It’s been a while since I dove into a classic work of literature. When I mean “classic”, I mean something that’s more or less part of the English literature canon.*
I’m more of a Victorianist than a Regency-ist, but I have a special place in my heart for Jane Austen. One professor once told in class that her stories are so tightly constructed that you cannot pull out a single thread without unraveling the entire story.
Persuasion is Austen’s last, and arguably best, work. Yes, better than Pride and Prejudice.
Persuasion introduces Anne, a 28-year-old woman unfortunately living in a family with a vain and spenthrift father and older sister, and an already married younger one. She is discreet, circumspect and smart; she is also surrounded by proud, vain relatives who don’t see her value and basically ignore her.
This book is a treasure of exploration of the character of men and women. More than any other book of hers, Persuasion explores the idea of constancy and inconstancy, of short-fleeting lust and of love that endures almost a decade of separation. As I was reading it, it became a celebration of slow love, of that love that takes its time but is able to endure anything. This is also when Austen explores the value of the British Navy more in depth than any other book of hers I’ve read. Her last paragraph is basically a celebration of the value of sailors and their worth in war and peace.
Reading Persuasion made me long for the slow, confident but durable development of feelings over time. I started thinking about our fast-everything society: fast food, fast fashion, fast communication. Fast love, too. Is love that is found and consumed within days better than feelings that endure an 8-year separation?
It just might be my current mood, but I found the lack of sexuality refreshing. Sure, men are handsome and ladies are pretty, but Anne has “lost the bloom of youth” and yet Wentworth still finds her beautiful. If that’s not a proof love, I don’t know what is. I felt more happiness in their story than in the sleep-and-go culture we have now.
And I know that there are many issues with this: a different time period, feminist theory, etc. I realize all of that, and yet I found myself imagining living in Austen’s world, sexless and all, and finding a possibility for happiness. Yes, even with my modern mind.
*The idea of “canon” is hotly debated even within the academic field of literature, but I am basing myself on my own education here, so don’t shoot me down.