Didn't make it through this one. I pretty much got the basic idea about 150 pages in. Interesting and inventive idea, but hamfisted and vaguely misogy...moreDidn't make it through this one. I pretty much got the basic idea about 150 pages in. Interesting and inventive idea, but hamfisted and vaguely misogynistic. This novel reminds me why, when looking for a "literary read," I usually turn to Hardy or Austen rather than anything written post-WWII.
One of the major sources of contention and strife in my marriage is the disagreement between my wife and me over what is the best Jane Austen novel (y...moreOne of the major sources of contention and strife in my marriage is the disagreement between my wife and me over what is the best Jane Austen novel (yes, we are both more than a bit geekish in our love of words and literature--our second biggest ongoing quarrel is about the merits of the serial comma).
For my money, there are three of Austen's six finished novels that one can make a good argument for being her "best":
"Pride and Prejudice" (the popular choice, and my wife's) "Emma" (the educated choice--most lit profs go with this one) "Persuasion" (the truly refined choice)
Harrold Bloom in "The Western Canon" calls it perhaps a "perfect novel," and while I disagree with some of his interpretations of the characters (yes, blasphemy, I know), I wholeheartedly concur with his overal assessment.
While all of Austen's novels are generally comic, "Persuasion" is the most nuanced. It's been described as "autumnal" and that word suits it. There's a bittersweetness to it that you just don't get in Austen's other work.
The novel it comes closest to in terms of character and plot is probably one of her earliest novels "Sense and Sensibility." Like Eleanor in that novel, Anne is older and more mature than the typical Austen heroine. In fact, she's dangerously close to being "over the hill" at the age of 27(!). Love has passed her by, apparently.
But unlike Eleanor, who one always feels will muddle through even if she ends up disappointed in affairs of the heart, there's something more dramatically at stake with Anne. She is in great danger of ceasing to exist, not physically, but socially. When we meet her, she's barely there at all. Although a woman of strong feelings, she is ignored and literally overlooked by most of the other characters. In the universe of Austen's novels, the individual doesn't truly exist unless connected with the social world, and while Anne has a stoic strength, we understand that she is in some senses doomed if things don't change for her.
This is where we see what the mature Austen can do with a character type that she couldn't when she was younger.
This edition also has the original ending of the novel included as an appendix, which gives us a rare and fascinating look in to Austen as a technical artist.
I read this novel as an undergraduate, and have reread it several times since. I even took the novel with me to Bath on a trip to England, and spent a wonderful summer evening reading it while sitting in Sidney Gardens, across the street from one of the homes Austen lived in during her time in Bath, listening to Mozart's Piano Concerto #27. It's one of my favorite memories.
More than any other of her novels, "Persuasion" shows how Austen dealt with profound existential questions within the confines of her deceptively limited setting and cast of characters. Those who think Austen is simply a highbrow precursor to contemporary romance novels or social comedies are missing the colossal depth of thought that is beneath the surface of any of her novels, this one most of all.
Austen is nearly unique in the history of the novel for the consistency of her excellence. While most novelists have a clear masterpiece that stands out among their work, and usually a fairly sizable number of works that are adequate but not enduring, all of Austen's novels stand up to repeated readings and deserve a wide audience among today's readers.
Having said that, "Persuasion" is simply the best of the best. (less)