Emily M. DeArdo


The Great Jane Re-Read: Persuasion

books, Jane AustenEmily DeArdoComment

And so we come to the end: Persuasion. Last, but not least! I'm a big fan of Anne Elliot. 

I've written about Persuasion before, here

My favorite movie adaptation is the 2007 one. 

(Side note: Tobias Menzies, from Outlander, plays William Elliot!) 

So, let's talk about Anne, now that we've got the preliminaries out of the way. 

I could not have been as patient and good as Anne Elliot. I would've ripped Elizabeth's head off by the time we'd become eligible to marry. Mary isn't as bad as Elizabeth, but--that's not a great recommendation for Mary!

Anne, though, needs to be calm, cool one, because her father and sisters are clearly not. I imagine Anne is a lot like her mother, whom we never meet. She tries to keep everyone from flying off the handle.  She's sort of a typical middle child, in that sense. She will keep the peace. 

After Louisa falls from the Cobb in Lyme, Mary very strongly reacts to being told that Anne is the best person for Louisa. "Am I not as capable as Anne?" she cries. Well, no, Mary. You're not. You have been petted and cosseted and you barely take care of your children; how are you to take care of such a delicate situation, and keep a cool head? Anne is almost always level-headed and calm. She's ideal in an emergency. 

All the men in story, other than her father, see Anne's worth and value immediately, and they do not overlook her. Indeed, William Elliot and Charles both prefer Anne to her sisters, and Charles only married Mary because Anne turned him down. 

Anne also does not share her family's insistence on protocol and rank. "They should know what is due to you as my sister," Mary says to Anne about the Miss Musgroves visiting them. Elizabeth and Sir Walter cannot wait to make the acquaintance of their aristocratic relation, Lady Dalrymple, and Anne almost withdraws from it. She knows that as the daughter of a baronet, she has a certain rank, but she doesn't lord it over people. She also won't put Lady D's party above her visit to her friend Mrs. Smith, which greatly angers her father. "To place such a person ahead of your family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland! Mrs. Smith!" he rages. But Anne will not be cowered by her father's fury.

The Elliot family: Sir Walter, and (l-r), Anne, Elizabeth, and Mary. 

The Elliot family: Sir Walter, and (l-r), Anne, Elizabeth, and Mary. 

But under all that coolness, she very much regrets losing Frederick. Her love for Frederick is much deeper than she'd admit to anyone, no matter how cool she tries to play it in public. She knows how wrong she was to reject him, and to care more about the opinion of others over the feelings of her own heart. 

Frederick is ENTIRELY too hard on Anne in the beginning. She was young when they were in love, and he punishes her  for being persuaded by other people, or influence by them, even though she's now eight years older. He seems reluctant to let go of her, but also wants to punish her for breaking his heart. Well, Frederick, she broke her own heart, and I think she's been punishing herself enough, thanks. 

But it's clear that Frederick still loves her, even when he's busy with the Miss Musgroves....who, while they're sweet, are what Mr. Bennet would call "very silly girls." (Not that Mr. Bennet does much about the silly girls!) He can't stand to have anyone else be attracted to her, or pay her attention. (The scene between Frederick, Anne, and Walter is a great example of this.) 

The story is, at heart, a story of second chances. One of my favorite Jane quotes is found in Persuasion

The only privilege I claim for my own sex...is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone. 

Anne is constant to Frederick, even when she has no hope of ever seeing him again.

Anne at a musicale in Bath (before she goes chasing after Frederick.) 

Anne at a musicale in Bath (before she goes chasing after Frederick.) 

One of the main settings of the novel is Bath, which both Anne and Jane disliked heartily. Anne's consolation is that she has a friend in Bath, especially since Elizabeth has no need of Anne. "She is nothing to me," Elizabeth tells Mrs. Clay (the lawyer's who has set her cap on Sir Walter). Elizabeth, of course, immediately tries to snare the heir to her father's estate, William Elliot, who is a cousin of theirs.  Elizabeth is in even greater danger than Anne for being "left on the shelf"--she is almost thirty. She must marry soon, if she is to marry at all. 

William at first appears worthy. He's a lot like many of Jane's other rakes--Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford. They all look nice and shiny, but then we realize their deficiencies, as Anne does.  Of course, William beguiles Anne at first, as much as she tries to deny it. How many people have paid attention to her in her life? Not many. But Harriet, her delightful friend, informs her of his true character. That little scheming man! 

Frederick might be Jane's most ardent hero--his letter to Anne in the novel is certainly more ardent than anything we get from Edward, Edmund, or Mr. Knightley, or even Darcy. 

One of the reasons I really like Persuasion is because it's a more grown-up love story. It has a sort of elegiac quality to it, which makes sense, since it's Jane's last novel. I don't think she knew that, at the time--she had plans for other works, including "Sandition" and "The Watsons"--but the overtone to the story is autumnal and very much in the way of things ending or transitioning. Fortunately for Anne and Frederick, they're good transitions, into their natural relationship of husband and wife. 

Anne and Frederick 

Anne and Frederick