Sunday, 7 February 2016

re-reading Persuasion

I re-read Persuasion almost every year. Usually in the spring although it is very much an autumnal novel. At just over two hundred pages it can be read over a long weekend. Each time I re-read I find new layers of meaning. I was interested in the ending this time.

The letter that Captain Wentworth writes to Anne declaring his love ‘For you alone I think and plan’ is so moving that I’ve overlooked something else in the final pages. Austen envisions a life for her characters beyond the end of the novel. She doesn’t hold out much hope for the chilly and elegant Elizabeth:

‘It would be well for the eldest sister if she were equally satisfied with her situation, for a change is not very probable there.’ Persuasion, Jane Austen

The artful Mrs Clay who absconds with Mr Elliot has either been ruined by him or is about to make him her husband and Austen leaves us guessing whether 'his cunning or hers, may finally carry the day.’

We know from her letters that Jane Austen saw the characters from Pride and Prejudice as having their own autonomy because when she went to an exhibition in London with her brother Henry in 1813 she saw Jane Bingley in a portrait there and described her in the present tense:

Mrs. Bingley's is exactly herself--size, shaped face, features, and sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow. Jane Austen 1813

I hadn’t noticed that Austen extends the character’s lives beyond the end of the novel in Persuasion before, but then, she was a novelist ahead of her time.
Like a lot of book bloggers I’m not buying many new books this year or scouring Waterstones and Amazon for new novels to read. Sometimes, the very finest writing is already sitting on your shelves!


Audrey said...

Persuasion has always been my favorite of the six (though I love them all!) I'm overdue for re-reading it myself. :) (P.S. Elizabeth Jenkins' book on Jane Austen is lovely! I'd like to re-read that, too!)

JoAnn said...

"Sometimes, the very finest writing is already sitting on your shelves!"

Amen to that! Persuasion will be my next Austen reread.

Nadia A said...

You are spot on about the very finest writing being already sat on our shelves - so true! I'm trying to stick to reading my "own damn books" per Andi's challenge this year and its proving rather fruitful. I can't believe how many books I own that I'd forgotten about. At least I'm getting to them now and truly enjoying them. I love that you reread Persuasion so often - shows how much you love it. I used to do that with my favorite book, Cat's Cradle. Its been ages and I've been thinking of picking it up again - perhaps its time. I definitely want to read Persuasion - its been on my shelves for years. I finally read Emma last year and LOVED it. I'm hoping to pick up Sense and Sensibility next. However, before I delve into Austen's writing again I'm starting Jane Eyre. I read it ages ago and didn't enjoy it. I'm hoping this reread of it finds me enjoying it this time round. Enjoy your time with Austen!

lissa said...

I didn't notice those things either, I thought I sort of overlook them because the focus is on the letter but I might have to do a re-read.

hope you have a sweet day.

Peggy said...

Persuasion is my favorite Austen. These days when I read it, I wonder if, had she lived longer, she would have written about older heroines. I notice, now that I am older, how unkind she could be to some of her older characters, and wonder if that would have changed.

Aarti said...

I love this book the best of all Austen's novels. I agree, the letter is so amazing it's hard to think about anything else. I think this year, I will do this one on audiobook :-)

Mrs Ford said...

I think I've only read "Persuasion" once and am now very tempted to read it again - I always find all sorts of new pleasures every time I re-read a Jane Austen novel. I completely agree that the finest writing is often already on our shelves, and at the moment am completely immersed in "War and Peace" which is just wonderful. I doubt any current novels would come remotely close!

Melody said...

Persuasion is one of my very favorites. Endings never seemed to be Austen's strong suit, so the "alternate ending" of Persuasion always intrigued me. The characters feel so real to me, so it is interesting to think of their continued lives.

Sunday Taylor said...

I so agree with your last line. I have read several forgettable new books lately which makes me want to pull out my favorite classics for a cozy reread! Jane Austen never disappoints!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Persuasion is one of my favorite books. I think Anne is my favorite Austen heroine. I relate to her in so many ways. And your last line, "Sometimes, the very finest writing is already sitting on your shelves!" is so true. I love rereading old favorites. They're like coming home to something familiar and even after so much time, there are still new insights to gain.

Bellezza Mjs said...

I had so much fun reading Emma for Austen's 200th birthday this December, but Persuasion is my favorite. I doubt I'll reread Emma again, but I could pick up Persuasion any time.0

Vintage Reading said...

Audrey, I'm torn between Persuasion and P&P for my favourite!

JoAnn, hope you post about it!

Nadia, I hope you enjoy Jane Eyre, this time around. I'm re-reading it for my visit to the Cambridge Lit Festival next week. I sometimes find 18thC novels easier to read than Victorian novels I have to say.

Lissa, have a good day, too!

Peggy, yes, that's a good point. I wonder what a novel from a mature Austen would be like. I suppose that's the issue with Austen. The novels all end with a marriage and not an examination of their later years.

Aarti, I must use audiobooks more. Trouble is I've always got R4 on!

Mrs Ford, it's been many years since I read War and Peace. You have prompted me to re-read it.

Melody, yes I agree that the characters do feel so real. I have the alternate ending in my edition and I rather like it as it features the lovely Admiral Croft. I imagine Austen was torn as to which to use.

Sunday, yes, it seems the more a contemporary novel is promoted as the next big thing, the less I like it!

Holly, yes with a truly great artist like Austen the novels never read the same way twice and you can always find new levels of meaning. I am trying to read what is on my shelves a lot more these days.

Bellezza, I have to say that Emma is probably my least favourite Austen although I'm fond of Mr Knightley!