Jane Austen’s Persuasion is a subtle, small-scale novel compared to her other five classic works. The cast of characters is slimmer and there are fewer humorous moments. The heroine, 27-year-old Anne Elliot, is mostly serious and introspective; she doesn’t even speak a word of dialogue until Chapter 5. Even so, Persuasion captivated me upon my first reading. Every few years, I return to Austen’s insightful rendering of a nuanced love story that begins on a note of regret – a story that expertly reveals the values of 18th century English society.
Anne Eliot may not display the buoyant wit of Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet or even the amusing foolishness of Emma’s heroine, but she is quietly wise and has an intriguing past. Persuasion begins seven years after her great error of judgement: ending her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth, a man she deeply loved. She was convinced (persuaded) by her dear family friend, Lady Russell, that his seafarer position and modest financial means made him an unsuitable match. Years later, Anne still sees the social logic of this choice, but she is remorseful. The descriptions of her faded youth and lost bloom are about more than her age – they point to the pained, retreated state of her heart.