Persuasion by Jane Austen

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jane‘Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?’

Jane Austen is obviously not for all. The group were divided about Persuasion, even Austen fans agreed it wasn’t her best. ‘Clumsy prose, boring story, and a narrow field of social focus.’ Oh dear.. All possibly valid criticisms, but a spirited defense was made. Persuasion was published posthumously, and therefore probably suffered from a lack of revision and polishing.

On the most basic level Persuasion is an outdated love story, set among the landed gentry, and it’s easy to understand the lack of appeal to many people. However, to others, Jane Austen’s novels are comic and entertaining, full of delicate, ironic observations on the social customs of the times, and her plots highlight societal flaws and the sorry plight of women in the 18th century.

Sara, Clapham Library Reading Group

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