I have a special relationship with Jane Austen’s Persuasion as I read it a few years ago as my test to explain why I did not like Jane Austen. I suppose this may sound silly to some but I have heard this expressed by others. For no explainable reason people will dislike Austen and then choose one of her novels to read. (In fact, I have one co-worked currently doing this and I have offered to discuss their novel of choice, Pride and Prejudice, with them.) My sophomore year in college a classmate of mine told me about his experience with Persuasion in another class. While I cannot recall what he said the instructor had said, I do recall that he argued the novel was classist and he felt Anne Elliot was a “gold digger.”
Besides following the basic plot line, I do not think I really understand anything that happened in Persuasion. However, on rereading it I definitely have a new understanding of the novel and it now ranks up there with Northanger Abbey.
Persuasion was published posthumously and the novel addresses various themes that do seem to connect with Austen’s own life. For example, the two oldest Elliot sisters Elizabeth and Anne are in their upper and middle twenties. Age and fading beauty becomes points of contention in the novel and this certainly allows for an argument that Austen is beginning to explore and except her own aging state. One of my favorite excerpts from her letters is when she discusses as being the older aunt and getting to spend the evening on the sofa, near the fire, and drinking wine.
In addition, there seems to be a lot of argument against Austen for her lack of dealing with class issues. While Austen certainly appears to be no Marxist it is unfair not to give her some credit for class awareness. Lady Russell of Persuasion comments that “We must be serious and decided–for, after all, the person who has contracted debts must pay them; and though a great deal is due to the feelings of the gentleman, and the head of a house, like your father, there is still more due to the character of an honest man” (1098).
Some of Austen’s female characters have become more shrewd, confident, and business minded. Likewise, I have also begun to notice Austen’s attention to faking or pretend illness. Mary spends much of the first volume of Persuasion with some complaint or another that appears entirely fictional. Anne Elliott, our heroine, is aging, plain, practical, and responsible. Fine qualities, but certainly different from some of the heroines that Austen has peppered her stories with before.