Few occasions are more amusing than the meeting of my cousin, my friend Janet, and myself to decide which of us most resembles Anne, the heroine of Austen’s Persuasion.
It’s simple on the surface: a matter of ABC, or 1 + 2. Anne, the quiet, charming 27-year-old middle daughter of a baronet, is not esteemed by her family, and are you as highly regarded as you should be? Formerly very pretty, she has lost her bloom over the years, and is a bit of a Cinderella figure. At 19, she refused Frederick Wentworths’ proposal, because Lady Russell, her late mother’s best friend, advised her to. She regrets having parted with Captain Wentworth, her true love, and has turned down the suitor who later married her sister, Mary.
It’s all about m-o-n-e-y with Lady Russell. (And with Jane.)
Austen tells us,
Captain Wentworth had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession, but spending freely, what had come freely, had realized nothing. But, he was confident that he should soon be rich;–full of life and ardor, he knew he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to every thing he wanted.
Bad enough that he’s a naval officer: he has no cash. Lady Wentworth cannot approve such an unequal match. We know that Jane Austen usually cannot approve such a match.
What is extraordinary about Austen is not her candour but the precision with which she shows the influence of particular sums on particular people. Most of her major characters come with income tickets attached, not so much because the novelist wants us to notice how important money and lack of money might be, but because she wants us to see her characters noticing these things.
Unable to reduce his spending to pay his creditors, Anne’s father, Sir Walter, is persuaded to rent out his house (to Captain Wentworth’s sister and husband) and move to Bath with his oldest daughter, Elizabeth. Anne stays behind for a few months with her sister Mary (and later with Lady Russell), is appreciated by Mary’s in-laws, meets Captain Wentworth again (who now has 25,000 pounds), and is admired by two other men.
She gets her bloom back.
“I’ve got my bloom back, too, like Anne,” my cousin protests when we say she can’t be Anne.
It is a bit of a bore when someone who’s only 37 claims she has got her bloom back. She has never lost her bloom, as Janet and I point out.
Then we remind her that she doesn’t WANT to be Anne anyway.
She wants to be Louisa Musgrave.
Louisa, who is 20, pretty and bossy, claims brazenly that she is not easily persuaded. Captain Wentworth admires her.
“It is the worst evil of too yielding and indecisive a character, that no influence over it can be depended on. You are never sure of a good impression being durable; everybody may sway it. Let those who would be happy be firm.
Poor Anne overhears this.
Then when they go to Lyme, Louisa is jumping off the steps and he doesn’t catch her and she is unconscious and they don’t know if she’ll recover or not… and Anne starts to look good to him again.
I don’t want to be Louisa, but what are the choices? Having married three times, I can hardly pretend that I would have been single at 27.
Janet has never been without a boyfriend, either, or at least a date. “How about Mrs. Clay?” she asks.
Mrs. Clay has a wayward tooth and freckles, but is charming enough that Anne’s sister Elizabeth invites her to Bath. The daughter of Mr. Shepherd, Sir Walter’s lawyer, she is of the wrong class, and everyone is terrified that she will persuade Sir Walter to marry her.
Then there’s Mrs. Smith. We ALL like Mrs. Smith, Anne’s old school friend. When Anne and Lady Russell go to Bath, Anne meets Mrs. Smith, now an invalid. Mrs. Smith makes the best of things, has a positive attitude, but also is worldly, and knows all about Mr. Elliot, Anne’s father’s heir, who wants to marry her.
Lady Russell tries to persuade Anne… but Anne is true to Captain Wentworth.
Mr. Elliot, a highly intelligent, sophisticated widower, genuinely admires Anne, but has no principles.
Lady Russell is always wrong, though she is charming and reads a lot.
The plot of Persuasion is typical of Jane: a true man and a false man pursue the heroine (sometimes even more pursue her). In Emma, we have Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill (Mr. Elton doesn’t count), but Frank isn’t really after Emma at all, and Mr. Knightley, a lifelong friend, isn’t considered a beau till the end of the novel. In Mansfield Park, Fanny loves Edmund but is pursued by Mr. Crawford, a rich, licentious young man who is suddenly struck by Fanny after she blooms into prettiness. Eventually Edmond goes after her, too.
Captain Wentworth is the only Austen hero I like. All three of us agree that he is very sexy.
We also like the funny details in Persuasion: one day Anne runs into Admiral Croft, Captain Wentworth’s brother-in-law, and he is staring at a painting in a shop window. He wonders who on earth designed this ship, which would capsize immediately.
What a lovely novel! Anne Elliot is now my favorite Austen heroine, surely the most sympathetic of them.
And now here we have both a Persuasion playlist and a movie list. Enjoy!
“Persuasion,” Richard Thompson
“Pretty Persuasion,” R.E.M.
“Friendly Persuasion,” Pat Boone
“Crystal Blue Persuasion,” Tommy James and the Shondells
MOVIES & TV
The Lake House, with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Actually, this is a time-travel romance, and has nothing to do with Persuasion (as I remember) but the heroine’s favorite book is Persuasion.
And there are many other versions of Persuasion at IMBD.