by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict.
(This is my first guest post for About.com's Classic Literature Blog.)
Bringing in a New Year is all about second chances. This year, we vow, we will do it right. We have a second chance to take better care of ourselves. We have a second chance to be kinder, wiser, and better human beings. It is therefore fitting that Masterpiece Theatre’s Complete Jane Austen ushers in this New Year with the Austen novel that is all about second chances, Persuasion.
If you haven’t yet read Persuasion, you now have a second chance to do so. If, like me, you’re already a Jane Austen addict, then you’ve probably read the book several times and will no doubt do so again. If you’re not already an admirer of Austen, then you may be under the misguided impression that Austen wrote fluffy romances that were all about who got to marry the rich guy and where the stories were as archaic as the characters’ horse-drawn carriages. Not so. Granted, Austen novels always include a love story, and yes, her books do predate the four-door hybrid. Nevertheless, her characters are as real and relevant as the people sitting across from you at the dinner table, in the office, and at your favorite dance club/bar/coffeehouse/bookstore/hangout. Jane Austen was as keen an observer of human nature as you’ll ever come across in life or literature, and human nature hasn’t changed a bit since women wore bonnets and men knee breeches.
If you’ve ever felt like your family didn’t treat you the way they should; if you’ve ever been misunderstood, misled, or misguided in any way, then Persuasion will speak your language. If you’ve ever yielded to the opinions of others over what your heart told you to do, if you’ve ever given up someone because you were told you had to, if you’ve ever wasted even a tiny bit of this short life holding onto resentment instead of opening up to forgiveness and love; then you will get your second chance to make things right with Persuasion.
Persuasion is the story of Anne Eliot, who has never got over a romantic disappointment she had when she was 19 years old. She has little support from her ruin of a family, which consists of a vain, widowed father and a self-centered, caustic older sister. Eight years before, Anne had fallen in love with and got engaged to Frederick Wentworth, a bright, earnest young man whose lack of money and career prospects set Anne’s status-conscious family against the marriage. Her surrogate mother, whose advice Anne trusted above all, persuaded Anne that the only right thing to do was to give up the engagement. Now, eight years later, Anne’s family is in financial trouble, and Frederick Wentworth, now Captain Wentworth, is back in town and rich from the spoils of the Napoleonic Wars. Problem is, he’s never forgiven Anne for breaking his heart. In fact, he proceeds to flirt with other women right in front of her.
Is it man’s nature to forget the woman he loves sooner than woman forgets man? Is an invariably determined person any wiser than an easily persuadable one? And most important, will Anne and Frederick ever get what they really want? Persuasion is a page-turning, heart-stopping story that I’ve read at least twenty times, and I find something new and illuminating in it with every reading. It is also, like all of Austen’s novels, filled with delicious social satire and wickedly funny moments.
Still not persuaded? How about this suggestion: If the latest Persuasion film doesn’t send you running for your nearest bookstore (and I hope it will), then rent the 1995 version directed by Roger Michell and starring Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root. If you do, I guarantee you will not be able to resist having that book in your hands. And as an added bonus, the book has the best love letter of any novel you’ll ever read. So good you’ll want to commit it to memory. (“Tell me not that I am too late…”)
It’s not too late to read Persuasion. Take your second chance. And Happy New Year!
Surrender to your Austen addiction at janeaustenaddict.com.