For today, I read Persuasion by Jane Austen. Kate Atkinson, Julian Barnes, Mary Gordon, Elizabeth Hay, Valerie Martin and Ann Patchett all listed this in their top ten lists.
I am here to make a confession to you. I’m not very fond of Jane Austen. I know this is weird to hear someone who is literary who is also a woman admit. It appears sometimes that women who read literature just simply, must adore Jane Austen. I don’t. I find Pride and Prejudice a little tedious, and Mr. Darcy does very little for me. I’m hoping no one decides to take away my “avid reader” card for this admission.
Persuasion proved to me yet again why I’m not overly fond of Austen.
Most of her characters tend to be very unlikeable people. And while I know that’s sort of her point, it still becomes tiresome to have over 80% of the people in a book you’re reading be so obviously disliked by the author of the book. In Persuasion, the main character is Anne Elliot. The unlikeable people in the book are Anne’s father and two sisters. Her father cares nothing for Anne and everything for the fair and delightful Elizabeth. Elizabeth is snooty and conscious of her father’s favor, so therefore dotes on him and thinks very little of Anne (often even saying things right in front of Anne to indicate how little she is regarded). Anne’s sister Mary is a selfish, spoiled, hypochondriac who is passive aggressive and feels the need to be the center of attention at all times. She’s not shy about forcing this on people either. Then there’s Lady Russell (who possibly isn’t meant to be unlikeable but ends up so), the family friend whom Anne is close to since the rest of her family are essentially worthless. Lady Russell was a dear friend of Anne’s deceased mother. She is judgmental about those she feels are beneath the Elliots (who are a minor form of nobility) and manipulates things for Anne’s “best interests” but really are just her interests in keeping Anne close to her and dependent upon her company. Then Austen has her “good hearted and kind but sort of simple minded” folk in the Musgroves, Mary’s husband’s family. Everyone from the Navy in here are shown as being great people, even while being looked down on by Anne’s father and the esteemed Elizabeth. Then, of course, there is the love interest. Captain Wentworth, whom years ago was in love with Anne and she with him (she was 19) but Anne broke off the relationship upon the advice of Mrs. Russell who felt that Captain Wentworth (who was not a Captain then, not really anything at that point) was unsuitable as a match for the Elliots. He went away bitter and sad and became wildly successful in the Navy, and making gads of money. He is portrayed as being good and kind and smart and steadfast. He isn’t a brooder like Mr. Darcy.
Now, I will admit to the plot being a good one. Captain Wentworth and Anne part, 9 years previously. Then, at the time of the story Anne’s father, who with Elizabeth has spent a lot of their money pretending to be even more important than they are must rent out the family home. Which they do. To Captain Wentworth’s sister and her husband (an Admiral). Anne, is of course, all a-flutter as she has never lost her feelings for Wentworth. However, Lady Russell wants her to stay with her while dear dad and sister retire to Bath, but alas, the dear woman can’t keep Anne as her obedient lapdog because she just simply has too many places to be. So, at this point, Mary puts in her whiny plea for attention, simply begging Anne to come and stay with her and her family. Anne does so. Captain Wentworth begins to pay visits to Charles (Mary’s husband) family, including Charles’ two sweet, goodhearted (but a little simple, remember?) sisters. Anne fights off the green monster of jealousy (which being the paragon of goodness that she is, she mostly succeeds). It appears that Wentworth is going for one of the sisters, when they go on an overnight trip to Lyme (the Musgrove girls, Charles, Wentworth, Anne and her sister, Mary) and a terrible accident happens (coincidentally they’ve met up with two other Captains of the Navy who are just simply fine and wonderful men). After this, Anne’s time at Mary’s is up and she must trot back to Mrs. Russell’s side in Bath. There has begun to be hints of Wentworth thawing towards her and his possibly still also having feelings for her (of which she becomes even more a-flutter but being the paragon of goodness she is, successfully hides this from everyone in order to not hinder his match with the Musgrove girl). Her cousin, her father’s heir, in the meantime has shown up in Bath, and has reconciled himself to the family (previously, they felt he didn’t want anything to do with them) and Elizabeth and Daddy are just simply enamored of him now. He sets his sights for Anne, but she never quite trusts him. Then! Hark! Wentworth shows up in Bath. And so it goes from there.
While at some points just a tiny bit predictable (women authors have been emulating Austen for 200 years, really), I did enjoy the story itself. However, I also didn’t like Anne very much. I’m sure Austen meant to portray her as likeable, but she just…was too good to be believable.
So, I found it both a little tedious to read and a little enjoyable to read.
If you are an Austen fan, and have not read Persuasion, I would then highly recommend it to her. I am not putting down anyone that likes Austen. I just happen to not like her a lot. I actually enjoyed this way more than I remembered enjoying Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. (Though, I do remember enjoying Northanger Abbey a lot).
But, because of this blog, you will get to hear me talk about Austen and her unlikeable characters again! Soon enough.