How I managed to live 30 years without reading a single Jane Austen novel, I can't quite comprehend even myself, especially given the facts that 1) I have been bookworm since a wee tiny girl and 2) world literature was part of my university studies. However - it happened, I'm putting it out there, and luckily by now I have also started curing the situation, having finished my first ever Austen book, "Persuasion".
Not that I'm happy to admit it, but I was slightly
prejudiced sceptic towards the whole Austen business. Somehow that idea that Austen is the chick-lit of the Regency era England had taken hold in my head (let's blame it on the hype). At least when it comes to this novel... I was wrong! And I'm glad. Austen was obviously a highly intelligent and sharp writer (let's not listen to Mark Twain*, though maybe he has a point when it comes to other novels; still, I cannot approve fist fights between dead people). When I compare this novel with "Jane Eyre", one of the three Classics Club books I have read this year, it quickly becomes obvious that Charlotte Brontë's writing is much more accessible, simpler. After having been basically away from classics for quite a number of years, it was at first difficult to get into the long, heavily constructed (though by no means not clumsy) sentences and passages. But I got into the jive fairly fast (at about 1/4 mark of the book).
The whole Elliot family (with the exception of Anne) is nuts! If you'll excuse my semi-emotional outburst. Her father's a man with shallow values, cares only about social stand, good looks and nice garments; older sister Elizabeth is clearly her father's child, and younger sister Mary is the biggest whiner I've encountered in a written word for a while. Honest, the moment Mary opened her mouth somewhere in the beginning, I got this itching in my fist and although I don't approve the concept of a fist fight between a living individual and a fictional character either, I couldn't help myself - it's a character you want to punch in the face. A lot. Because she's just so... whiny, selfish, hypochondriac, hypocritical, overall lost in parenthood and marriage of a doubtful value (her husband had first proposed to Anne, who decided to not make him a happy man).
Was it Jane Austen's intention to picture majority of the characters in such a charicatural manner? There is also Lady Russell, the one that gave Anne the advice of calling off the engagement with Frederick Wentworth. Even though Lady Russell is the most human person of the lot when it comes to treating Anne, she makes the mistake of giving advice. Giving advice is such a dangerous thing to do, as no matter what you advise, you will be co-responsible for the outcome. And there is the thing - maybe the advice was actually good. Maybe it worked out between Anne and Wentworth in the end exactly because there was such a long time gap. But then, you never know - there is no way to know if it wouldn't have been better and less painful if Anne hadn't called off the engagement. That is why major decisions such as that should be put on the shoulders of the decision-maker; the situation is way different if only one person is responsible, no matter what the outcome is in the end.
|The letter scene. Lent from here.|
But I digress. Anne can sometimes seem almost too good, but overall I would label her a sensible, quite rational, feet-on-the-ground person. I have read some people criticising Anne for not standing up for herself more, but I disagree, mainly because that is also where I am very similar to Anne. It's recognising the situations, where use of energy is pointless because the other people just don't get you/the idea/what they are doing wrong. Instead, Anne goes through life in quite a preserving manner, faithful to her own ideas and truths, but not trying to push these on others. Somehow I imagined her having this hopeless smile and ironic glance in her eyes whenever a family member managed to call out the drama llama again.
I don't want to say a lot about Frederick Wentworth because he stayed a bit distant for me, and let's face it, this story is all about Anne. Before reading, I had caught glimpses of some mysterious "Wentworth letter" from the blogosphere and even though I am pretty much a completely hopeless person when it comes to romantic stuff as such - I have to admit that this was well done. (Even though we all know this letter was actually written by Jane Austen, who was a woman - hehe.) Overall, I didn't mind him, and I think in many ways he was a good match for Anne.
I enjoyed "Persuasion" quite a bit. It wasn't the romance story I had feared it would be; instead, it was witty, a bit sarcastic critique by Austen on some of the silliness and shallowness that was going on at the time. There was humour and writing was very elegant. At this point, I am not scared of approaching the other works of Austen (anymore), although I might leave the most famous ones the last.
* “I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”