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.