I pulled Jane Austen’s Persuasion from the bookshelf in order to lighten the mood a bit after Jude the Obscure. I love Jane Austen as soon as I learned in the literature class that there are something more than ‘romance’ in her novel–the conflicting ideals discussed in the pivotal time of the Revolution in France.
Persuasion, Austen’s last novel, also presents such interesting discussion but in somewhat lesser degree than Austen’s earlier works such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Anne Elliot does not deviate much from Austen’s typical heroines, for her temperament and family structure are heavily reminiscent of those of Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood–bookishness, introverted, silly parents, absence of male heir, and bankruptcy. But when Elizabeth and Elinor suffered from the inabilities of their advisers, Anne is overcome with their influences (i.e. Sir Walter and Lady Russell) that becloud her own decisions and preferences.
Anne rejected Captain Wentworth eight years ago for being persuaded by her superiors who defended the tradition of social rigidity. Now twenty-seven, Anne re-enounters the Captain who has now grown into a prospective and successful commander and, without intending it, she is being led into a hopeful vision that she might overcome her old action and reunites with him again. Her growing passion for Captain Wentworth was the only thing that can be really called her ‘own’; the rest belonged to the greater external force that surrounds her, the upper class society, her parentage and household that only make up her social identity. Outside of the encounters with the Captain, her own will is suppressed everywhere, especially by Lady Russell who treats Anne like her own daughter. In many ways, Anne Elliot embraces the traditional womanhood that valued duty and obligation over ambition and risk. She is alarmed by her growing feelings for the Captain but at the same time she never regrets her old action to dismiss him.
In spite of all those interpretations, I have no doubt that Persuasion is a romantic novel, mainly because of the quality of the feelings Anne have for Captain Wentworth after they renewed their acquaintance in eight years. There are many hints that she is attracted to Wentworth again not out of duty or responsibility but purely of ‘romantic’ desires that cannot be condescended to an external force of reasoning, i.e. a persuasion. It’s something totally ‘revolutionary’ pursuit previously denied in her territory with her silly father and Lady Russell’s guidance; the mental agitations of Anne, who was always obsessed in doing what’s right, in her stirred emotions with Wentworth are illustrative of this:
Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room. Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed,–but she knew nothing about it. She was thinking only of the last half hour, and as they passed to their seats, her mind took a hasty range over it. His choice of subjects, his expressions, and still more his manner and look, had been such as she could see in only one light. (p.150)
Anne’s pursuit of Wentworth in the latter part of the novel (after learning he has split with Louisa Musgrove) is somewhat senseless or ‘irrational’ quality that definitely reminds of their previous courtship in their immaturity. There is no reasoning or pre-judgment at work in Anne’s feelings for Wentworth but only purely erotic desire. No other persuasion or approach by Lady Russell, Mrs. Smith, or Mr. Elliot could stand in the way of her passion for their rekindling relationship that eventually lead to a happy marriage.
Of course Austen didn’t forget to give a cool discussion of the prospect of their ‘marriage’ as something more than just a romantic union. No reader could doubt that Anne’s marriage with Frederick would be generally happy, except for the potential dread for a future war or long-term separation. But there is no particular sign those things would undermine their sense of satisfaction with their life, as long as their union is founded upon the basis of mutual affection, which Austen proves in the whole length of 203 pages.