Persuasion: First Impressions

I’m almost finished re-reading Persuasion after not picking it up for a couple of years, and I was rewarded from the very first page by just how witty and observant Austen’s writing is. Even in this, her most ‘serious’ book, Austen can’t help being funny. Her wry asides are so perfectly judged, slotted into the narrative at just the right moment to produce the best effect, that they often had me giggling. However, within the same sentence that will leave me in fits of laughter, her skill is so great that she can also have my eyes pricking with tears. I really do believe, having read all of her works, that Persuasion is the culmination of Austen’s literary talents. It is her tightest and most convincing narrative, with a heroine who is flawed but perfect when it comes to providing the ultimate in reading pleasure.

The main thing I have noticed so far is how little direct speech Anne is given by Austen. We rarely hear her words; just her thoughts. Her voice is stifled; instead of reporting her conversation, Austen simply writes something along the lines of ‘Anne said what was proper’, or ‘She said all that was reasonable and proper’. What Anne says is not important to so many people in the novel; her father and sisters couldn’t care less for Anne’s opinions, comments, thoughts or feelings unless they have a direct effect on them; Anne is simply called upon to agree or soothe. Therefore, Austen doesn’t bother to give Anne a spoken voice; instead, she opens up her mind to us. Anne thinks to herself frequently; Austen tells us everything that is running through her head. Usually this is the exact opposite of what she has been called upon to say; the exact opposite of being ‘proper’. This oral restraint compared to the thoughts circling in her really very witty and intelligent mind is what makes her such an endearing character; she might appear to be very good and kind and patient and selfless, but inside she’s screaming in frustration at her idiotic, delusional father, and rolling her eyes at her sister Mary’s melodramatics and selfishness.

However, she wisely – I wish I were so wise –  keeps her thoughts to herself, and lets what she can’t control wash over her. When it really matters, however, Anne stands up for herself – she won’t be forced against her will to do anything that she is able to have an influence over; she has learned her lesson. Anne is often viewed as a pushover, easily persuaded, easily led, a wet blanket, even; however, this reread has reminded me of her remarkable self control. Her strength of mind and character and her ability to keep herself going through the most trying of emotional upheavals and personal disappointments are extraordinary. Austen’s wonderful prose that closes Anne’s mouth while opening her mind and heart to the reader ensures that Anne’s inner strength shines through. I know that on the surface Anne can appear a rather dull Cinderella-like heroine, pushed about from pillar to post, allowing herself to be ill used by everyone; but really, she’s the exact opposite of this. She can discern when it’s worth putting up a fight, and when it’s not. When it matters, she is more than capable of fighting her corner, but when it comes to her sisters and her father, she knows that flattering them and doing as they wish will ultimately serve her better. Going against them, refusing to indulge them, or speaking up for those they disrespect, is not worth her while; it will only cause unnecessary conflict that would cause her pain anyway. She does what is ‘proper’ not because she is a pushover, but because she is sensible. She is wise enough to know when to speak and when not; but her thoughts do not have the same censure. They reveal Anne’s true heart, which has a depth, a beauty, a warmth and a humour her conversation with vain and silly people could never truly disclose.

I will write more on Persuasion next week; I hope that those of you who are reading along are enjoying it as much as I am. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

63 comments

  1. I just finished this a week or so ago. It was my first time reading it so I didn’t notice as much as you have on your reread. Yes, now you mention it, Anne hardly had any dialogue but as a reader we are completely aware of her feelings. I’m discussing it with my book club tomorrow. I have to have more to write about then.

  2. It’s interesting that you call this post “First Impressions” – isn’t that the original name of “Pride and Prejudice”? Or the subtitle, or something?

    I only read three chapters, because I didn’t know what your pace might be; I’ll go ahead now with the rest of it, and comment here whenever I have anything to say.

    1. Yes, it was the first title of Pride and Prejudice before Austen re-jigged it. I didn’t have that in mind but it makes me sound very clever!

      I shall post more about Persuasion over the month – I am going to dip back in and out of the book to write some more detailed posts. So don’t worry – there’s no rush!

  3. Almost finishing my reading and loving every single page. It’s my first time reading Jane Austen and I’m reading it in portuguese (my first language), cause I thought maybe I would miss something about the story due to my poor english. But I’m having so much pleasure through her writing that I’m going to order the original version. Indeed her dialogues are few but her thoughts are precious. As you mentioned, Anne looks indeed dull from the outside, that was my very first impression knowing her irrelevance to her family and the reasons that made her leave captain Wentworth. Then when she goes to Uppercross I feel like I was starting to see the real Anne, her thoughts run freer when she’s away from her father and Elizabeth, all the feelings and regrets for wentworth once in the past and now trying to take place in her mind… Even being there to serve Mary’s wishes and soothes small disagreements, she is needed in some way due to her good sense and proper manners and that makes her some good. She not only gets more attractive for the other characters (as her father says when she gets in Bath that she looks better or mr. Elliot’s fascination for her in Lyme) but for me, the reader. Her insights on the characters’ attitudes, her wise and sensible thoughts gets more and more interesting each page. Gonna get back to my reading right away!

    1. How exciting, Amanda! And how interesting that you’re reading in Portuguese. I haven’t ever come across Austen in translation – you’re lucky that you’re fluent in two languages and can compare which is best! You are right – Anne’s thoughts and feelings definitely get freer and more confident when she is away from the restrictive atmosphere of her family. Austen writes Anne’s character so cleverly – the deeper you look into it, the more skilful you realise she was! I hope you continue to love it!

  4. Rachel, you may have already guessed from other comments how much I enjoyed Persuasion. I galloped through it & have posted my response today. Looking forward to reading all thoughts Persuasion creates. Thank you for organising.

  5. I’m not reading along but I know the novel quite well and just wanted to say how interesting and perceptive this review is — makes me want to pick it up yet again.

  6. I’m 50 pages into the reread and reminded just why I love it so much. I’m actually surprised to think of anyone believing Anne a pushover at the moment. The bit where Lady Russell must propose strictures to save Mr Elliot’s finances shows just what a hard rod she can be as she proposes even tougher measures (they will miss all the horses, just as much as they will miss one pair after all). And the way she insists on looking after Mary’s son to avoid dinner with Wentworth seems very firmly self-interested (in a good, self-preserving way).

    I was surprised though to be reminded how harsh Wentworth’s first judgement of Anne is on meeting her again. He finds her ‘wretchedly’ changed and speaks as he finds. Bit harsh, even if he apparently has no idea people will carry those words back to her.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, Jodie! Oh yes – those examples are excellent. But I suppose people think of her as a pushover because she is quite passive – she agrees to things even when they’re the last thing she wants – but actually she does them because she is the only one strong enough to be able to put her needs last.

      And yes! again – I was surprised by how angry and bitter he still was at first. But anger isn’t too far from love, is it!?

      1. I’ve just read the “wretchedly changed” bit. I wondered if there is more than a hint of damaged male pride here? Despite his assertion that he would now be willing to marry almost any lady aged between 15 and 30, there are plenty of signs that he still hankers after someone exactly like Anne, but he is finding it hard to forgive her for having turned him down. This is not my first time reading this book, so I do know how it turns out.

        Thanks for prompting me to re-read it. Like you, and like others who have commented, I am finding all sorts of things in that I did not really notice before.

      2. Oh yes – his anger at her shines through in that comment. She wounded him and he wants her to feel it.

        I’m so glad, David. I am having such a wonderful time rereading this old favourite and discovering things I had missed before. Rereading is such a joy and this has reminded me that I should be doing it more often.

  7. Great, sensitive review BookSnob. I love all of Austen, but when pushed I have to say that Persuasion is my favourite. There’s something about Anne and her patience and strength that is very appealing. I would say, too, that what you say about Anne not being a pushover can also be said about Fanny in Mansfield Park. Both are rather misunderstood heroines I think.

    1. Thank you very much! I’m so glad to hear that Persuasion is your favourite – true Austenites know that Persuasion is the best! I agree – re-reading Persuasion and seeing what people so frequently say about Anne, I have been reminded of my first and only read of Mansfield Park, and how dull and unspirited I found Fanny. I must go back and see how she fares the second time round, with a more sensitive reader!

      1. Do … I think the trick is to think about her in terms of her circumstances (not in terms of a 20th/21st century girl). Think of her position in that house and how she withstood demands (from those who were her benefactors, or the family of her benefactors) that were against her principles or feelings.

  8. Your review makes me want to read it now – even though I promised myself that I would save it for later! Persuasion is my favourite Austen book. When I started reading Austen it was Mansfield Park and I actually didn’t read Persuasion until much later, putting it off because the story didn’t appeal to me. When I read it for the first time, I remember how much I was consumed by it. Anne is so wonderfully perfect in every way. I very much wish I was like her, patient and so unjudging, firm and wise. Out of all Austen’s novels I think you’re right to say that Persuasion is Austen at her best – it embodies all that makes Austen so cherished, in spite of the fame of the others.

    Anyway, I look forward to you next review!

    1. Don’t save it, Anna! Life is too short for this much pleasure! I wish I could be more like Anne too – patient and non judgemental are not words anyone would ever use to describe me!!

      Thank you – I must find some time to write it!

  9. I, too, find Anne’s self control admirable. I also think her strength lies in her ability to see clearly the battles she needs to fight and those she doesn’t. It’s interesting that you mention how little Anne actually says. I’d never really thought about it before but I think that the lack of dialogue on Anne’s part also helps to illustrate that key contrast between her and her father. Sir Walter seems to take up all the space at the beginning of the novel which plays to the portrayal of his vanity and self-absorption but I think when you consider this with Anne’s quietness and patience, he seems even worse. She’s humble, considerate and prides intellect over aesthetics, in short, she’s the opposite. (On a side note, I think Austen portrays Sir Walter so well – he’s conceitedness is written perfectly!) Anne is such a perfectly constructed character and I wish I was a lot more like her!

    You have reminded me why I love this book! Look forward to more!

    1. That’s an excellent point about the contrast between Anne and her father – he fills the room with his pompousness and vain chatter about the surface appearances of people – Anne looks deeper and considers life – she is never quick to speak unless she is moved to by deep emotion – such as when Wentworth is involved!

      Fantastic!!!

  10. I have loved reading this book, and my review and first post of a couple will be up on my blog this week. Thank you for inspiring me to read this book.

    As this was a first time read it is only upon reflection that I realise Anne says very little. What I do admire about her is her spirit, she knows she has strengths and chooses to use them wisely rather reminds me of the old cliche – it is the quiet ones you have to watch! Anne does a lot of watching of others and herself in my opinion. Whilst those around her especially her sister, Elizabeth and her father only watch themselves anything else would be too exhausting for them I am sure.

    I look forward to reading more about this book and off to investigate some blogs who have written about it, see you all soon.

    1. I look forward to them Jo! I’m so glad you are taking part – it’s my pleasure to introduce Persuasion into people’s lives!

      Yes, she does do a lot of watching, that’s another excellent point. Anne is very much an observer, a supporting player in other people’s lives. But that allows her to see much more than they do, and avoid the pitfalls of rash behaviour.

      Great!! Me too – I’m looking forward to some interesting conversations!

  11. I feel so badly, Bookssnob, but I just can’t get into Persuasion right now. I ordered it for my Nook, and I read the first bits, but it just isn’t sitting well with me right now. I think when I read Austen I need a slower pace in my life, or she should bring me a slower pace, but my mind continues to whirl without the characters sticking.

    Your post about how meaningful this book was to you (is to you) moved me very much, and I want to return to Persuasion some day. In the meantime, thanks for whetting the appetite and understanding my present reticence.

    1. Oh no! Don’t feel bad – there’s a time and a place for everything and it’s best to wait until it’s the right time for you rather than read it when it’s wrong and not get any enjoyment from it.🙂

  12. I think I’m too influenced by the tv series to remember the book but I am trying to re-read it. Still, I find Anne’s patience sometimes too much. I know she tries to live right and do the right thing. The lack of being unable to speak her mind sometimes bothers me but that was how society was in those days. You do not speak ill of anyone even if they are openly being cruel. And yet, it’s still quite a nice read. Compare to other Austen’s work, I can only like this more.

  13. A great post, you have articulated so beautifully exactly what I would like to be able say about my favourite Austen novel. I think it shows it is Austen’s later work, her life experience in a time of restriction informs and shapes this wonderful novel of restraint. I am rereading along with you.

  14. I have finished re reading Persuasion and it is still my favourite Austen book. Your comments about Anne and the reader’s access to her thoughts rather than her words struck me as a very telling point and a really productive way to read the book.

  15. Very interesting point about the indirect voice. You would expect that it would create a barrier between her and the reader, but by giving us direct access to her thoughts, we become intimates.

    For a long time P&P has been my favorite, but with every re-read Persuasion took over. I’ve hear a lot of people saying the same. Maybe it’s age?

    1. Yes, exactly – such is Austen’s skill!!

      I think Persuasion is definitely a book that grows on you as you get older. It’s a book that speaks to broken hearts and bad experiences in a way the others don’t.

  16. You are so right, and express so well that sense that there is very much more Anne might say but chooses not to … “how eloquent could Anne Elliot have been” (chpt. 1). But I wouldn’t say, as you do Rachel, that Austen ‘didn’t bother’ to give Anne a spoken voice, I think she most deliberately deprived her of one … in fact you say it too, Austen ;closes’ Anne’s mouth. She asserts that Anne’s “word had no weight” (chpt. 1) and how better to underline that no one is listening to Anne than to give the reader nothing to ‘listen’ to either. Were Anne to speak aloud she would not be heard by those around her, so she ‘speaks’ only to herself (and through her inner dialogue to us). Does she wisely keep her thoughts from others, or is she resigned to their disinterest in her opinions?

    1. Thanks for your wonderful thoughts, Annie! I shouldn’t have phrased it that way – I meant that she deliberately didn’t bother to give Anne a spoken voice – partly to make he point about Anne being silenced and partly because Anne doesn’t need one – we hear everything she needs to say from reading her thoughts.

      Great question! I think perhaps it’s a mixture – Anne knows no one is interested so she has learnt to keep her thoughts to herself – but perhaps also, she likes to keep her thoughts to herself so that she has some privacy and some control over her own life. She has so little ability to influence what she does and where she lives that keeping her thoughts to herself is her only way to assert her independence.

  17. Rachel, the last time I reread ‘Persuasion’ I was DEEPLY disappointed in it, I felt that Austen lacked generosity for her frailer (in a moral sense) characters and in fact was not what I wanted her to be. (How dare she!) But not only have I probably been unjust but perhaps social commentary needs to be barbed to be effective. So I am going to follow this with great interest. I don’t like disliking what used to be a beloved novel. (And there is hope for me – I reread ‘Mansfield Park’ recently and enjoyed it as well as admiring it.)

    1. Oh, Helen! What a sad shame! I can see what you mean – though Austen’s wit is not really cruel…I don’t think, anyway. I hope Persuasion can be redeemed for you! I have never liked Mansfield Park but I hope to find pleasure in it next time I give it another go!

    2. That was an interesting response Helen – sorry for butting in booksnob. But I think your conclusion is right, social commentary usually does need to be barbed or exaggerated to get the message across.

      1. I think though, with Sir Walter, part of why his character works so well is because Jane is so merciless with him…she exposes him and his vanity so completely. I think if she treated him with sympathy then we wouldn’t understand just how bad a father he has been to Anne, which is very necessary to understand in the terms of why Anne relied on Lady Russell and her opinions so much…which is the crux of the novel!

      2. I wonder if she doesn’t treat her less likeable characters as understandingly as she might because in their case she’s writing satirical types, rather than full, individual people, in order to make a general point about the society she saw around her? So maybe her books contain kind of a mixture of the realistic tendancies that modern readers are so concerned with (and that have devloped over time into a dominant, respected way of writing) and lingering effects of an older way of writing found in classical satires?

  18. I’ve just checked in at my local library and they’ve told me that my inter-library request for the book should be arriving there (at my local brnach) hopefully no later than early next week. I’m growing impatient though, because I put in this request nearly a month ago! If they still don’t have it in by next week, I’m just going to buy a copy and be done with it. I’m sure it’s easy enough to find in most bookshops, as it’s a classic. Failing that, there’s always ebay or awesomebooks (the best on-line bookshop I’ve ever come across – free shipping worldwide, and the prices are really reasonable).

    I’m eager to begin my re-acquaintance with Ms. Austen…one way or the other, I’ll be reading along with the rest of you soon, if not sooner.

  19. I was interested in Helen’s comment about Jane Austen’s lack of generosity for morally frailer characters, I know what she means. (Sir Walter’s cold heartedness and very real cruelty is presented in uncompromising terms despite her wit about his foolish vanity.) On the other hand, Jane Austen has never been afraid to invest other villains with immense charm and some of the best lines in all her books.

    For instance, the conversation between Anne and Mr Elliot in Chapter 16:

    “My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”

    “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company, that is the best.”

    Her best villains tend to be clever, glib, charming and utterly deceitful (I’m thinking Henry Crawford).

    1. I love that quote!

      This is an interesting point. I never felt particularly upset for Sir Walter while reading- I thought he deserved all he got. I think the difference between him and other Austen villains is that he doesn’t really have a good heart – he doesn’t care for Anne and isn’t interested in her welfare, and as such I think he deserves to b treated harshly. I think Sir Walter’s stupidity and vanity also provide some excellent reader entertainment!!

      But I do agree – the best villains are the charming ones.

  20. I completely forgot about this readalong, but I actually started rereading it myself this week! My Jane Austen Society chapter met on Sunday, and I meant to have reread it before our meeting (there was a quiz with prizes, and my failure was epic, since I only had time to watch the movie the night before.)

    I love all of Jane Austen but I think Persuasion may have overcome P&P as my favorite. Anne is a great heroine and Captain Wentworth just pierces my soul. I’m reading the new annotated edition which is just wonderful. I hope to post my review this weekend!

  21. Having been just been to Bath for the first time just a few weeks ago, I was tremendously excited to see you’re doing a read along on Persuasion! I haven’t cracked my copy open yet but I’ve read Persuasion quite a few times and I was intrigued by your observations on Anne not having much of a voice but that we have her internal thoughts instead. Anne does save herself a great deal of vexation and arguing by keeping her mouth shut but on the other hand there are times I feel so lonely for her. When she’s around Captain Benwick and Captain Wentworth is when I feel it the most. She does talk to Benwick some- about poetry and books and when she’s around him, it’s like she’s finally found someone who thinks more like her. Finally! If they could only sit down and talk over poetry forever, I’d feel very relieved for her. The same with Wentworth near the end where everyone in the world seems to prevent them for hanging out together. I just wish she’d talk more openly to him and to Benwick. She has such a fine mind and they seem more similar to her than anyone else. She’s so reserved at all times. It just kills me and makes me run around in tight circles (mentally) while yelping. “Say SOMETHING!” Her reserve holds her in good stead but oh, it’s maddening at the same time. She’s so completely cautious. I suppose I would be too with a family like that but when she gets around good people, she still keeps much of that reserve wrapped around her.

    1. Yes, Anne’s reserve is frustrating at times – but it is part of her personality. She is sensible and considered compared to the rest of her family, and I think, from a lifetime of being suppressed, it has become natural for her to be reticent rather than forthcoming. I do think that by the end she has come out of herself a lot more, but essentially she is still very much a more quiet person who doesn’t like to push her opinions and thoughts on others.

      I hope you’ll be picking Persuasion up again soon!

      1. I started it this weekend and am nearly finished. Such a sweet little gem of a masterpiece. JA really was at the height of her powers in this last completed novel.

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