Jane Austens Persuasion is a classic, which is both good and bad. It’s very well written, but also a bit tedious, since it tells almost exactly the same story as Austen’s other novels.
The tale of Anne Elliots bumpy road to a happy marriage is compelling, nothing more. I find myself muttering about these spoiled upper-class people making their fortunes on the deaths and toils of the poorer majority, but Austen is a true word-artist and manages to make me forget these “modern” objections, at least for a while.
Jane Austen is one of the seemingly undying classics. There aren’t that many early 19th century writers left that are still read today, and she is, without doubt, the most popular. Personally I loved the BBC-version of Pride and Prejudice from 1995, and later movies and tv-series have been very good as well. The problem with Austen, as with a lot of writers, is that she seems to tell the same story over and over again.
Thus, when reading Persuasion from 1818, her final novel, I know exactly what’s going to happen, even how it will come to be. Miss Anne Elliot is the daughter of a silly baronet with no capacity to maintain his fortune. Some years before the novel begins Anne turned down a marriage proposal from Captain Frederick Wentworth; rather: she was persuaded to turn it down by a close friend who considered the good captain not good enough. In the wake of Anne’s father being forced to rent out the family estate Anne meets Captain Wentworth again …
Nothing more is needed to say. By now you all know, as I did, exactly what will happen: the captains situation has improved, making him a much better catch; feelings will re-emerge, hampered by history; a rival will appear, obstacles will be duly overcome, and love will conquer in the end.
This makes the book somewhat tedious. Why sit through all these social events, listening to lady after lady babbling away page upon page? And why should I care what these spoiled, often stupid, people have to say about the world? Austen portrays the world she knew, and sometimes an insightful comment about the ordeals of other classes seeps through the silk-curtain, but over all it’s a romantic version of Britain around the Napoleonic wars. Naval officers make a career by slaughtering people and no-one even askes the question whether this is morally acceptable. I understand that the times were different, but there must have been pacifists even in those days.
Stylistically, however, it’s a very well written novel. The characters are plausible and it is aesthically a pleasure to read Persuasion. Interesting for me as a fellow writer is also the abundant use of “tell” rather than “show”, which supports my theory that it sometimes benefits (and without doubt shortens) a novel if you “tell” quite extensive parts of the story instead of “showing” them.
It’s a good book, deserving it’s status as a classic, but best if you haven’t encountered Jane Austen before.