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Old 01-18-2013, 05:17 PM   #1
WT Sharpe
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January 2013 Discussion: Persuasion by Jane Austen (spoilers)

Let's discuss the January 2013 MobileRead Book Club selection, Persuasion by Jane Austen. What did you think?
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Old 01-20-2013, 10:14 AM   #2
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This video, posted at the Grauniad a couple of days ago, seems timely. Marcel Theroux is in Bath, dresses as a Regency gentleman, and takes some dancing lessons. The squib gets it wrong, as none of the action in Pride and Prejudice takes place in Bath (although no doubt Mr. Darcy did visit), but perhaps it will make it easier to visualize Sir Walter or William Elliott.
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Old 01-20-2013, 10:27 AM   #3
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Persuasion is easily the most accomplished of Jane Austen's novels and certainly the most subtle. Most matters admit shades of gray and spring can follow fall. One of my favorite aspects is how beautifully the seasons complement the story and reflect her themes.

Austen applies her usual penetration to her character studies and Persuasion lacks her usual buffoonery. Sir Walter Elliott, in his conceit and his absurdity, is all too believable. As a result, her depiction of class and a changing society is more penetrating and even damning than in her earlier works.

I admit it, though. I miss the high humor of P&P and Emma (probably my favorite of all the Austen novels). However, the subdued wit is necessary to a story that's both wistful and hopeful, about loss and regeneration.
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Old 01-20-2013, 10:47 AM   #4
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I'm still reading this due to a few unforeseen set backs and my darn work getting in the way of my reading.

I am enjoying the story even though there seems to be quite a bit of fore shadowing as to the conclusion(s).
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Old 01-20-2013, 12:02 PM   #5
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I have to admit that I still have not finished this yet. So far (ducking for cover ) I have found it very slow going. When Louisa Musgrove was injured I perked up at bit, as finally something actually happened. The way the characters seem to parse in minute detail every turn of phrase or expression, I am glad I don't associate with such people. I would be afraid to ever open my mouth for fear of being taken more seriously than warranted. But I will keep an open mind as I have not reached the end yet.
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Old 01-20-2013, 12:42 PM   #6
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The way the characters seem to parse in minute detail every turn of phrase or expression


But that's the point!
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Old 01-20-2013, 01:34 PM   #7
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But that's the point!
It might be the point, but it gets tedious anyway. I understand that the pages of planning that go into taking a walk are intended to convey how oppressive the social conventions were, but it's smothering to read. I'm not a detail person and struggle with other authors who saturate their books with descriptions of every little thing. At least in Austen's novels it serves a purpose.

I did like the subtlety of this novel compared to her others, star-crossed lovers are rarely dealt with this respectfully. I was afraid to root for them, since the happy ending wasn't a forgone conclusion.
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Old 01-20-2013, 01:48 PM   #8
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It might be the point, but it gets tedious anyway. I understand that the pages of planning that go into taking a walk are intended to convey how oppressive the social conventions were, but it's smothering to read. I'm not a detail person and struggle with other authors who saturate their books with descriptions of every little thing. At least in Austen's novels it serves a purpose.

I did like the subtlety of this novel compared to her others, star-crossed lovers are rarely dealt with this respectfully. I was afraid to root for them, since the happy ending wasn't a forgone conclusion.
Oh, I was kidding; I know you know that. I realize it's a matter of taste. I love to lose myself in those convoluted sentences and minutiae, but I acknowledge it's not everyone's cuppa.

I especially liked just the hint that Anne Elliott might have been happy with one of the other potential suitors. Not really William, since she was rightfully suspicious of his transformation and motives, but Captain Benwick seemed a distinct possibility. Had Frederick Wentworth ended up with Louisa, I could just see Anne's deciding that she had enough of commonality with Captain Benwick to make a marriage with him the best of her options.
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Old 01-20-2013, 02:04 PM   #9
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I thought it was lacking in comparison to Pride and Prejudice, and in many ways seemed to be Pride and Prejudice Lite. The same theme of how pride can thwart happiness was explored, but not as compellingly nor as clearly as in P&P. And while I liked for the most part the way Anne was portrayed, I never felt the same level of sympathy for her that I did for P&P's Elizabeth; partly because I felt she shouldn't have let a friend's advice born of financial and social concerns hold such sway over her decisions.

Then there was the way the author expected us to feel sympathy over one of the characters because she was so impoverished she could only afford one servant. Was that meant as satire? I can't afford any servants. Now will someone please feel sorry for me?
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Old 01-20-2013, 02:14 PM   #10
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From the first moment the book begins, persuasion is the name of the game. Not finished reading yet (sorry, sidetracked by Hominids by Robert Sawyer), but I think I'm going to go back and count all the various ways and means and incidences of persuasion that occurs throughout the story. I know that is quite a literal take on the title, but it did make me smile a bit while reading.
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Old 01-20-2013, 02:31 PM   #11
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partly because I felt she shouldn't have let a friend's advice born of financial and social concerns hold such sway over her decisions.
To me, that was one of the most realistic parts of the book and I think Auden was on the side of Anne's being right to listen to Lady Russell. At 19, with no knowledge of the world and a lover who was all talk and bluster as yet with no real expectations, prudence dictated caution and advice from someone in loco parentis was not to be ignored. Lady Russell was wrong in her dislike of Wentworth and therein lay the problem. Someone more understanding and sympathetic might have advocated patience and a long engagement, except that Lady Russell thought Anne could do better. And in Mrs. Smith we have the example of just how wrongly "the world well lost for love" could go.

As in all the Austen novels, precedence and position are seen as all-important, but at the same time we see a society more in flux than depicted on the surface. Sir Walter makes me chortle, with his overweaning vanity and his jealousy of his position, the lowest possible inherited one. He's being outstripped by a gaggle of self-made men, one of whom can afford to live in Sir Walter's house, as he no longer can.
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Old 01-21-2013, 05:45 AM   #12
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I loved rereading "Persuasion" after a great many years. I find Anne a very sympathetic heroine who definitely needs to be rescued from her stupid, self-important family.

And even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I could savour the language and commentary about the various characters along the way. For example, I think at the end of Chapter 11 when Anne had been talking with Captain Benwick, a lovely comment about her realising that like most people who give advice, she was in need of heeding it herself. (Sorry, I'm writing this away from home and don't have the book with me to quote it exactly.)
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Old 01-21-2013, 05:57 AM   #13
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One of the reasons I so love this novel lies in Austen's characterization. Personally I think that her main characters are far more subtly drawn than their equivalents in Pride and Prejudice. Ane and Wentworth are older than Elizabeth and Darcy and have each gone through a traumatic emotional experience in their romance. They have experienced the darker side of life and felt anguish and disappointment.

I would agree with Issybird that Austen certainly does feel that Anne was correct to take Lady Russell's advice--though in the event it proved to be incorrect and certainly caused deep, lasting unhappiness in Anne. How could a 19 year old reject the genuine loving concern of someone who was to all intents and purposes a mother-figure? After all, Anne had no one else to turn to and no other from whom she could obtain rational and loving advice.

Wentworth, too, was scarred by the breach. When he had proven himself and returned he harboured an intense indignation which he felt was justified. Darcy deserved to be rejected when he first proposed; Wentworth genuinely believed that Lady Russell had shafted him unfairly--and he is correct in so thinking. But he allowed his resentment to smother his love--and nearly made a disastrous mistake of judgement himself.

Thus, to summarise, Jane Austen creates a wonderful ironic pattern of behaviour. One cannot say that Lady Russell gave bad advice within her own context. Anne would have been wrong to rebel--considering her age. It is completely understandable that Wentworth feels humiliated and hurt and is angry that Anne wouldn't trust him and put her faith in their mutual love. This is a far more complex pattern of relationships than in any previous novel she wrote.

Add to this a magnificent villain in William Elliot. Austen was concerned with the relationship of manners--civilised behaviour--and morals--the underlying ethical beliefs that supported civilised behviour. Here is a character with all the correct externals of manners--beneath them he is utterly wicked--far more so than Wickham. Yet, his affection for Anne is genuine and he has the backing of Lady Russell. Even Wentworth realises that the marriage of Anne and Elliott would be the social optimum for both.

In the end, Elliott is exposed by the ambiguous Mrs Smith. I say "ambiguous" because she actually supports the idea until she realises that Anne has already decided against the union. In Mrs Smith we get another snapshot of the underbelly of Jane Austen's world--not as dramatic or extended as that in Mansfield Park--but perhaps more moving.

There's so much in this novel! I haven't even touched on the ridiculous Sir Walter Elliott who is merely an empty shell of manners and his arrogant daughter Elizabeth. In fact the theme of self-awareness and/or its lack of it is a significant area of concern in this wonderful book.

I never tire of it.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 01-21-2013 at 06:08 AM.
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Old 01-21-2013, 05:58 AM   #14
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I found on this re-read that there's a bit too much exposition at the start and a very sudden resolution at the end.

I would have preferred to have had the characters show themselves by their actions in the time seven to eight years earlier, rather than having the detailed descriptions at the start.

Granted, that would leave the problem of how to cover the intervening period, but I would rather have a [seven years later] marker that what looks like it could have been a summary of half a book in the first chapter.

Alternatively, I would have like it to start with action, and let the past become apparent through the interactions of the characters, rather than from an omniscient narrator.

And after a very long build-up, the resolution at the end comes very, very quickly.

Still, an enjoyable re-read, even if not my favourite Austen.
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Old 01-21-2013, 11:25 AM   #15
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So I have now finished this. I am at a disadvantage relative to many here in that this the the first work by Jane Austen that I have read, and honestly probably the last. So that I can not compare this to any of her other novels. I was surprised by how it all ended, in particular about who became paired up with who.

I get that Austen was mocking or criticizing how the class she was writing about put so much importance on titles and social pecking order. Though to me she was only really lambasting that taken to the extreme, as in the case of Sir Walter and his daughter Elizabeth. Austen does not seem to really question the basic premise of that class system. In fact there was not a single character in the novel to represent what would have been the overwhelming majority of the population of England at that time. That is people who would be too preoccupied with simply getting by to worry over such nonsense. I can't help but compare Austen and this book to the books by Charles Dickens that I really like. Dickens' works are filled with characters drawn from the top to bottom of society, not limited to the small upper class.

This is not really an important topic relative to the novel, but I was struck by how becoming a British naval officer was a good route to wealth and movement into the upper class for men of modest beginnings. I was remained of the great Horatio Hornblower novels. Since the British navy for so long ruled the seas in that era I guess one can't question success. Still it seems surprising that the navy would win battles when the minds of the commanders of ships would have been on their personal financial gain by acquiring prizes, instead of winning the battle.
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