So right off the bat – yes, Pride and Prejudice is great. And sure, Mr. Darcy is swoon-worthy (to a point – especially when portrayed by Colin Firth). And I know there are a lot of people out there who would die for Colonel Brandon. But for my money, Persuasion is the best love story Jane Austen ever wrote.
Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the middle sister between Elizabeth and Mary. Their mother died, leaving their father, Sir Walter Elliot, in charge of their fortunes. Sir Walter Elliot is – to put it lightly – a vain narcissistic idiot. He doesn’t understand that when you purchase things on credit, eventually the credit gots to be paid. He also cares very very much about what others think of him, and he strives to be thought of in only the best of terms. (Spoiler Alert!: He’s not.)
At the beginning of the novel, Sir Walter is arranging Kellynch Hall, the family estate, to be let. He and Elizabeth and Anne will temporarily relocate to Bath while they earn income on the rented house and land. Anne is not interested in going to Bath and ends up staying with her younger sister Mary, who is a right pain in the ass. But Anne is happy to be in the country instead of Bath, and she is glad to be “of use”, so she stays behind. She and her surrogate mother figure, Lady Russell, will both go to Bath nearer to Christmas.
While taking care of Mary, Anne meets the renters of Kellynch Hall – Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia, who is the sister of Captain Frederick Wentworth.
And here’s where it gets good.
See – seven years ago, when Anne was 19, she was engaged to Captain Wentworth! Except he wasn’t a captain back then – he was a perfectly nice young man, clever and sure of himself, and he had just enlisted with the Navy. But Sir Walter – and Lady Russell and Elizabeth as well – were of the opinion that a Navy man was just not important enough for an Elliot to marry. Wentworth didn’t have a family patronage in Debrett’s Peerage, nor was he wealthy.
In spite of her feelings, Anne let herself be persuaded by Lady Russell and her father to break off their engagement. Wentworth goes off to the Navy, sad to lose Anne, but understanding, and Anne stays home with her father and sisters. The former lovers haven’t seen each other since.
And maaaaan – did I realize a couple of things about myself while reading this for the second time.
First off, the last time I read this book was 2008. (Also, in 2008, I read all six Jane Austen novels. I used to be such a good reader!) Masterpiece Theatre was showing all Jane Austen adaptations for their Classics season that year, and I thought, “why not?” And I remember watching this version of Persuasion – starring a not-quite-famous Sally Hawkins and Anthony Stewart Fucking Head playing Sir Walter Elliot! – and I was more focused on watching the series and getting through all six novels for me to take away Important Life Lessons.
This year (or, last year, as of this writing), I read the majority of the novel on the day I took the train to Boston to see the Arctic Monkeys, and I had plenty of time to learn things about myself.
FOR INSTANCE: I still have a voice in the back of my head that occasionally makes me think people are talking about me. Or having opinions about me. And while I recognize that that voice exists, and yes, I do realize I have a maybe-not-so-healthy dose of paranoia*†, I am not always successful in ignoring the voice.
*Fun Fact!: When you rearrange the letters in ALAINA PATTERSON, you get PARANOIA’S TALENT.
†When I was 6 years old, I was playing upstairs and could swear I heard my parents talking about me. So I raced down and confronted them. “ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?” “No, Alaina, we’re not,” said Dad. “Okay,” I replied, and went back upstairs. A few minutes later, I came downstairs again and again asked, “ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?” “No, Alaina, we’re not,” Dad insisted. I made the ol’ squinty eyes at him –
– and went upstairs once more. And because even at the tender age of 6, I was aware of the Comedic Rule of Three, a few minutes later –
*stomp stomp stomp*
“ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT ME?”
And instead of a smart-ass retort (which I definitely deserved at that point), Dad instead asked me, “Alaina, do you know what the word ‘paranoid’ means?”
And instead of yelling, Margo Channing-style, “I don’t even know what that means,” I reply:
“YES. It’s when your PARENTS ANNOY YOU.”
Anyways. The point is that Anne allowed herself to listen to other people instead of following her gut (or, heart, I guess), and I am so glad that I don’t do that (much) anymore.
Anne still loves Captain Wentworth, so seeing him in society is a little trying. They are friendly with each other, but reserved. It also helps Anne a bit by seeing him interact with other single ladies (sorry for the earworm) who are hoping to marry the young Captain.
Eventually, Anne rejoins Sir Walter Elliot and her sister and Lady Russell in Bath, and Captain Wentworth shows up too (with another family – Wikipedia says it’s the Musgroves, and if Wikipedia says it, it must be true), so Anne and Wentworth are still forced to be in each other’s company. The youngest Musgrove sister, Louisa, is unattached, and appears to have caught the eye of Captain Wentworth. One day, the entire company visits a neighboring town, and Anne runs into her cousin there, William Elliot. William had broken ties with the Kellynch Elliots the year before, but William is taken with Anne.
On the way back into Bath (or wherever – apparently I got confused about where all this is happening, but you know me – not fixing things!), Louisa is flirting with Wentworth and walking along the top of a wall that borders a cliff. Louisa loses her footing and falls to the beach below, and suffers a head injury. Anne takes control of the situation, ordering people to call for a doctor and to keep calm in general. Louisa is taken to the nearby home of a friend of Wentworth’s, Captain Benwick. Wentworth stays at Benwick’s to keep watch on Louisa because he feels guilty and partly responsible for her fall. Anne doesn’t realize this, and believes that Wentworth has developed an attraction to the younger Miss Musgrove.
Meanwhile, William Elliot starts hanging out with the other Elliots, to Sir Walter’s great delight. Anne gets along with him well enough, but she doesn’t completely fall under his spell.
Look, I’ve written a lot of words which is basically paraphrasing the plot regurgitation that Wikipedia usually goes into. At the end of the novel, Wentworth – who had never fallen in love with Louisa, he just felt guilty about his part in her accident; she ends up engaged to Captain Benwick – overhears Anne talking about how women hold on to feelings of love long after hope of having it requited:
“I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as – if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.” [p. 210]
And this is where Wentworth realizes that Anne still loves him, even after all those years.
So he writes her a letter. And lemme tell you, dear Reader(s), that letter is one of the most romantic things I’ve ever read:
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. [p. 211]
Between “You pierce my soul”, “Peace – I will stop your mouth”, and taking me to museums on dates, this blog is turning into a step-by-step guide to Dating Alaina. (And Dudes, if you could also be Peter O’Toole, wearing this exact outfit –
– that would be greeeaaaat. Now tell me I pierce your soul. Thaaaaanks.)
Does Darcy tell Elizabeth that she pierces his soul? NO. And it’s been too long since I’ve read Sense and Sensibility, but does soul-piercing happen in that book? I DON’T THINK SO.
Thus, I have proven my thesis: Persuasion is the best love story Jane Austen ever wrote.
Grade for Persuasion: 5 stars