I don’t believe in coincidence and commonly used oversimplifications of value and talent. Most things are what they are for a reason. Jane Austen is a literary myth for a reason. And it’s not like I needed to read Persuasion in specific to confirm this, but this book certainly worked as a bloody good reminder for me, as I haven’t touched any Austen in years.
Persuasion, her last completed novel, is a book on second chances, on hindsight and on breaking free from ghosts of the past. It’s not as funny and quirky as Emma, it’s not as sparkling and witty as Pride And Prejudice (my personal favourite), but it has a lot more feeling and a bigger heart than both (combined as well probably). And it’s the most refined and mature Austen I've read.
And that’s not even the main reason this book sucked me in so much.
One of the things I adore about Austen’s writing is the hidden things. Despite her literary status as giant, some people out there actually believe that Jane Austen’s novels are limited to romance storytelling in 18th century England and therefore, watching the BBC miniseries or one of the movies will do just as well.
These people are simply misinformed. (Although both the miniseries and the movies are great fun by the way - some of them have even grown to become pretty legendary in their field!) Obviously, as historical romance is at the core of any Austen novel, she’s a pioneer and a massively influential author of the genre. But she is also a master of sarcastic - and even cynical sometimes - social commentary and a genius in addressing strikingly existential issues (and daring to go to great depth as well), when you least expect it. The key characteristic in her prose though is that these things are always hidden; lurking between her lines and never too obvious. Austen’s writing isn't screaming to be taken seriously. It really is Serious Art. And Persuasion falls right in the heart of this signature Austen technique; the hidden things.
In Persuasion, social caste, gender, friendship, appearances and looks-obsession, silliness and marriage are all being commented upon critically through the eyes of Anne mostly, the completely ignored middle daughter of an absurdly vain baronet, Sir Walter Elliott, who has to be the most pathetic character Jane Austen has even invented (ok, so I haven’t read Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey yet, but how can anyone be worse. Seriously). In fact, almost everybody sucks in this story and those who don’t, felt otherwise annoying to me; I absolutely couldn't relate to anyone at all, not even Anne, because let’s face it; she’s not the typical bubbly Austen girl, she gets persuaded way too easily and as predictable as it will sound, I’m still rooting for the Elizabeth Bennets and the Emma Woodhouses of this world who hold their own.
And yet it doesn't matter. Austen is again killing it plotwise too (I already said the prose kicks arse, didn't I?), suffice to say she’s too amazing an author to bother with a just-tedious heroine. My lips are sealed, but:
“All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.”
Anne may not be exciting, but Jane Austen’s superpowers are not to be taken lightly. If you've read her before, you know.