It’s not everyday we feature a piece of classic literature on this blog, and I must admit, it’s a bit intimidating. I mean how do you review Jane-freakin’-Austen — literary goddess, the woman who practically birthed the modern romantic comedy, and who gifted the world with such paragons of male virtue as Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley and Captain Wentworth? I mean, seriously, how do you review that? How?
Well, always up for a challenge, I’m giving it a go. Growing up and into my adulthood, I’ve watched practically every Austen-based movie ever made… and several times. Sometimes lots of times. As in I’ve-lost-count-how-many-times-I’ve-seen-this-and-I-could-play-Lizzy-Bennet’s-part-in-my-sleep-with-one-hand-tied-behind-my-back-while-wearing-a-corset lots of times. But until this past try at reading Austen, I’d never actually finished a Jane Austen novel. “Self,” said I. “Your fear of reading Austen, and all classics for that matter, is ridiculous. Grow a pair, pick one, and just read it.”
So I did… do that… metaphorically.
It wasn’t too difficult to know which one I wanted to start with, as I’ve slowly been falling in love with Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot for so very long now. While I adore the drama and tension of Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion is a story I’ve had a growing admiration and love for over the years. It’s a quiet love story about mistakes and second chances, about pride and humility, about knowing yourself, trusting your own judgment and using discretion when taking the advice of others. It’s about strength of character and graciousness, devotion and faithfulness. It’s just… beautiful.
If I could choose but one thing that I loved most about Persuasion in my transition from screen to page, it’d be the more fully-realized character development. Not that Frederick and Anne weren’t who I thought they were, but as often happens, they were both just more than what the screenwriters and actors could convey in the films.
I love Anne. Something I never realized from the film versions of this novel was how much inner strength she possesses. It’s easy to see her as more of a wallflower or even a doormat in the movies, when in actuality I’d call her more charitable and resigned , which is not the same thing. While she longs for Wentworth, she accepts her choices and the consequences they brought about; that her chance with him is gone. That his heart is hardened against her forever, and she doesn’t blame him for it. While she may have once been overly influenced by her family and friends, she has since learned discretion and has developed a quiet sort of independence since refusing Captain Wentworth. Though not particularly outspoken or of an outgoing nature, Anne is a steadying force, a constant grounding presence to her friends and family, even when they don’t realize it. Her ability to be cool-headed, fair, pratical and gracious automatically draws those around her to her quiet gentleness. She’s a fantastic character, and more so than I had previously thought.
I also love Wentworth. He’s perhaps a bit more extroverted, more passionate, than I would’ve guessed from the films. I like how flawed Frederick is — he speaks without forethought or consideration and deals with his pain almost passive aggressively. Anne had dealt him a huge blow in refusing him and finding those wounds just as raw all these years later, he is at times most unfair and ungracious to Anne, even if she is the only one to recognize his little slights. And it can be rather painful to witness. But I liked that about him. He is but only human.
So you have these two people who’d been separated once upon a time by fortune, counsel, and choices, who’re suddenly thrown unexpectedly back together. Captain Wentworth is no longer a poor naval officer with an uncertain future and prospects whose marriage proposal Anne was persuaded to turn down. In the years since Anne’s refusal, he’s made his fortune in the navy, advanced and has found himself a rather wealthy individual… and has determined that it is now time to find himself a wife. (I love the rationale back in this time period.. find himself a wife, indeed. Like he could just pop into a few dinner parties and walk out with a life-long companion. Which in that time period was totally conceivable since marriage was more a business proposition for land, title, and financial security than for love or romance. But it’s just such a foreign way of looking at things to this 21st century American girl.) Anyway, back on track… it’s now time for Frederick to acquire himself a wife, when he (by several well-timed twists of fate) is brought face to face with the woman he once loved so passionately. Both of them are caught off-guard – Anne initally reacts with silence and avoidance, while Wentworth, who seemingly has no interest in her, holds the undivided attention of every lady in their party (eligible or not), taking the chance to shoot small verbal barbs Anne’s way when opportunities present themselves. But as they’re forced to endure one another’s company for an excruciatingly long period of time, as they slowly become reacquainted with each other through different social circumstances and near tragedies… well, let’s just say it gets deliciously in-ter-esting. <steeples fingers Mr. Burns-style>
Anyway, enough babbling. Suffice it to say, I love it. I love the romance. I love the tongue-in-cheek humor. I love Jane’s subtle (and not so subtle) digs at society and Society. I love her observations of human nature. I love the overall themes of the piece. I love it all.
Overall. Jane is amazing. Seriously, why did I not read Persuasion sooner? Because in this case, the saying once again proves true: The book is definitely better.
P.S. – Next up? Northanger Abbey. I need to meet Henry Tilney for myself.