I was quite surprised by Austen’s last full-length novel. My expectations were low, mostly I think because I had just finished Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey where the heroines could definitely have used a bit more spunk. Anne Elliot, around whom this book revolves, is by no means on par with Emma or Elizabeth, but I admired her all the same. I knew before I started that Anne is persuaded not to marry the man she loves, so I spent the first half of the novel dreading what was to come before I realized that the persuasion had actually occurred eight years previous! Nineteen-year-old Anne had fallen in love with Frederick Wentworth, whom her family disapproved of as he lacked both pedigree and wealth. With their encouragement, she called off their engagement to the heartbreak of both. Since then Wentworth has become a captain in the navy, accumulated a fortune and is soon to be reunited with Anne.
Anne is now the twenty-seven-year-old (yikes!) middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, a man only impressed by wealth, status and good looks. Her older sister Elizabeth is much like him, as is her younger, married sister, Mary. The family has slowly gone bankrupt due to unnecessary extravagances and has to rent out their county seat, Kellynch, in order to maintain their lifestyle. Sensible Anne is very different from her family, who often ignore her. When the family settles in Bath, Anne remains in the neighborhood with Mary and her husbands’ family, the Musgroves. The Musgroves are great people who soon become acquainted with Admiral and Mrs. Croft who have taken over Kellynch. Mrs. Croft’s brother (enter Captain Wentworth), soon becomes a favorite of the Musgroves, and he spends most of his time at their place while Anne tries to avoid his notice, afraid he still harbors anger towards her. Wentworth soon shows a preference for one of the Musgrove ladies, and the few weeks that pass are quite entertaining. Anne meets Mr. Elliot, a cousin who is the heir to Sir Walter, as well as Captain Benwick, a kind man she quickly grows close to. After one of their group has a near-death experience, Anne goes to Bath to stay with her father and sister. She is soon reunited with many of her friends leading to a textbook Austen conclusion with surprise engagements, enlightenment, happiness and sorrow.
Shorter than her other books, Persuasion may not have the same level of complexities or drama that we love in Austen novels, (as the author hastily finished it just before her death) but this story was nevertheless quite enjoyable and moving. It celebrates the attribute of consistency, and deliberates the virtues of older women, self-made men, rationality and, of course, persuasion.