Every year, there comes a day when I start thinking of this book again and feel compelled to re-read it. Most of the year, it sits on my shelf in diffEvery year, there comes a day when I start thinking of this book again and feel compelled to re-read it. Most of the year, it sits on my shelf in different guises, depending on what edition I picked up after the last one left my hands. This year, after shipping off my latest copy to my husband's ex-stepmother who lives on a commune in Virginia, I found myself without. For years now, one or another of a Bantam Classic edition has graced my shelves, to the point where I've reluctantly begun to think of Anne Elliot as the lady on the cover.
When I went to Third Place Books, I was shocked that there was no used copy waiting for me. I picked up this edition, somewhat pained by Audrey Niffenegger's illustration and disappointed that the author of a book so terrible as "Her Fearful Symmetry" had been entrusted with such a sacred task. I hesitated, not wanting to spend the money on a new copy, but I could feel it, that annual pull. I had to read this book, now. Surely the introduction by an author so well-regarded as Colm Tóibín would have insight worth having, I reasoned, as I handed over my debit card to pay $17.00 for a book that has been in print since 1817. The Colm Tóibín introduction was all well and good, though not as exhaustive as I would have liked, but it did highlight a word that stuck with me throughout my 2017 reading: autumnal.
The last novel of Jane Austen's life, written by a woman never married but whose life's work hinged on the question of marriage, the theme of being a condemned observer plays a central role. The optimism and self-assurance of most of her previous main characters is gone. The heroine of "Persuasion" is a semi-solitary background fixture to the bustling and self-involved lives around her, and she has learned to rely on no one to give her solace. Not usually given to poetic musing on the seasons or elaborating more than necessary on nature's finer attributes, Austen's curiously self-conscious passage on autumn stands out in a set up for a pivotal scene: "Anne's object was, not to be in the way of any body, and where the narrow paths across the fields made many separations necessary, to keep with her brother and sister. Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling."
Anne Elliot must be one of the more passive main characters in canon of English literature, but the passivity is not one of meekness or insensibility like Fanny Price. Knowing her words are poorly attended to most around her, aware that her faded prettiness draws little attention and that few care to hear her thoughts, she has gone inward. In the first chapter, Austen describes Anne as a woman whose "...bloom had vanished early...". This is but the first mention of Anne's "bloom", a word that contrasts and highlights the extended autumn of Anne's emotional life. Anne's observations are wry and knowing, but unlike Elizabeth Bennet, she has no urge to share them and display her intellectual superiority. Her intelligence, tact, modesty, and compassion are companionable, and as a reader, you feel like you're one of a privileged few to appreciate the richness of Anne's inner life. Anne is past needing to prove herself or be heard by anyone except those that she has determined that she can genuinely connect with, and that gentle discrimination has made her one of the most enduring and appealing characters I've ever encountered.
In another break with most of her previous novels (Mansfield Park being the recurring exception), Austen gives a nod to the naive middle class gentility of her main character. Speaking to her poor and invalid friend, Anne rhapsodizes about what nurses must see attending to the ill: "'What instances must pass before them of ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation--of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most. A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes.' 'Yes,' said Mrs. Smith more doubtingly, 'sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are often not in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial, but generally speaking it is its weakness and not strength that appears in a sick chamber; it is selfishness and impatience rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of.'" I love how Austen allows us briefly to see the ignorance of those who dwell in the comfortable, entitled and insular world she sets her novels in to real misfortune. She doesn't allow the moment to last long, but that one crack in the facade carries real weight, speaking again to Austen's maturity and perhaps her own declining health.
How much is the tone of regret, of chances missed, love lost, and the hope to make amends autobiographical? When you fall out or break up with a person you have had a true connection with, be it friend of lover, there is no replacing them. Only the passage of time can dull the pain and quell the lingering hope for reconciliation. And what prevents us from forgiving, from seeking these people out and telling them, I still love you, despite it all? The feelings of pride, helplessness, fear, bitterness and unworthiness that create a seemingly unapproachable wall between Anne and Captain Wentworth for the bulk of the novel still speaks to how we behave today towards those who have hurt us. Instead of the clever misunderstandings and ignorance that form the meat of her previous love stories, wistfulness and the necessity of self-protection in the wake of heartbreak sustains "Persuasion". Anne Elliot is written to be 27, but the maturity of her character is befitting to someone closer to Austen's own 40. The hope that these odds can be surmounted, that yes, we can pick up where we left off with those we've been divided from, makes "Persuasion" the most powerful of Jane Austen's romances. That this is not often the case makes it all the more poignant....more
To read this collection of lectures given just months before he was killed is to realize how much we as a nation were deprived by having this great maTo read this collection of lectures given just months before he was killed is to realize how much we as a nation were deprived by having this great man taken from us. "When culture is degraded and vulgarity enthroned, when the social system does not build security but induces peril, inexorably the individual is impelled to pull away from a soulless society. This process produces alienation--perhaps the most pervasive and insidious development in contemporary society." --page 44 Written in 1967, it could not be truer today. Reading those words, I mourn King anew. ...more