Saturday, November 23, 2019

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I first read Jane Austen, after many years of being told I should do so by many people in my life, in 2006. That year, I read Pride and Prejudice for pleasure and Mansfield park for an English class and with pleasure. Given the thirteen intervening years, I remember Pride and Prejudice relatively well. I loved the satirical tone and the clever dialog and characterization. I remember both my enjoyment of Mansfield Park and the class discussions of it more than the actual book itself. I’m sure that I started Northanger Abbey at some point, but I didn’t get far into it. I’ve been meaning to circle back and read the four I haven’t and reread the two I have but just haven’t. I’ve finally been nudged into it by my recent reading of The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.

I’ve heard Persuasion described as Austen’s best book. I’ve read so few of them, that I can’t speak to that other than to say I preferred Pride and Prejudice. I suspect it is mostly a matter of genre; I prefer satirical romantic comedy to straightforward romance. That said, Persuasion may be the more fully realized novel. The characters are well drawn; you can still see Austen’s attitude toward/ criticism of the society in which she found herself; she’s just less concerned with laughing at them in this case. Her prose is excellent and the novel flows well.

It does seem to buy into the idea that romantic love is the end all be all of existence. One thing I liked about The Jane Austen Book Club is Fowler’s criticism that Austen was more concerned with the wedding than with wedded life, though you do see bits of some of the marriages here in Persuasion. It also suffers by comparison to Middlemarch by George Eliot (which I recently read for the first time and was an immediate favorite). That novel shares some of this book’s concerns, but is way sharper about other aspects of life than romance.

That said, I enjoyed this thoroughly. Based on old memory, I still prefer Pride and Prejudice, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Austen’s novels over the next year or so. I’m thinking Sense and Sensibility next.


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