Oxford University Press
Hardback Edition (1975)
Introductions by James Edward Austen-Leigh (Austen's nephew)
ISBN 0 19 254705 4
Being a product of the early 19th-century, as well as a work of Jane Austen, Persuasion is, of course, highly enjoyable. It was written in 1816 and published posthumously in 1818; and apparently was not fully complete or polished when its author died. Indeed, in this particular edition, there are two alternative chapters at the end that vary slightly from the ones that were officially published. Even so, one would never guess that Austen was not satisfied with Persuasion, because it is just as delightful and poignant as her other books, while including such subjects as growing older and failed love-affairs, life in the navy, and whether it is better to be steadfast or to be persuadable.
The novel's heroine is Anne Elliot, who is all of twenty-seven and (gasp!) unmarried. The reader comes to understand that she once had a potential suitor, Captain Frederick Wentworth, but because they had to part Anne lost her loveliness and happiness. This was eight years before, and yet time has done little to change Anne's feelings. Much of the book concerns Anne and Captain Wentworth being accidentally thrown together and gradually getting reacquainted, which is wonderfully angsty; but then, I always was a sucker for long, painful, and drawn-out love affairs. One really starts to care for these characters, despite Anne's supposed lack of charm and youth, and despite Wentworth's coolness and distance. The fact that Wentworth is being pursued by the young and high-spirited Musgrove sisters (of whom one is bright enough to give herself a concussion) does not help matters. Anyway, over the course of the story, other characters begin to realize what any reader can see from the beginning: that Anne's self-possession, clear head, and sense more than make up for her moderate "bloom" and age.
The navy is another prominent feature in Persuasion. Since the reader comes into contact with numerous vacationing captains, the book must be set after the close of the Napoleonic Wars; but even so, the patterns of naval life figure large in the story. On a side note, this aspect of the novel is much more enjoyable if one is used to naval fiction; the Master and Commander series is outstanding, especially since it is set in the same time period. As I was saying, the demands of the navy are important to the plot; Captain Wentworth had to leave Anne after her refusal because of duty, and Admiral Croft is on leave and so lets Kellynch, the Elliot estate. Even more significant is the debate between Captain Harville and Anne about whether men or women love more deeply, in which nautical analogies play a part ("I am in very good anchorage here...", etc); Captain Wentworth is nearby and overhears this conversation. You can imagine the rest. An amusing, if less considerable, factor of the story is the opinions laypeople have of the navy - Sir William, for one, grumbles about how the navy might allow those of inferior birth to rise higher in status than those of noble backgrounds; he also complains about how gruesome some captains are, what with scars and various body parts blown off. An interesting comment, considering that the navy effectively saved England from invasion.
Of course, as the title suggests, this novel deals with a central question: whether it is better to be steadfast and not open to the wishes of others, or persuadable and capable of listening to reason. Anne, in her past relationship with Captain Wentworth, was convinced by her mentor, Lady Russell, that such a match was beneath her, or at least uncertain in its success. In this case, Wentworth ends up wealthy from war prizes and powerful in his status, but of course, not all men in his profession are so lucky. More minor characters who are incapable of being persuaded, such as Mary, Anne's hypochondriac of a sister, are usually unhappy and fretful; and as Anne comes to realize, listening to the wishes (if not wisdom) of one's elders is probably for the best. Again, the heroine's common sense and willingness to be reasoned with saves her, at least in that it makes her more attractive than the silly and flighty girls in their teens.
It is mere guessing to say so, but some speculate that the story of Anne and her captain is similar to Austen's relationship with a man; and as the last of her books at the close of her life, Austen may well have been reflecting upon her own relationships. In any case, Persuasion is a great read, for everyone from fans of Austen to those of Forester, and everything in between.