Laura 10:54 PM  

I love the 1995 version, and haven't seen any other.

Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel, too, and was the first one I read as an "adult" (I was 18). I'd read P&P an S&S when I was younger, but Persuasion just made me love Jane Austen and appreciate her more than the first two I read by her.

Great review!

Shelley 11:39 PM  

Thanks for this wonderful post! It reminded me of how good of a novel Persuasion is. I have seen the 1995 version, but I will have to see the new one just because I love to compare books/movies whether they are good or not! My favorite Jane Austen book is Mansfield Park.

Anonymous,  9:47 AM  

Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel, too (at least among the ones I've read). And I agree with everything you said about the 1995 film adaptation and the newer PBS one. They totally messed it up by rearranging that critical scene (as if they thought they could improve on Austen!)

Paige Y. 3:20 PM  

Persuasion is my Austen read for this summer -- I'm looking forward to it. This will be my 4th summer of reading Austen, and I've liked all that I've read except Emma, which I only tolerated (the other two I've read are Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility).

Anonymous,  3:20 PM  

Great post! I followed the link from Semicolon. I think P & P is my current fave, but I've only read Persuasion once, and your particulars only make me want to read it again the more. I watched the PBS, enough after reading the novel, that I didn't notice many differences, other than it felt thin and that the unfortunate Freddy (Teddy?) Musgrove wasn't included.

I saw earlier this week at Book Moot her preference for the 1995 version, and I'll have to seek it out, though perhaps once PBS's Austen extravaganza takes a break.

Anonymous,  11:29 PM  

I have tried to read Persuasion but I keep losing interest on page 2... I plan on trying again soon and now that I have read this, I know I just need to wait a bit. Other than this, I like everything I have read by Austen thus far, though P&P is my favorite.

The Bookworm 3:35 PM  

I havent read Persuasion yet, but saw the recent film version and enjoyed it. P&P is my fav Austen novel, but your review makes me want to read Persuasion and compare the two :)

Great review as usual!

Anonymous,  4:09 PM  

I love Persuasion, it´s amazing. Anne is so sweet, and the captain Wentworth is so handsome and strong than makes me fall in love of this book, it´s the best.

Justin Gist Preuninger 4:26 PM  

The most glaring problem about the new film... which you failed to mention, is the way in which they filmed... which is to say the cameramen focused in too closely on the subjects of the film, which is particularly difficult to watch when that character is running across a city and bobbing up and down and causing the entire frame of vision to shake about in a most unpleasant manner.

I confess finding myself too distracted to notice many of the other failings, and will therefore re-watch it at some point to compare the two better. I particularly want to see exactly the differences in filming locations, etc. :)

One more thing, I will say, I think Anne Elliot was much better in the older one... it seems often that film adaptations of Austen's works misunderstand the characters they are working with... often attributing weakness where there should actually be strength of character.

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