For more years than I can remember I have thought of Persuasion
not only as my favourite Austen novel, but as my favourite novel, full stop. It is a novel which I have read and re-read, and of which I never tire.
For all that, it's difficult for me to precisely identify why Persuasion
has such an effect on me. It is, of course, beautifully written. Austen's prose is clear and crisp. It is full of wit and sharp satire. The characters are well-drawn and believable. And, of course, it contains one of the most romantic letters in English literature.
It may also be that I love Persuasion
because each time I read it I notice something new. This time, listening to the audiobook superbly narrated by the wonderful Juliet Stephenson, Austen's subversiveness really struck me. For a woman of gentle birth living in a quiet, retired family environment in the late 18th and early 19th Century, her views about such matters as family relationships and the role of women are not entirely what one might expect.
This time round I also thought of the circumstances under which Austen wrote Persuasion
. It was her last novel, written during the illness which led to her death at the age of 41. It is quiet and in some respects sad, the autumn and winter setting of the novel permeating its mood. This is a story about second chances, so there is hope and optimism there too. In her biography of Austen, Claire Tomalin
as Austen's "present to herself" and to women such as her sister Cassandra "who had lost their chance in life and would never enjoy a second spring".
Finally, I thought of how much passion there is in this novel. Austen writes about two characters - Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth - who have been in love, who have parted and who find their love again. Their passion is none the less real for being restrained and is evident in Austen's descriptions of their interractions throughout the novel. In 1850 Charlotte Bronte wrote the following about Austen:
[T]he Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. ... Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless) woman
I find it hard to accept that anyone who has read and understood Persuasion
could accept Bronte's assessment. Austen clearly did understand the turbulent nature of romantic love. The novel sings with that understanding.
How many times have I read Persuasion
? Truly, I don't know. What I do know is that I will read it - or listen to it - many more times. It is quite simply the fiction love of my life.