I absolutely adore some of Austen’s books–one of my first reviews for Cannonball Read IV was of Northanger Abbey. I love the energy and passion of Pride and Prejudice (“What are men to rocks and mountains?” indeed), the mischief of Emma, and the creaky doors and thunderstorms and laundry lists of Northanger Abbey. I sympathise with Elinor Dashwood, and think she could have done much better in terms of sisters and eventual husbands–but I also sympathise with Marianne’s youthful desire for drama, and think she could have done much better in terms of eventual husbands as well. Basically, the denizens of the above-mentioned novels are real to me. Although I read Pride and Prejudice in my teens, and Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park followed soon after, I somehow hadn’t read Persuasion until the last few days. And reader, I hated it to the extent that it made me sad.
Anne Elliot is pining for a man she loved eight years ago, her family are unbearable snobs, and her only true friend parted her from said man with the best of intentions. Anne has spent the last eight years moping and losing her youthful bloom. Eventually things work out, but in a creaky, deflated sort of way devoid of passion and intelligence. I was bewildered by the number of people in the novel. To start with, I thought oh, this is like a cool Cinderella thing doing on, with the arrogant sisters and the scheming stepmother-to-be, but then it was like, well. All the persuasion happened eight years ago. And then there were too many people. And Mrs Smith switches far too rapidly from wanting her friend to marry someone evil to informing her that “he’s evil, you’re well out of it.” And Anne is just so damn boring. Austen never laughs at her like she does her other heroines, so we never laugh with her, and we keep hearing about her delicate and well informed mind but it’s rarely actually demonstrated in a way that doesn’t make her seem sort of pompous. One of her kind-of cousins jumps off a step on a seafront and concusses herself, then ends up marrying a man who has recently lost his intended and is supposed to be heartbroken. I might have found her story more interesting.
I may well be hoist on my own petard and have to teach this one day, in which case I will remain as neutral as possible and consider student perspectives and happily reconsider the novel…but nevertheless, I hope if I’m ever assigned any Austen it’s Pride and Prejudice. Because that would be awesome.