So this is a new series of posts I will be doing for who knows how long. I struggle to review classics because they are classics for a reason, and therefore they usually seem impossible to criticise. Then I thought, hang on a minute, that could be a post! Instead of writing a review I could just summarise why the book is a classic…so that is what I am doing. After I read a classic I will read up on it in order to really understand it and then combine that with my own impressions. That way it will help you to see if this one might be your next favourite book!
One of the trademarks of a Jane Austen book is the humour. And Persuasion definitely has that, despite not being an entirely cheerful book. Jane Austen has a way of subtly sneaking humour into her dialogue in order to poke fun at a certain character. We see traits exaggerated in characters and see how they play off each other, which creates more humour and highlights the trait so that the reader can see how ridiculous it really is. For example, Sir Walter’s superficial views are exaggerated to be comical. Austen then puts this in contrast with Anne, who is a lot more able to see what is below the surface and values more than beauty and money. This means that the reader ends up mocking Sir Walter and his obsession with class-climbing and appearances, and therefore in extension making fun of the aristocracy of Regency England itself.
The novel is named Persuasion for a reason, even if Jane Austen herself didn’t actually give it that name. There is a running theme of persuasion throughout the book. From the beginning we learn that Anne had been persuaded not to marry Captain Wentworth by Lady Russell. As the novel goes on, there end up being more and more circumstances of characters being persuaded to do or to not do something, which causes the reader to consider whether it is bad to be led by other people’s advice or not. There are circumstances of both sides in the book, which ends up exploring the idea of persuasion but leaves it to the reader to decide where they stand.
An interesting structural point is that the novel is like a sequel would typically be. The event of Anne falling in love with Captain Wentworth and then being persuaded not to marry him happens before the book begins. This is an interesting point because it means that in the novel, this main event is thought of as being in the past, which allows Austen to explore the idea of whether we should always hang onto the past. Anne doesn’t forget the events that happen before this book and we see her anxiety on having to meet Captain Wentworth again after so long, which proves that she is still clinging to the past and hasn’t moved on. Therefore the rest of the book shows whether or not her past hopes are fulfilled, and if this book is an ending or a beginning.
Persuasion is definitely a classic worth reading. It has a great balance of humour mixed with angst and regret. Austen questions the superficial ideas of the class system and also allows the reader to consider the idea of persuasion and whether we should allow ourselves to be led by other people’s advice or not. It is a delight to follow Anne Elliot who has already had an experience that could be the focus of a book, but instead this novel shows what comes after and explores the idea of whether we should allow the past to stay with us, or instead move on. In my opinion this is one of Jane Austen’s greatest books (although Emma and P&P remain my favourites).