Today is Jane Austen's birthday, and finally, finally—I've managed to put together this post, which has long been brewing in my brain but which never came to fruition until now.
Back in the mid-1990's when just about every Jane Austen novel got an updated film adaptation, I was among the many swept up in this wave of all things Austen. I even wore an empire waist dress to my college graduation, because the style was suddenly all the fashion rage. At that time, I hadn't read any of Austen's novels, but after watching Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, I totally wanted to get acquainted with the books. It took me until after college was finished to actually do this, when I had time to binge read all of Austen's novels, in order.
I love Pride and Prejudice, both the book and the BBC miniseries with Colin Firth (because—WET. SHIRT.), but Persuasion claims the #1 spot not only among Jane Austen novels, but it's my favorite novel in the history of ever. I've read some phenomenal books over the years, but Persuasion is my desert island book, the one that I couldn't live without. It'd been about ten years since I'd last read it, and this reread was like going home again. Every exquisite line of prose reminded me why I love Jane Austen so much, and why this book forever holds such a special place in my heart.
Persuasion is Austen's last completed novel, and it definitely has an autumnal feel to it. Its heroine, Anne Elliot, is twenty-seven, the middle of three sisters, unmarried, and pretty much written off by her family as an old maid. Speaking of the family, they're quite horrible. Anne's father, Sir Walter, is a very, very vain man who's gone through enough of his money that he must lease the family estate to a tenant. Eldest daughter Elizabeth is every bit as snobby as her father and also values rank above all else. Mary, the youngest, is married but still very much retains "the Elliot pride" and whines incessantly. Anne is the most sensible of the lot and sadly, not regarded with much importance by her relatives. At least she has her good friend, Lady Russell, who's been a mother figure since the death of Anne's mother when Anne was a girl. Ah, but wait—it was also Lady Russell who talked nineteen-year-old Anne out of accepting the proposal of naval officer Frederick Wentworth because he had no money, no land, no family name of renown. That was eight years ago, though, and Wentworth is now a captain and in much improved financial circumstances. And, thanks to sharing the same circle of acquaintances as Anne, about to be in her company once again.
I can't tell you how many swoon-tacular moments there are in this book. I didn't even think to associate swooning with Persuasion back when I first read it. All I knew was that it made my heart all fluttery. I'm trying very hard not to give too much away if you haven't read this, but please take my word for it: the romance here, even if you're not usually into romance, will reduce even the iciest heart to a puddle. It's that amazing.
Austen also brilliantly satirizes just about everyone in the novel, but especially Sir Walter and Elizabeth and their pomposity. Austen really takes them to task for all of the emphasis they put on social standing, and the results are so, so funny. The characters are shown in a most unflattering light but in the loveliest prose, which makes the dichotomy even more humorous to me. The language is so polite, but there are delicious insults wrapped in it.
Unsurprisingly, my all-time favorite quote from any book can be found in the pages of Persuasion. Actually, favorite passage is more accurate, and if you've read the novel, you very likely know the one. Again, I don't want to get spoiler-y for those new to the book, so I'll just tempt you with this single line from said passage:
Now, imagine that swoon factor multiplied by, I don't know. Infinity. The first time I read this, I think I forgot to breathe for a few minutes. As someone who's not at all into gooey professions of love, I assure you that such is not the case here. If anyone is guilty of acting gooey, it's me in talking about this book. If you've read Persuasion, please, please feel free to add to my unabashed gushing; if you haven't read it yet, I hope I've done my job and at least convinced you to add it to your TBR.