Trevor's Reviews > Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen
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Jul 09, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: literature

What can I possibly tell you about Jane Austen? I really enjoyed this. I really like that by the end you get to move a bit out of the head of the main character, away from her self-deprecations and almost masochistic lacerations and get to see what Captain Wentworth actually did think of her – rather than her-less-than-self-congratulatory version.

Okay, it is all very romantic – but what I found most interesting in this book was how I felt compelled to consider how much of the world we learn by having it reported to us. There is the life we live and know first hand, well, more or less, and then there is the world that we know from ‘trusted sources’. And all of this adds to make up the whole of our perspective of ‘reality’, whatever that might be.

There is always a layer of reality below which we can only ever guess at – and that is what is really going on in the minds of others. Sometimes we do discover something of this – and that might either bring joy or pain – but otherwise we construct and reconstruct the world on the best narrative we can make from the frowns or smiles of those around us, glimpsed however imperfectly in the twinkling of a moment.

A while ago I took a very dear friend of mine to the local art gallery and showed her a couple of little statue things they have there of two old women. The artist has created these two miniature people – two homunculi who are engrossed in the conversation they whisper between themselves. If you view them from the front they look to be talking away quite contentedly – almost conspiratorially - but as you move around to view them from the back you see that one of them looks very anxious, perhaps almost about to cry, perhaps oddly frightened. This fear isn’t something you notice at all from the front. But in life we don’t get to have this 360 degree perspective on the people we meet and talk to – and so only one of these views is open to us. The guesses we make on the motivations and desires of others are always partial, always mixed up with our own motivations and desires and misattributions.

So it is that Anne Elliot spends much of the novel – perhaps a woman a little too good for this world. She can even watch on with quiet resignation as the man she loves seems to be choosing someone else to marry.

There are many interesting themes in this book – class distinctions and their worth in judging the value of someone, when to take the advice of someone and when not to, how jealousy has much to recommend it in regaining the love of your ex. But one of the things I was most interested in was the theme of ‘love and property’ which Marx and Engels talk about in the Manifesto. It is a knee jerk reaction now to say we should marry for love – but in the immortal words of an Irish folk song:

“Love is pleasing
And love is teasing
And love is a pleasure when first it’s new
But as it grows older
Sure the love grows colder
‘Til it fades away like the morning dew.”

This is a romance, so we don’t get to see this happen to our protagonists, but the relationships of those around them would hardly make one seek to rush into the married state. From the bizarre and almost incestuous relationship between Anne’s father and her older sister, to the marriage of her younger sister, Mary – and the marriage of Benwick to Louisa is surely destined to crash and burn.

Everyone in Anne’s family is unspeakably awful – when Austen wants to create a character that is a pain in the bum she does so with unerring perception. Mary and her father are masterworks in the description of the obnoxious in human form – the botched soul.

Ms Austen also obviously had a bit of a thing for the ‘strong, silent types’ (think Mr Darcy without the fairytale quest bit in the middle) – but there is also something of the Enlightenment about this book. The idea that real feeling, the hope of a truly happy marriage, can only be based on the common rationality of the couple at hand. Love is a mingling of minds, rather than bodies. And this isn’t some sort of nineteenth century prudishness, or at least, not only, but more a hypothesis that is played out in the marriages of the major characters.

Love, then, is a version of that highest type of friendship that our old mate Aristotle was so fond of – and that life cruelly teaches us is so incredibly rare for us with people of either sex. To have both sexual attraction and mental attraction with one single ‘other person’ is perhaps really asking too much and just being greedy.

Still, I guess all would be well if not for those damn hormones. And of everyone in the book poor old Benwick probably cops the worst press - for not being constant enough to the memory of his recently departed ex-wife. The discussion at this point reminded me a bit of Hamlet whinging about his mum and uncle. But this does all end up with that most wonderful of quotes – where Anne says that women may not love deeper, but that they do love longer, even after all hope is gone. If you are going to get a slap in a piece of classic fiction, it is probably best that it happen in a way that results in such a line. The fact she is almost moved to tears after saying this line and that it is basically the turning point of the entire book really is a lovely thing.

If only in life it could be that saying the utterly perfect thing would reap such rich rewards… But then, I guess that does rather put the onus on finding the utterly perfect thing to say.

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Comments (showing 1-13)




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Trevor Thank you both - a lovely way to start the morning. Sherri, picky is fine - I knew they weren't married but clearly didn't know it at the same time. Hopeless.

I'm very fond of P&P - but I find myself thinking more about this book. I quite like Anne - I feel very protective of her.


Trevor Yes, I have seen it - I saw it at the cinema when it first came out over here. I thought she was a wonderful Anne. I liked just about everything about it - someone at the time said that it was a bit 'smellier' than most period dramas. That was what I liked most about it.


message 11: by Renata (new)

Renata Trevor, nice insights about love. Thank you


Trevor It is a pity love needs to be quite so complicate, Renata - otherwise it has all the makings of something that could be really quite nice.


message 9: by Renata (new)

Renata I still believe I'll understand it one day and have all the nice things it promiss. Or better than that, stop trying and just feel it and let me be moved by that.

We have been tought and advised so much to always be rational and not lose control of our lifes that we avoid feelings as if they are a great danger.

Persuasion tells about that right? All family prejudice and friend advice all meant for the good sake of Anne, all very rational and right for the society rules at that time, but just push her away from true happiness. And yet it took them long eight and half years to understand how luck they were to have met each other and still be in love after a so long time apart.

A 200 years old story, very differet society rules and men and women roles in it and we still face the same issues between wants ands musts.

That leads me to think that we are in a very long journey in pursuit of balance.


message 8: by Vineet (new)

Vineet i was kind of randomly going through the reviews and found yours very helpful.....more and more into reading this book soon.....Thank you Mr Trevor.


Trevor Thanks Vineet


message 6: by Karen (new) - added it

Karen Bliss If you liked Persuasion, you should read the recently released sequel. Only 3.99 on Kindle. http://amzn.to/1Y0eGNC


Trevor I've a feeling I woukd rather pins in my eyes than to read a sequal to this. Sorry Karen.


Anna Callaghan What a wonderful review, Trevor. I got goosebumps all over again reading that. I loved the book but could never articulate why as well as you did.


Trevor Thank you, Anna - what a lovely thing to say.


message 2: by Dani (new) - added it

Dani Loved your review of one of my all-time favorite books, Trevor. Your thoughts and insights not only did the book justice but I actually fancy thinking Miss Austen herself would have been pleased with your review.


Trevor What a lovely way to start the day - thanks Dani


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