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Friday, 3 January 2014

"Persuasion" and my favourite Jane Austen novel

In this article, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_completist/2013/04/jane_austen_books_ranked_and_reconsidered_from_emma_to_persuasion.html, the author ranks the 6 novels and questions why Jane Austen's weakest novel in the author's opinion, "Persuasion", is considered by many people to be her best.
The question one may wonder now is what I think about it, whether I see "Persuasion" as her best or weakest novel. To be frank, I think among Jane Austen's novels, the weakest are "Northanger abbey" and "Persuasion", both of which need more revision. Between these 2, "Northanger abbey" is thin and inferior in most aspects, very obviously an early novel, but it has some of the most memorable, convincing characters such as Isabella Thorpe, Henry Tilney, Catherine Morland, John Thorpe... whereas "Persuasion" has some shortcomings in characterisation such as that Walter and Elizabeth Elliot are so similar to the point of having hardly any individual trait, that Mary is almost like a female version of Mr Woodhouse, that Henrietta Musgrove doesn't have a personality, that some other characters such as Mrs Clay, Mrs Smith, Captain Harville, Captain Benwick, Lady Dalrymple... are pale, in the background, not as lively, vivid and convincing as characters in her previous works.
About the unfinished "The Watsons", Virginia Woolf says: "the stiffness and the bareness of the first chapters prove that she was one of those writers who lay their facts out rather baldly in the first version and then go back and back and back and cover them with flesh and atmosphere." This can, likewise, be said about "Persuasion", it's not very polished. And yet, I love it. Less funny but more mature and serious than previous works, with a different tone, "Persuasion" is tinged with melancholy and sadness, and above all, has the potential to be a great book, even her greatest book. If Jane Austen had lived longer, she could have revised the book a few times, added life to the supporting characters, but there's nothing that needs to be done to the love story between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. That part is perfect, their thoughts, feelings, manners, reactions, how they come to understand themselves and each other, everything is flawless to the smallest detail. The imperfections are elsewhere. I can perfectly understand why many people call it a favourite. The 3rd merit of "Persuasion" is that it reflects the 'conflict' between the old aristocracy and the nouveau riche in Britain at the time, a satire of the absurdly proud and vain aristocrats such as Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth, and a paean to the self-made man such as Captain Wentworth; and at the same time, through Sophia Croft, Jane Austen expresses her feminism; both of these things prove Jane Austen more progressive and radical than people think she is.


So far I've read:
- "Emma"
- "Sense and sensibility"
- "Mansfield park"
- "Northanger abbey"
- "Persuasion"
in that order.
Excluding "Emma" because at that time I hated Jane Austen, up till now my no.1 favourite work of hers is "Mansfield park". Even if after reading "Pride and prejudice" and rereading "Emma" I may see them as finer novels, I think my personal favourite will always be "Mansfield park", because:
1/ It is great and perfect in itself.
2/ It's the book that 'converted' me.
3/ The protagonist, Fanny Price, has many admirable qualities, such as gentleness, integrity, insight, wisdom, thoughtfulness, independence, endurance... (though, mind you, she's not perfect and lots of people are blind to these qualities).
4/ The book depicts the heroine as an outsider, an outsider everywhere, which is the main reason I understand and sympathise with her, being an outsider myself.
5/ It's the most complex of her works in terms of characterisation and psychology.
6/ Jane Austen makes people fall for Henry's and Mary's charm even though they're the bad ones, even I myself like Mary Crawford in many aspects and never put her in the same group with Lucy Steele, Fanny Dashwood, Isabella Thorpe... Jane Austen makes us feel what Edmund feels, makes us complicit.
7/ "Mansfield park" shatters the bad boy ideal and thus also shatters the misconception that Jane Austen's sentimental.
8/ It seems to be her most misunderstood novel, which means that when I start liking and admiring 1 of the most popular writers, if not the most, of all time, my favourite is the least popular among her fans, possibly because of no.6 and no.7.
And many other reasons.


1 link between "Mansfield park" and "Persuasion", besides the fact that both books feature a quiet, introverted heroine, is: http://quillandqwerty.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/persuasion-anne-elliot-and-mrs-price/
A very important point, isn't it?

4 comments:

  1. Mansfield Park converted me too! I used to hate Austen till I read it. Though I feel Anne is the best developed among the protagonists, even if the Elliots are dull.

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    1. Oh hi. How did you find my blog?
      I love your blog posts on Mansfield Park and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Intended to write a comment long ago but didn't know what to write, everything had been written.
      Concerning Persuasion, I later changed my view a bit. On the 1 hand, the supporting characters in the book are pale and weak, in need of revision, on the other hand, the love story is perfectly written, and I find Persuasion the most romantic of Jane Austen's novels, proof that she could write about passion. It's my 2nd favourite now, after Mansfield Park.
      Also, Anne's very well-developed, but I think the characterisation of Fanny may be a higher achievement. She's more complex, or at least, she elicits lots of different reactions.

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    2. I was googling Mansfield Park and Wordsworth and it led me to your blog. Glad to know we're both fans of MP. It's such a complex book, I keep on planning to write more posts about it, but my drafts are never satisfactory :( Yes, Persuasion is very Romantic isn't it? It almost approaches Victorianism in its introspection and strong emotions.

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    3. All right, try to finish them soon, I'm looking forward to reading your posts.
      "Persuasion" is, I think, romantic and Romantic. I keep wondering what Charlotte Bronte would have thought about Jane Austen, had she read "Persuasion" (which has passion, lots of it) and "Mansfield Park" (which also has introspection and strong emotions and whose protagonist Fanny is in some ways similar to Jane Eyre). It seems to me that she only read "Emma", the 1st Jane Austen novel I read (and I hated it until the 2nd reading), and "Pride and Prejudice", which I put down many times until I was done with the other novels).
      Oh well...

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