I recently got a lovely Penguin’s Hardback book of Persuasion by Jane Austen, which was published after her death in 1818. Here’s a picture of the book:
I finished this book quite soon mostly because I was impatient to get it over with. I did not enjoy this as much as some of Jane Austen’s other novels. The book is about Anne Elliot, who is 27 years old and has lost her “bloom of youth” over the years. She had fallen in love with Mr. Frederick Wentworth, a sailor, eight years ago but had been persuaded by Lady Russell that the match is unworthy. Now he has returned and her strong feelings for the gentleman have not deserted her. Imagine, the true attachment and constancy of it, for it to last eight years without seeing or talking to the gentleman and only grow ever-stronger in meeting him again! I was struck by how extra-ordinary and fantastical that seemed to me. To wait so long in inaction, to love none other than the ever-fixed mark of the one person, to love such that it is not faded away by the eroding effects of time, pride or societal pressures is indeed shown quite matter-of-factly in this novel. As if, Jane Austen thinks it’s the most natural and realistic thing in the world.
This book, in all it’s romanticism and strength of characters was remarkably different from Jane Eyre and did not leave so lasting an impression. Their protagonists are also remarkably different; with Jane Eyre being full of subdued wildness while Anne Elliot being of a more polite sensibility (which is stated as a byproduct of a maturity of the mind). Both the protagonist’s had strong consciousness of the right, sense of duty , steadiness of principle and a collected mind. And yet, Jane Eyre is more relate-able with all her struggles and more “real” a character with her moments of discomposure, impulsiveness, passion and fieriness. Persuasion, on the other hand is like sitting down with a nice smooth velvety strawberry sundae. She entertains, undoubtedly but does not startle, does not surprise, does not ruffle. Jane Austen is not found to linger over emotions in this book. And neither is she interested in the religious or the supernatural (both of which are most prominent themes throughout Jane Eyre). While both the writers are superb in their own ways and surround their protagonists with most hilarious and ridiculous characters, Jane Austen’s satire of the society is more direct and striking.
There is a striking parallel to be observed in both these novels, in the appearance of their protagonists. Neither Jane Eyre, nor Anne Elliot is pretty– in fact, they are both quite plain and ugly. But as they develop in the story, and find colour in life with Mr. Rochester or Captain Wentworth, the happiness of their domestic lives restored, the blooming youthful beauty returns to both these women. It is quite evident that both the authors see a strong connection between the state of body and mind. If the mind is pleased and in a state of bliss, it follows that the body will regain its spirits and bloom of health.
Persuasion is a romantic novel; Jane Eyre, however, goes beyond the bounds of being a romantic novel– and is much more than simply that. In both these novels, we experience, the struggle between reason and feeling (although a more animate one in Jane Eyre). In both the novels, we experience, the strong impression that the body or the mind must not submit to the weaknesses of feeling. And let reason assert complete control. I liked Anne’s constancy. Wondered at it. I liked her steady character. I liked the romanticism. And it affected me in a small yet intangible way.