This was the novel I found most unlike that which I expected from Austen. An unhappy love story, a woman unconscionably ill-used by her family, lack of sisterly affection among a family of girls, feelings of obligation to marry after having dallied (usually the men have to be harried into marrying the object of their attentions)… and a sensible mother. Admittedly one who dies young, but still leaves the care of her daughters to her almost equally sensible friend. It also contained the first mention of girls at school (or perhaps I missed references in other novels) in Austen’s work, and unusually for Austen, the heroine dislikes Bath and its “white glare”, professing a “very determined, but very silent, disinclination” (which I think is my favourite Austen quote?).
I have to say, I like Anne Elliot. She reminds me of a few friends! She’s not perfect and knows it, she can be self-indulgent about her broken heart, but notices the irony of her situation. She shows pride and jealousy and the whole range of emotions one would expect – so many of Austen’s characters are unbalanced in one particular direction (Elinor is too sensible, Marianne too emotional, Elizabeth is too feisty, Jane too beautiful, Catherine too inexperienced, Emma too meddling) – Fanny and Anne alone are characters I might expect to meet.
I recently read that Persuasion was named in a Top 10 list of books about jealousy – and I can now understand why. Usually in Austen books there are x couples, y of whom are either in or out of love at any one point. In this one, there are x men and x women and the permutations are endless – I imagine it to be like one of those circular dances where every round each dancer ends up with the partner one along from their previous partner. At least in the end everyone ends up with the right person, and some pairings were completely unexpected.
On the whole, the plot was both more complex and made more sense than most of the rest, possibly excepting P&P and Mansfield Park – but in MP no one moves very far. There were also some interesting discourses on the differences between women and men when it comes to emotions, a bit of social justice and lots about pride and class (not focussing so much on money as in other novels, but purely on social hierarchy).
I would rate this second among Austen’s books – having not read Pride & Prejudice since high school, it might have to come equal second with that, but certainly no lower.
So that’s the Austen marathon over… the Brontës are next, although I’ve still got a bit to write summing up Austen’s works.