The extravagant and frivolous lifestyle that Anne’s father and eldest sister have adopted soon makes it incumbent that they give up their current impressive residence of Kellynch Hall, and seek a more modest abode elsewhere. Thus, the story begins with moving house. The most common, and sometimes the only adventure, that many undertake. This particular adventure throws Anne into the way of Captain Wentworth – a name which instills both dread and longing in our protagonist’s heart. The two have met some eight years prior to the beginning of this novel and readers soon learn that Frederick Wentworth’s was Anne’s first love – and, much to the gratitude of this romantic reader, her only one. However, due to Wentworth’s lack of position, or financial security, Lady Russell – Anne’s godmother and greatest confidante, since the passing of her own mother – persuades our heroine to break off the engagement. Now, nearly a decade later, Wentworth returns, secure in his position as a successful captain and determined in his efforts to find a wife. And this time he is adamant that he will not allow Anne Elliot an opportunity to reject his hand again
At the heart of this novel is, undoubtedly, a love story. However, as the title suggests, the novel also deals with that innate ability which we all possess to a certain degree – that of persuasion. A few months before beginning Persuasion Austen, too, found herself with the power to decide the outcome of her niece, Fanny Knight’s engagement. Upon her opinion being sought Austen was determined to make it clear that this decision should be Fanny’s and Fanny’s alone – on no account should she be swayed by the opinions of others, regardless of how beloved an aunt they may be, as Austen was to Fanny. Bestowed with such a frightening power, and no doubt, forced to consider the many ways in which she and others might affect the lives of many through the insistence of an opinion, Austen pens “Persuasion” and invites her readers to consider the same issue.
It is the persuasion of Anne which begins the novel, but it is the persuasion, and persuading, of the surrounding characters which drive the plot. Austen does not just invite us to consider how frequently we attempt to persuade others, but also how easily and how quickly we allow ourselves to be persuaded. Though Anne’s decision to break off her engagement with Wentworth may be justified (as she was not simply thinking of her difficulties, but of Wentworth’s also, in the troubles that should inevitably arise for a young man of no means attempting to support a wife) the persuasions of other characters are displayed and gently mocked for the willingness with which they allow their opinions to be swayed. It is through this discussion of such innate human qualities that Austen renders her novels as being timeless stories. For persuasion, and the act of persuading, is something we can all be guilty of having undertaken, for better or worse. The novel simply highlights the ways in which we experience both, either knowingly or unknowingly.
For me, however, the ultimate pleasure I derive from this novel is from the story of Anne and Fredrick. Of how their love was able to endure the test of both time and distance. The length of eight years, and the distance of thousands and thousands of miles. For a reader in the twenty-first century, this seems like the makings of a fairy tale. And, indeed, at times I find myself scoffing at such an idea. Can anyone’s first love ever really be their last? And can it really stand the test of such a long period of time? Doesn’t out of sight mean out of mind?
Anne and Frederick prove otherwise. Theirs is a love so strong, that despite their own attempts to overcome it, they cannot. It’s a love that not only stands the test of time – but challenges it, faces it head on, and ultimately triumphs. Their love, after such a long estrangement, only proves to be stronger. From having watched friends go through date after date, and fall out from one relationship and into another with the weakest of excuses, this novel,to me, acts as a beacon of faith. I want to believe that such a love can – does – exist and as long as I’m rifling contentedly between the pages of Persuasion, I can. And I invite you to do the same.
“…they returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment…”