Jane Austen has always been a study in contrasts for me. I'd read 'classic' literature throughout my childhood, but for some reason, Austen was not one. It was not until high school when I was introduced to her through the films. First came Sense and Sensibility, not bad but somewhat Hollywoodized (even I could tell that and I'd not read the book yet!) I read the book afterward, liked it well enough but for some reason wasn't enthralled - I hope to reread it soon. Then came the Pride and Prejudice mini-series and THAT got my attention!Not, interestingly enough, because of the wet-shirt scene (thanks Among the Janeites! - though it certainly helped ;P), but the language. The words, the turn of phrase, and yes the plot all spoke to me. I immediately found the book and Loved it! The first chapter is still my favorite part of literature, it is so hilariously funny and sarcastic...and yet so proper. I watch the mini-series over and over because it is so wonderful to hear those words spoken aloud in near perfection and almost in their entirety. (Yes, there are differences and I'd love to hear them numerated but I will hold it's as close as we are ever likely to get and does an amazing job.)
However, I never picked up another Austen book. Why? I'm not sure I can entirely explain. Maybe because of the two I tried, only one really spoke to me. Perhaps it has something to do with the knowledge of the finite number of books and the awareness that at the time, I might not appreciate them as I would now. Maybe, a part of me was afraid I wouldn't like another Austen book, and that was something I didn't want to happen at all.
But after reading Jane's Fame and working my way through Among the Janeites, I was ready to take the plunge. I'm glad, however I was able to read this as a group read, so I could share my thoughts on this book and hear what struck others.
So how do I feel about Persuasion?
I'll confess, it took me a bit to warm up to this book. I wanted to know how it would end from the first chapter because that was going to decide my feeling on this completely, but as the vast majority of the characters are stupid at best, despicable beyond that; I couldn't really care about many of them. Even Anne, at first, slightly annoyed me. Believe me, I get why it's best she reacts the way she does; there was little recourse open to her and it takes a great strength of will to live under the conditions her family forces upon her and not let it embitter you. However, Anne reminds me too much of myself, willing to remain silent and be hurt rather then rock the boat. I feel for her and empathize tremendously, but I also wish (as I wish for myself) she'd stand up for herself.
But yes, I in the end loved this book. There is so much going on and Anne is at times all but subsumed by everything around her - as she is so often in her life. Of the Austen works I've read, this has the most interesting and...unique bunch of characters I've ever seen. Sir Walter, Mary, Mrs. Clay, Mr. Elliot, Elizabeth, and even Lady Russell at times are studies in all that is silly, selfish, and at times even despicable. And yet there were characters who touched my heart: Admiral and Mrs. Croft were lovely and at times remind me of my husband and myself, the Musgroves were a welcome relief, and of course there is Captain Wentworth. Need I say more? And have two people in literature ever been more ill at ease with each other and yet you yearn from the beginning for them to simply talk.
The story is interesting and yet it seems to flit everywhere. People coming and going, things happen off screen often and it comes to its end quickly. It's a great work but it somehow misses the polish of the other two I've read. Perhaps this has something to do with it being her last book and her death coming soon after it was completed but that's more than I can say. I did like traveling to Lyme and Bath, places I've heard so much about but never been to. This book felt so traveled compared to S&S and P&P, which could have truthfully taken place nearly anywhere. While Austen doesn't dwell on descriptions, the settings feel as if they are fully formed and merely waiting for you to grasp them.
All of this comes down to, I liked this book. I like it a lot. I can't wait to read it again.However, my feelings can be summed up by what my husband said after watching the movie: "It's not Pride and Prejudice".
But it comes very close!
Happy reading to all, and to all a good book!