“I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion by Jane Austen
Whenever I think of Jane Austen, the first novel that comes to mind is Persuasion. I loved it then, when I read it for the first time in school. Or later in college on days, when love and romance seemed fit only for fiction. And each time, I went through its old, musty pages, I found myself lost in its underlying currents crafted skillfully through its emotive words:
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago…I have loved none but you.”Jane Austen
With Persuasion, my vacillating faith in everlasting love was always reclaimed. And renewed.
Few days ago, when I paid homage to Jane Austen, I decided on writing about its enduring allure. How it always made me believe in true love that stands the test of time? And why I consider it to be Austen’s best work (not Pride and Prejudice) albeit, published posthumously in 1817.
To begin with let’s look at the premise. Honestly, it rests on a thin premise. The plot-line is astonishingly simple. No sensational plot twists. No effort at adding any kind of quirk or glitz to a love story, which begins with Anne Elliot, a twenty-seven year old woman in her second bloom meeting her ex-fiancee Frederick Wentworth after seven long years.
Anne had met Frederick when she was nineteen years old and fallen in love with him. Smart, confident and charming, he had everything except wealth and great family connection. Two important requisites to win the hand of Anne Elliot, the daughter of the conceited, Sir Walter Elliot. Thanks to his boastful and haughty nature, his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who thinks too highly of herself as well — never married.
Sir Elliot persuades Anne to turn down Frederick’s marriage proposal. Years later, when Frederick returns after gathering a considerable fortune through his naval exploits in the Napoleonic Wars, he has still not forgiven Anne for refusing his proposal. Whereas Anne with every encounter and at every turn finds herself increasingly drawn towards him. Her love rekindling and burning brighter with time and his closeness.
With several wrong turns, which creates adequate suspense and makes the reader wonder if Anne and Frederick will be ultimately reunited, Austen masterfully reunites the lovers and gives them their happily-ever- after.
This short and profound novel was written by Austen at a ripe age, few years before her death. The beauty of the book however, lies in the journey that the two estranged lovers make through time.
The subdued humor, the remarkably fervid musings and conversations, particularly between Captain Harville and Anne, finally leading to the climax. And the ending written as a letter by Frederick proves why Jane Austen is the undisputed queen of romance.
Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel not only for its underlying tone of love and longing. Anne’s and Frederick’s love story also highlights how forlorn and vulnerable the experience of heartbreak is. How difficult and challenging it can be to believe in love and give it another chance. This giving and opening up become quite distressing with time and age. Mainly due to the walls of prejudice and self-pride we build around ourselves.
Austen’s novels have always focused on how a woman’s fate is decided by her family and friends. In Persuasion she creates a heroine, who is influenced by her family to give up on her one true love. But to Austen’s credit — by the end of the book, Anne stands up for herself and gives love another chance.
Much like Frederick who reinforces his social status among her family and friends by making his fortune. Both the protagonists despite their heartache and limitations, emerge as winners finally.
- The concept of true love. A love that survives the test of time. And matures with age.
- Frederick Wentworth. The strength of his character. His love for Emma.
- The writing which tugs at your heartstrings, even today, more than two hundred years later.
- Lack of plot twists.
- The singular focus on the two lead protagonists. In Austen’s defense, and defense of all romance writers — to let the romance build and stand out, a writer needs to curtail plot dilution. And focus on the sensitive dynamics of the central characters. After all that is exactly where the reader is invested in.