Sparrow's Reviews > Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen
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Sep 01, 13

bookshelves: romantic, motherless-daughters, reviewed
Read in December, 2003

I have been feeling sentimental for the past couple of weeks, and it made me think of Persuasion. I haven’t felt sentimental for quite some time, so it feels like a sort of stiff and creaky homecoming in some ways. The Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds movie of Persuasion has traditionally been my go-to movie for sick days, but I haven’t watched it in a couple of years because somehow I lost the feeling that let me sit through a beautiful love story. But, here I am, these past couple of weeks, mulling over sloppy bowls of soup, sliced mutton, intemperate sorbet, skin like macaroons, and some of the best marzipan in all of Bath. Actually, maybe I’m just hungry.

Just kidding, but I think there is something in the messy appreciation of food in the movie that speaks to my home-and-family-comfort sensibility. And, yes, this review is going to mostly be about the movie because I saw and loved it before I read the book, and even though I loved the book on its own, it is impossible for me to remember it on its own. So, the food and powder and grease and almost-tangible smells of the movie are going to be all up in this review because they were all up in my reading of the book and are my sense-memory of this story.

The real reason I’m feeling sentimental is because I lost some people I love a couple of weeks ago. They didn’t die, but you know how sometimes when you don’t fit into people’s lives anymore, it is a similar mourning to experiencing death? It is for me anyway. This past year, I worked with these four people, who are some of the best people I have met, and we have all been through a lot together. And I love them in that way, where when I see them, my heart jumps into my throat. My dear friends, like family. I am working on the fourth floor of my building now, where I was on the second, and sometimes that is enough to lose people. It is not bad, but mourning is hard.

Anne has that sense of not fitting into the lives around her, and I have always identified with that. In a lot of ways, I’ve identified with Anne, and I would say of all the Austen stories, Persuasion resonates with me the most, with the possible exception of Sense and Sensibility. Mostly, the idea of Wentworth coming back, and Anne and he still loving each other, seems to me like the most hopeful and meaningful story of romantic love that Austen tells. They love each other because they know each other, and that is beautiful. I love the cynical humor of Elizabeth and Darcy and the sad wisdom of Marrianne and Col. Brandon, but Anne and Wentworth is the most hopeful couple to me. In my view, if you can come back to love after heartbreak and years, then it was real and not based on inventing an ideal of another person.

But, Anne was always identifiable to me in this other way, in her lostness and sense of despising her family, but at the same time being their unappreciated servant. Maybe it is arrogant of me to say I identified with that, but it is true. One morning, after I returned from Peace Corps and was living with my parents to help them with their business, we were sitting on our porch eating breakfast. My dad started telling me not to give up hope about someday getting married because a guy working in our neighbor’s yard the day before had expressed some interest in me. Then, he started describing his trip to the coffee shop the weekend before.

“I was sitting and watching people walk by,” he explained, “and there are just so few really attractive women in the world. Sometimes, you’ll see one really attractive woman, and then after her, there will be twenty women who are just ugly. When I was at coffee that morning, I counted forty-six women in a row who weren’t worth looking at. But, it was a rainy morning, and not many women’s looks can hold up to that.”

I must have smiled for the rest of the day. It was so wonderful. Anne’s father from Persuasion:

He had frequently observed, as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five-and-thirty, frights; and once, as he had stood in the shop in Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without there being a tolerable face among them. It had been a frosty morning, to be sure, a sharp frost, which hardly one woman in a thousand could stand the test of.

And then, Anne has some culpability in her lostness. The story is sort of Anne’s journey to figuring out how to stand up to her ridiculous family. And, even though Wentworth is the venue through which she can ultimately escape them, I think through the story she does develop her own ability to live her life. And she proves that by choosing the man, for herself, whom she rejected in the past for other people.

I remember watching this movie over and over again, watching Anne’s hopelessness about escaping her family, and watching her stand up to them, separate from them, and stop letting herself be victimized, even while keeping her sense of humility and service. I think that development of her character happens related to Wentworth’s return, but also aside from the love story. I think I stopped watching this movie when I stopped being fascinated by that transformation, and it was when I had gone through that transformation myself, though admittedly in a more awkward, ham-fisted way.

So, I think this story is always going to be a part of me and maybe a symbol, even, of transformation, long-lasting love, and spiritual intimacy. It is high-falutin’ to use all of those phrases, but I think they apply here. Anne had to revisit her betrayal of Wentworth and develop the sense of self to allow her to reject Mr. Elliott and choose her own life. And even though my absolute favorite part of this story are Anne’s sister and father and the ludicrous stuff they say, the brave quiet around her transformation is the sentiment that brings me back to this story and makes it one of the most comforting I have heard.
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Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

This is a lovely and touching review.
Persuasion is my favourite Austen for pretty much all the same reasons. It feels a different kind of novel to her others. I'll always wonder where Austen was headed with her literature.
Have you seen the ITV adaptation from a few years ago? It's a patchy production but Sally Hawkins nails Anne. That strength yet that vulnerability; the meekness and the passion. She's heartbreaking.


Sparrow Thanks!

I did see that version, but I actually did not love her as Anne. She stared at the camera so much! I was like, what are you looking for, hon? And then it was weird to me how Adam from MI:5 was Wentworth - he's so magazine handsome, which I had never pictured for Anne. I'm so skewed by the Amanda Root version! Nothing else is good enough for me!


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Ha! Yeah she did do that a lot, didn't she? And then she finally smiles at the end, just so we definitely get that she is happy now ;) I agree that broke it up a bit, but she was how I pictured Anne. I can't really remember the Ciaran Hinds version but I think I'll track it down, this review has me curious. I gotta say I don't picture Wentworth quite like him though!


message 4: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Oh Sparrow, I know exactly what you mean by mourning the loss of people in your life, the lack of them even though they're still in the world. One of the best things was when I regained one of those people a few years back. But so many others! I'm consoled by thinking of how there will be more people I'll have, to come.

Really wonderful response to this book. I'm glad you still review your reads.


Sparrow Lauren wrote: "Ha! Yeah she did do that a lot, didn't she? And then she finally smiles at the end, just so we definitely get that she is happy now ;) I agree that broke it up a bit, but she was how I pictured Ann..."

Funny! Yeah, I'm not one for the magaziney guys, I think. I like a little bit of crotchety, and Ciaran Hinds has that. I also like, though, that because he is older and not such a Handsome Man (even though he is good looking, I think), it lets you think more that they just really like each other, and he's the right guy for her. It lets it be her love story and she's not just a stand in for all the cool girls.

Anyway, that smile at the end, though! And all that running! I don't know. I was a little creeped by her. But, I loooooved the Sense and Sensibility that came out at the same time. And then the Emma with Romola Garai! So wonderful.


Sparrow Eh?Eh! wrote: "Oh Sparrow, I know exactly what you mean by mourning the loss of people in your life, the lack of them even though they're still in the world. One of the best things was when I regained one of thos..."

Yeah, sad. But, also good to let people go, I think.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Sparrow wrote: "Lauren wrote: "Ha! Yeah she did do that a lot, didn't she? And then she finally smiles at the end, just so we definitely get that she is happy now ;) I agree that broke it up a bit, but she was how..."

Haha yes, ending was a bit of a mess. For me the way the book plays it out is perfect, it's such a slow-burn--Anne being in the same room as Wentworth when he writes the letter, then Anne reading it, the dawning realisation, his coming back. It's drawn out suspensefully and deliciously. The miniseries messed it up completely.

You must see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HB0WU... ;)


Sparrow hahahahahaha!!! EXACTLY!!!


Kelly I am also resonating to your situation of mourning people who are still around somewhere- just no longer in the same space and headplace naturally, with you. Sometimes I think it is sad and a reflection of how self-involved we all are (when someone is no longer a part of how you immediately get through the day, they leave your life), sometimes I think like you, it is good to let people go and it's not selfish, but could also reflect positive things about change. It is hard to decide which, though.

Lovely review- I love how you've woven this story into your life, rather than just appreciating it from the outside. What a beautiful experience to read about.


Sparrow Thanks, Kelly!

I'm of the mind that it doesn't work out great for me to force myself into people's lives where I don't fit. I feel like that usually causes some kind of falling out where there's no going back. And, if I just let a relationship be how it is, maybe, then if I lose people, there's always a chance I will get them back sometime in the future.

We've started instituting low-pressure family dinners on Wednesday night, me and these people I'm mourning from work, but the funny thing is that all of us have varying levels of social anxiety, so I'm not incredibly hopeful that I will see them away from work very consistently. But, that doesn't take away from how great it was to work with them.


Kelly You seem to have a very healthy attitude to the whole situation. I hope that your family dinners do happen, though!


Sparrow Me too!


Dolors Sensitive review in many ways Sparrow, love that personal touch. And well, what can I say? I just adored both the movie and the novel. Captain Wentworth's letter is one of the most romantic declarations I have ever read...


Sparrow Thanks! Yes, so romantic.


Elena Hi! I'm a longtime follower, Sparrow. I've never commented before, but the insight into Persuasion your review gave me has got me thinking, and I would appreciate it if I could be proven wrong.

You see, it is a very comforting book for me too; and you nailed the reasons why it is. Anne was always slightly disconnected with the world that surrounded her, and at the end of the story, she's not anymore. Transformation, long-lasting love, spiritual intimacy- those words do apply. Being slightly out of pace with your friends is perhaps not the seventh circle of hell, but it's no picnic either. Only... when you talk about the friends you work with, I imagine that they are probably kind and intelligent and fun- and that was never Anne's case.

Anne is always appreciated, respected, and feels close to those who are worthy of respect and appreciation. The fact that she feels lost with Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove is nothing to be truly sad about; not when you get captain Harville, Mrs. Smith and the Crofts. And I think that that isn't true to life. As much as I would like it, Persuasion lies when it says, if it says, and I wish it didn't, that worthy people will recognise and like and stick to each other. They don't always. And I'll go further: in P&P, S&S and Emma, it's the same: those who dislike Elizabeth, Anne, Emma, Elinor are never entirely respectable. They never lose anybody they truly wish they could have. If, for a moment, it seems like they have, like with Frank Churchill, those characters are blackened afterwards; if they aren't, like with Wentworth, they get them back.

Am I wrong? Is it true but not important? Is it obvious but not worth the mention? I'm walking all over "A Room of one's" own every time I open my mouth lately, but I'll quote away "What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth." If JA is lying to me, she descends some inches from "extraordinarily subtle and accurate social critique" closer to "comfort literature".

I'm discomfited.


message 16: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 04, 2013 04:06PM) (new)

Helena wrote: "Hi! I'm a longtime follower, Sparrow. I've never commented before, but the insight into Persuasion your review gave me has got me thinking, and I would appreciate it if I could be proven wrong.

Yo..."


Really interesting comments, Helena. I don't think anyone really goes to Austen for realism of plot or even realistic actions of characters (it's called very convenient and bent to suit a happy ending and a happy balance) - but at the same time it feels wrong to say that because Austen achieved such realism in character psychology. Anne is the perfect example of this.
For me, Austen approaches her broader themes--morals? lessons?--with a very round and swooping brush. I think it's the little details in the main characters, such as Anne, such as Wentworth, you have to pay attention to and appreciate. Elsewhere it is all going to very conveniently and symmetrically balanced out (e.g. Mansfield Park). So lessons on, as you say, the idea that "worthy people will recognise and like and stick to each other" are going to be less convincing, maybe a little trite. I'm not sure if this makes any sense, I'm sure I'm rambling cos I'm tired as hell. But your comment to Sparrow was so intriguing! :) All I know is that I need to reread this book.


message 17: by Sparrow (last edited Sep 05, 2013 06:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sparrow Thank you for commenting, Helena!

I'll probably have to think about that more, and I do think it is a good point. I guess, what I would say is that I think a lot of times fiction can have one central truth, and so other depictions of society might not be as faithful to reality because they are serving the greater point. For example, in Persuasion, the point is about Anne learning to trust her own instincts; in S&S, the point is about Marianne learning to get over her vanity-based prejudices and expectations.

I think the books are . . . I'm not sure what the right word is, but maybe "spiritually" truthful when it comes to those issues. No, the guy you rejected probably doesn't usually come back when you're ready to be together like Wentworth and Anne, and, no, there's probably not usually a rich backup plan husband like with Marianne and Brandon. But, I think what Woolf is talking about, and what I believe about fiction, is that it is there to bring out some kind of truth and allow us to accept it in a way we couldn't with nonfiction.

So, in that way, I think Austen holds a lot of truth. I think her truths look different than reality, but I think that is the great value in fiction because a lot of times the benefit we get from things in reality are so intangible that it doesn't help us understand the way to live. In Austen, you make a good decision about the person you want to be, and you get a nice house, friends, and a cool husband out of it. So, while in reality you might not get the stuff and people out of making a positive decision about the woman you want to be, it is a lot more difficult to say, "you'll be happier, even though you don't have stuff and people," or "just the benefit to the soul is enough." Those things, to me, even though they are reality, seem like lies when they're told in a story, so even though it's kind of contrary, I think it is more effective, and even more truthful for Austen's characters to get the stuff and people in the end.

I guess, also, my point might be that usually, in fiction, "truth" is different than "reality," and I think it should be.

I hope that makes some kind of sense!


Sparrow Thanks!


Elena Oh- you're right. And that last sentence- "Truth" is different than "reality" and it should be- is lovely and true itself. I remember reading one of Elizabeth's reviews (I'm her follower too. She's so great.) about the fairytale aspects in Austen, and how Elizabeth would never have met Darcy. I'm not trying to make myself think that Austen is true to life; it isn't. But Lauren, I think it's important to make a difference between realism of the plot and honesty in the portrayal of human relationships. And Austen is always accurate and precise; she writes what she knows, and her narrators are very keen observers. Can one observe truth? I'd intuitively argue that she's observing reality- truth, in Woolf's definition, should be felt, deduced, or recognised (woo-hoo... that could be wrong...) But it makes it harder for me to leap from one to the other in JA. There is so much reality in her, too.
While I think getting Wentworth is spiritually truthful, and every relationship feels individually true, I'm still tempted to think that as a pattern it's a flaw. I would be deeply uncomfortable with to the bijective deduction- that if a character who qualified as morally sound didn't take to Anne, it had to be because of something lacking in her. JA doesn't say that at all, but it bothers me that it should fit the pattern.
But it does serve the greater truth of making Anne trust her instincts... It really does. I'm changing my mind as I write. Sparrow's answer had convinced me; but after all, I think the point stands. But it stands shakily. It's a tiny point.
Anyway, thank you both for answering. They were great answers.


Sparrow I also think, though, that there are some pretty good examples in each of the books of strong characters disagreeing. Sense and Sensibility comes to mind most strongly because Elinor and Marianne are both lovely, but both wrong in their own ways. I also think, in Persuasion, that Lady Russell is a good example of a strong character, with good principles, who disagrees with Anne and gives her really bad advice throughout. In Pride and Prejudice, I think Charlotte Lucas is a good example of a character who isn't bad or wrong, but just wants a different life than Lizzie.

Anyway, even though I do see what you are saying, I think there is a lot of complexity in Austen's minor characters and some disagreement about moral value. At the same time, Kelly was just talking, in her review of Mansfield Park, about Mary Crawford and how it's hard to reconcile her with other Austen stories, and I do think Austen has a pretty strong idea of who she likes and dislikes in her books.


message 21: by Kelly (last edited Sep 05, 2013 06:54PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly I love the way that you put things, Sparrow. It's always so thoughtful and with such well chosen words! I think that this is so true: In Pride and Prejudice, I think Charlotte Lucas is a good example of a character who isn't bad or wrong, but just wants a different life than Lizzie.

I also think Jane is another example of that. Jane, Lizzie loves and it is clear we are supposed to love her too, but there are moments where they strongly disagree as to motives. Like when Mr. Collins and Lady Lucas come to visit after Lydia runs away, or, for awhile, about Caroline Bingley. Mr. Bennett is another example if someone who disagrees strongly with Lizzie- about Lydia going to Brighton. Of course Lizzie is proven right as far as she can be in both cases, but it could have gone either way in both cases too and you can see the argument for it.

I agree it is clear, for the most part, who we are supposed to like most in all Austen's novels, but she does offer some moral ambiguity as to who we should most "value" in particular moments. I think she is good about highlighting the strengths of the "lesser" characters. I wonder if she was just too good at that with Mary? Or if it was just all about effectively presenting the lure of the "evil" girl and showing why you have to be wary? But I think, again, you said it best- "what did wit and fun do to Austen that year?" The way she feels about Mary feels like betrayal is mixed in there somehow.


Kelly I agree that she knows who she wants us to value "most" for the most part. What I think is still there is at Austen, perhaps because she is so good at observation and getting inside the heads of even minor characters, does show us things to value in the "lesser" people on the morality scale. She highlights their strengths. It's clear who she prefers, but it's not a zero-sum game. You can make a some kind of argument for Charlotte Lucas, and Jane and Mr. Bennett, even if it is clear who the "better" character is in the Morality Olympics. That's more what I was trying to say. She is excellent at drawing character and gives us something to say for them.

It's true though that I could be projecting back a little bit. Like I said on the Mansfield Park conversation, I think there are character traits that we are more likely to appreciate and connect with now that maybe were not so valued once (like Mary's world of appearances and her self-knowledge, unconscious or not.)


Elena Hm. I shouldn't have brought up P&P. Anyway, Elizabeth connects equally with everyone, morally worthy or not, fun or no fun, prideful or not prideful, dumb as a doornail or not. It's one of the reasons she's so cool. I haven't read Mansfield Park, so I can't see what you're saying about it. But I will, because when I do, I'll certainly be reading Kelly's review.

Lady Russel... I had thought of her. Wentworth promises to love her when she's right, but didn't like her much when she was wrong. It's truly very kind of him to assume he can change a relationship that started on those grounds, based on Anne's word about her ladyship's worth. In his place I would always be looking at her as if I thought she had been stealing the silver.

I owe you all some great books, so I'll say my thanks while I'm at it. Elizabeth: thanks so much for Sunshine and Cordelia. They aren't edited in Spain; there is no way I would have read them. Sparrow: thanks for the Yellow Wallpaper and O! Pioneers. Kelly, your shelves were private, so I couldn't get a recommendation from them before, as I very obviously do. You all are the best rec system I've ever seen.

And now I should stop thinking about books for a little while.


message 24: by Sparrow (last edited Sep 06, 2013 06:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sparrow I think the fact that Austen was living in a different society weighs more in favor of implying that she has some compassion for Charlotte. I think that valuing the idea of marriage for love was less strong in Austen's society than ours, not more. I would even go so far as to say that it is such a strong value in our society today partly because of Austen.

So, I think Charlotte is a character that particularly makes sense in Austen's society, and even, thinking about that social structure, that Fanny Price is something like another look a the Charlotte character. Like, what if Charlotte were the heroine?

OMG, she even marries a clergyman! Um, spoiler alert?

I'm not saying that Austen thinks Charlotte makes a good decision or that Austen is so messy as to say that any characters but her heroines make good decisions. It seems to me like that would just be kind of sloppy and meandering in her storytelling because she does make such pointed statements about humanity through her heroines. But, I just think that, like Kelly is saying with the Morality Olympics idea, there are different levels of humanity in all of the characters, and it's not as simplistic as saying the morally good characters like the heroines and the morally bad characters dislike them. To use the examples again, Charlotte and Lady Russell are characters that make sad decisions that sort of work for them, but that don't work for the heroines, and are both really close to the heroines and love them. I don't think the books condemn them as idiots the way they do Lydia or Mr. Elliot, but they are dear friends who sort of betray the heroines in interesting ways.

Yay O! Pioneers!


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