Most people who think Jane Austen think Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but for me Persuasion is the book that tops the list. The last book published while Austen was alive, it’s often referred to as the mature Pride and Prejudice. The story is about Anne Elliott who’s family has connections, but unfortunately, her father and older sister have squandered their money. Seven years earlier, she fell in love with Frederick Wentworth, a man with no money or connections, but who had goals and good character. They’d planned to marry until a family friend persuaded her to break the engagement.
Now, seven years later. Anne and her family have to move to cheaper accommodations and rent their estate to Admiral Croft, who coincidentally is married to Frederick’s sister. By this time, Anne is 27 and losing her “bloom”. Frederick is now a captain in the navy and is wealthy. He visits his sister, where he and Anne are reacquainted; however, he acts indifferent to her, as if she were only a past acquaintance. Rubbing salt into Anne’s wound, he openly courts another young woman. Eventually, of course, the two reconcile. The standout scene is when Anne is speaking to a friend of Wentworth’s talking about how men forget the women they love sooner than women forget men. Overhearing this, Wentworth writes Anne a letter that is guaranteed to make you swoon.
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in
I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never. “
Chasing him down, Anne and Frederick reconcile.
Aside from this letter, what makes this story so wonderful is the subtle way Austen shows us they love each other still, even though it’s not obvious to them. Wentworth, once angry that Anne could be persuaded to leave him, learns of her strength and loyalty. Anne, who thinks she’s lost all hope of finding true love, learns to do what is right in her heart, not what’s right for her family. What I really love is that idea that they never stopped loving each other, even when all hope of being together was lost.
There have been several movies made of Persuasion, but my all time favorite is with Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root. They do such a fabulous job of showing the viewer their love and longing, while hiding their feelings. Here is a video that shows highlights and the gist of story from clips from this movie version. I highly recommend seeing the movie Persuasion and/or reading the book if you like Jane Austen.
What could be better than an Austen love story combined with a mystery? This is what P.D. James has done in her recent release of Death Comes to Pemberley. Pemberley is the home of Mr. Darcy and now his wife, Elizabeth (Bennett) Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. At the start of the story, Elizabeth, Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam, and Charles and Jane (Bennett) Bingley are making final preparations for the Lady Anne ball. Elizabeth and Jane’s youngest sister, Lydia arrives unannounced and hysterics, screaming that her husband, Wickham is dead. But it’s not Wickham who is found dead, it’s his good friend Denny. Wickham is arrested and tried for the murder. Despite his loathing of Wickham, Darcy doesn’t believe he’s a murderer.
I would not describe myself as a die-hard Janeite. I don’t mind when directors have the characters kiss in the movie adaptations. In fact I like it. But, when I read a book (or see a movie) I want the characters to behave the way they were originally written. That’s where Death Comes to Pemberley falls short. While some of the characters are written true to form (Jane, Charles, Wickham, Lydia and Darcy), James fails to capture Elizabeth’s wit. Granted, she’s married with two children and a large estate to manage, which could mellow her out a bit. But I don’t believe she would have settled into the role expected by society. While Pride and Prejudice is a love story, it also pokes fun at late eighteenth century social norms. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to point out social rules that make no sense or stand up for herself against people who are in a higher station than her. P.D. James’ Elizabeth doesn’t do any of that. In several situations she could speak her mind, but doesn’t. There are only a few occasions in which James’ captures Elizabeth’s wit. In fact, Elizabeth doesn’t figure very prominently in the book at all, which makes sense since as a woman she wouldn’t have been allowed to participate much in a murder investigation. Although we see a lot of him, Darcy isn’t very involved either. I expected the two of them to investigate and solve the crime, but in fact the resolution comes in a Perry Mason type last minute testimony.
Having never read P.D. James before, I can’t compare it to her other works.
I enjoyed the book overall. Austen fans might get a kick hearing about Captain Wentworth and Anne (Elliot) Wentworth from Persuasion, although I think the timing is off. Death Comes to Pemberley takes place in 1803 and I’m pretty sure Persuasion doesn’t take place until 1811 or there abouts (I remember a quote in which Wentworth says something to the effect he wasn’t in a position to get married in ’06 which is about the time Anne turned his first proposal down). James also lets us know about the Knightley’s and Harriet Smith of Austen’s book Emma.
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