Without question the softest, and often said to be the most lonely and melancholic of the Jane Austen novels, Persuasion is nevertheless one of my favourites. Though Anne does not have the lively spirit of Lizzy, she is such a gentle, pensive, good-natured heroine that I like her just as well. I am just like her about not liking cities. I always think though, that if she disliked beautiful old fashioned Bath, where it would be a treat for me to go, what would she think of a modern city? the roaring of cars and the flashing of traffic lights would seem far worse than “the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men, and milk-men, and the ceaseless clink of pattens”, and the tall skyscrapers of our cities would be horrid in comparison with ‘extensive buildings, smoking in rain’ which no doubt were some gorgeous regency houses. But had I lived in Anne’s time, I no doubt would have considered Bath as I consider Manchester and London. I wish I did live at Anne’s time – no I don’t – there would be no computer for me to have this blog on.
To continue, I will talk about some of what I consider the highlights of the book. I am sure everybody who has ever read Persuasion remembers the thrill of horror at the moment when Louisa falls from the Cob in Lime; and still more the softer bitterness of Captain Wentworth’s grief, showing (as we all think) the excessiveness of his attachment to Louisa. But the dramatic, intense parts essential to the plot are not the only highlights. I always have a great pleasure in reading the part about the autumn walk, especially the paragraph describing Anne’s delight in the charm of the countryside in autumn, and the many poems describing that charm –
”Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn –that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness –that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.”
But alas, Anne cannot keep her mind from wandering to sorrow, and “The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining year, with declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.”
Wonderful as all of Persuasion is, there is only one more part – the crowning of the whole book – that particularly dwells upon my memory, that I especially think has to be mentioned. One of the many merits of Jane Austen, I think, is the overpowering happiness of her endings – it is impossible not to smile as you read the end . And of all the endings, Persuasion’s is, perhaps, the happiest of all. Oh the indescribable joy of that letter! How our hearts leap at the words! How the joy rushes through body and head! I believe one of the happiest moment in my life was reading that letter.
“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 F. W.’
And before this joy, there is are gentler but just as memorable emotions exited in her conversation with Captain Harville. Never have Jane Austen’s powers of creating conversation been so wonderfully exercised. The story of Anne’s life can be traced in her words.