Persuasion (by Jane Austen)

When I want to read something gentle, that's not too gripping and will last me at least a few days, I occasionally turn to Jane Austen. Not that I can do so very often as only six of her novels were published, but I enjoy them when I do. Most of them, anyway... my least favourite is 'Emma'.

The Austen book which I usually forget about is 'Persuasion', the one I read in the last week. The main character is the likeable but all too persuadable Anne Elliot. Anne is the middle daughter of three: the oldest, like their father, is rather snobbish and cares about society. The youngest, Mary, is married but is consumed with alternate envy for everyone else, and extreme hypochondria.

As with all this author's novels, it's a social satire with a lot of ironical conversations that build character brilliantly. Naturally there are caricatures, but Anne seems a believable person whom I can empathise with quite well. She wants to make everyone happy and avoid conflict wherever possible, but inevitably this isn't possible.

By shallower people Anne is seen as rather meek and timid without much personality, but she has depths of character which show when she is needed. She understands the way other people think, even when she does not agree with them, and she's always there in a crisis.

Anne turned down a marriage proposal some years ago, we learn, after being persuaded by her relatives to do so, but she still has regrets for Captain Wentworth. Inevitably he returns to the scene along with several newcomers, and the book has some low-key romances, although it's not obvious until near the end what Anne's future will be.

I didn't find it as amusing as 'Northanger Abbey', or as clever as 'Pride and Prejudice', but I still enjoyed it a great deal more than 'Emma'. Recommended to anyone who likes the historical background, the slow pace and copes with the sometimes archaic language of Jane Austen's works.

Note that there is an excellent made-for-TV adaptation of Persuasion, which may be of more interest to those who do not have the time or inclination to read Austen's books.

Review copyright 2005 Sue's Book Reviews

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