1818, Books, Fiction

Persuasion (1818) by Jane Austen

I hear that this is Austen’s best novel. I have no idea as I have never read any of her other novels, though I have seen adaptations of at least two of them. (Whether or not that helps is another story.)

It’s been a long time since I have read a novel written in the 19th century and especially since I read one written in the first quarter of the 19th century. I’ve sort of forgotten how different life was in the UK at that time even though I’ve seen plenty of period pieces set around this, um, period. What likely passed for satire for Austen’s readers strikes me as just absolutely absurd both because of 200 years and an ocean of distance and because, as I said, it’s been a long time since I spent time with characters living in a world like this.

Anne’s family are The Worst. Well, specifically, her father and her younger sister. (Her older sister is hardly great but struck me as the least bad if only because I had trouble getting a handle on her.) Apparently this is a bit of a thing with parents in Austen but this father is just ridiculous. One of the parts of the novel that struck me as the most absurd was when Anne got offended about what someone said about her father. I guess he’s an idiot but he’s Anne’s idiot?

The sense of place is quite good. I did feel like I was there, first on the estates, then at Lyme, then in Bath. Bath in particular felt familiar to me through Austen’s writing even though I couldn’t remember the street names. I have spent a little bit of time there and I felt like I could see it.

Anne feels a bit too…um, ideal, I guess, for me. I guess you could look at her refusal to take full responsibility for her actions before the novel started as a character flaw but that feels like that’s the only one. I guess that’s a product of time and it’s certainly important that she be likable but there are times, depending on her company, when she feels like the likeable character. (It really depends on the company, of course.)

I think I might laugh at this much more on screen than on the page. I was often more aware of the humour of the situation or a particular line than I was laughing and Anne’s family really did just annoy me. I was fun at times and other times annoying to be caught up in this world of weird obsessions, where the quality of your carriage is extremely important, or who invites who, or whatever.

I do feel like I understand why some people would rate this highly compare to earlier stories. It does feel a little more developed in the sense that it is, as the introduction to my edition says, a “sequel” but not to any book yet written. This is a common thing for me, being a fan of film noir, but someone had to develop the idea and Austen might have been one of the earlier ones to do so. I suspect I would appreciate her evolution more if I had read her other novels or read some contemporary novels recently.

Certainly I don’t regret reading it, which is more than I can say for some 19th century fiction.

7/10 I guess

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