Time to break out your fine china and make some tea and scones.
Classics Club #2 is here:
This time around I read Persuasion by Jane Austen.
It's no secret that I'm a major Jane Austen fan. I've read all of her primary works and many of the spin-offs and retellings (spoiler alert: they're never as good as the originals).
This is my second go-round with Persuasion and I liked it better this time. I think it's probably best appreciated as the reader gains a little maturity. It was one of Austen's last novels and the protagonist, Anne, is more mature.
Having read her other novels I felt like I kept noticing similarities between characters and tropes. Miss Smith is Emma Woodhouse's helpless friend from Emma and in Persuasion, Anne has a close friend with few prospects who is also named Smith. Anne's father and sisters are horrible, representing the self-obsessed and delusional. Throughout many other Austen novels, there are characters that embody these traits, though maybe not to this extent.
Austen is known for building tension and drama from miscommunication and missed opportunities. In Persuasion, she flexes all of her skill and makes the reader wonder how they (and Anne) could have perceived so many situations incorrectly. I kept feeling disbelief that on my second read I would still be guessing and hoping so much.
Anne was a highly likable character. One of her major flaws was being too demure now and then, especially with her closest friends. She is described as having "'A strong mind, with sweetness of manner.'" However, she isn't a pushover. For the greater part of a chapter she debates a Captain, the reader is privy to her inner struggle as she wonders about the course of her life and her choices, and the way she manages her father and sisters is subtle manipulation at it's finest.
One of my favorite parts about classics is the finding the ways they speak to me today, in 2018, though the author had no intention of writing for a future audience. In Persuasion, I was struck by the way that our feelings, anxieties, joys, and sorrows are much the same. We worry that we are unlovable and wonder if we've missed our chance and the best years are gone. We try to distract ourselves with small things and going away from home is always a big deal. We certainly don't take a carriage anymore and there is a lot less walking for most of us, but Anne's inner workings are so familiar that I'm confident this novel will never go out of style. Her love story is timeless.
But, before you get the wrong idea, Austen is not all emotion and relationship drama. To really know Austen, you have to get her sense of humor. She does not just want you to feel big feelings, she also wants you to laugh.
There was this one part where a lady was at a party wailing about her dead son. Austen hits us with this:
"The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea, because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved..."
I found myself literally laughing out loud and slightly scandalized by the one-two punch of her blunt truth and humor. And, also wishing I could be best friends with Jane, though I would be afraid of seeing myself in the pages of her work.
Persuasion was a delight and if you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend making it a fall read.
Insider tip: my two favorite "other Austens" are By the Book and Austenland. Both are super fun and well written. Plus, the Austenland movie is a delight.