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NA310712 - AUSTEN, J.: Persuasion (Abridged)
Jane Austen was born in Hampshire in 1775, the seventh of eight children. Her father was a clergyman who ensured that his children were well
educated. After a brief spell at boarding school when they were very young, Jane and her sister Cassandra were educated at home. In 1801, Mr. Austen retired and the family moved to Bath. Although Jane Austen never married, she is reputed to have had a romance in 1802, but she parted from her lover, who died the following year. In 1803, she was proposed to by a wealthy Hampshire landowner and after initially accepting his proposal; she refused him the following morning. In 1805, her father died, and she moved with her mother to Southampton and in 1809 to the village of Chawton.
In 1816, Jane Austen became seriously ill, and was taken to Winchester in search of a cure. She died there in 1817. She is remembered by six great novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1816), Northanger Abbey (1818) and Persuasion (1818 — all available on Naxos AudioBooks.
Jane Austen began writing Persuasion in the summer of 1815, but by the beginning of 1816 she was already suffering from the illness, which was eventually to prove fatal. However, by July 1816 the first draft of the book was complete, and in August she undertook various revisions, particularly to the scene of the reconciliation of the lovers. She probably continued to revise the book, as she wrote in a letter to a friend in March 1817, “I have something ready for publication, which may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence...You may perhaps like the heroine, as she is almost too good for me.” Just four months after writing this, Jane Austen died and Persuasion was published posthumously in 1818.
There is no doubt that Jane Austen was right when she predicted that her friend “would perhaps like the heroine”, as Anne Elliot has turned out to be one of her most popular characters. She stands mid-way between the agonizingly virtuous Fanny Price of Mansfield Park, and the unbearably arrogant Emma Woodhouse of Emma, of whom Austen wrote, “no one but myself will much like”.
In Persuasion therefore it seems that she consciously set out to create a popular character with real self-awareness. As the novel develops, Anne escapes not only from the passivity imposed upon her by the careless extravagance of her family, but also from her over-dependence upon Lady Russell, who turns out to be an unreliable ally. Gradually Anne reveals herself to be a woman of careful judgments and ready sympathy, one who can assess a situation and act accordingly. In fact it is perhaps in the decisive moment when she takes control after the accident in Lyme, while the other women swoon, that Wentworth accepts his true feelings for her.
In short Anne becomes less and less susceptible to the “persuasion” which caused her so much pain in the first place, and which threatens her again when Lady Russell urges her to marry Mr. Elliot; but this time Anne stands firm. However, she also rages at herself for her continuing obsession with Captain Wentworth, and it is this quality of self-knowledge and humor, which makes her such a sympathetic character.
The resolution of the book is particularly significant. Although at face value we have the usual happy ending — a marriage — this time it is different. Of all the social groupings in Persuasion, Anne warms most to the naval contingent. She holds dear the recklessness and good nature of the Crofts, admires the simple but hospitable lifestyle of the Hartvilles, and seems to tend more to the itinerant life of the Navy. In contrast she despises her father’s sycophancy towards Lady Dalrymple and the static, hypocritical life of High Society in Bath. In her other novels, Jane Austen stresses the “improving” nature of marriage for her heroines, either financial or moral, but in this book Anne and Frederick will not retreat into the predictable life of the landed gentry. The future is uncertain with the prospect of travel and danger, but as this marriage is based on absolute equality and constancy, we feel that it will not only withstand the rigors of a seafaring life but will thrive on its shifting nature. There is a freedom and exhilaration to this match, which perhaps has particular resonance for the reader of today.\
Notes by Heather Godwin
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