August 15, 2012

Persuasion Read Along #1

I am so excited to participate in my first read along, which happens to coincide with Austen in August, hosted by The Book Rat. I adore Jane Austen's books and jumped at the chance to participate in a read along of Persuasion.

A few questions about me and my history with Jane Austen's works

1. Was Persuasion the first Austen book you read?

No. As I'm sure is the typical answer here, I was first introduced to Jane Austen's work by reading Pride and Prejudice.

2. Is this the first time you've read Persuasion?

Once again, my answer is no. This read along will be my second time reading Persuasion.

3. How many other Austen books have you read?

I've actually read all of Austen's books. I had a class a few years ago that was all about Jane Austen. We read her six major works (Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion), along with a selection of her juvenilia and the unfinished Sandition. We also read Frances Burney's Evelina and Anne Radcliffe's The Italian to look at major works that would have inspired Austen's writing. The class gave me a much better appreciation of Austen and I love all her works (though Pride and Prejudice continues to be my favorite).

4. Will you read more of them/reread them?

I feel very busy and overwhelmed with the amount of books I'd like to read in the nearby future, so I'm not sure when I'll take the time to reread them. But I own five of her major works (I need to buy better versions of Northanger Abbey and her juvenilia and Sandition), so I do plan on rereading them. I think Jane Austen's stories are the kind of stories that need to be savored with multiple rereads over the years.

Now on to the read along questions...

BEGINNING  (Chapters 1-7)  

1. What are your initial impressions of the story? Do you like the set-up for the world and the conflicts? Did you find any of it hard to understand or relate to? 

I find Persuasion to be a very different story from the kind that Austen usually tells. Austen's stories commonly deal with societal criticisms and romance, but those themes are much heavier in Persuasion. There's a sense of nostalgia and also a little foreboding in this novel, but still her characteristic satire. Here Jane Austen looks at the demise of the aristocracy and the breakdown of the current society. I found the beginning to be a little frustrating, however, because the first few chapters felt like purely set-up for later events. Although I cannot say that Austen is known for her action in books, I still felt inundated with backstory here, which made it a little difficult to get into the story.

2. What are your impressions of the characters so far? Especially in regards to Anne, who is considered quite a bit different from other Austen heroines (besides being the oldest, she's had love and let it go, and now has had years to reflect on that).  

Based on the first seven chapters I barely like any of the characters, but I think that was an intentional choice on Austen's part. The Elliots and their extended family are full of issues. Walter Elliot is literally stuck on the past - it seems as though his most prized possession is a family history that details how great the Elliots once were. His daughters Elizabeth and Mary are selfish and unkind. And Anne is so incredibly downtrodden and defeatist. I'll take it easy on her though since I don't see how living with relatives such as hers could leave anyone whole and sound. I do agree that Anne is different from the more popular Austen heroines who tend to be feisty and speak their minds, especially in terms of love. I'm thinking of Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse and Marianne Dashwood. But Austen did write her share of more serious and less confident heroines as well, such as Elinor Dashwood and Fanny Price. In fact, if my memory serves me right, Anne Elliot can be said to have a lot of similarities to Mansfield Park's Fanny, who also allowed herself to get pushed around by others. While reading the first part of the novel I just wanted to tell Anne to fight back and to tell her family that she does have worth.

3. Do you think Anne was right to have yielded to the pressure of those close to her - to have been "persuaded" - not to accept Wentworth's first proposal? 

Yes and no - Of course I like it when romantic relationships work out and I enjoy reading about those where people get and stay together against the odds, but I felt that since Anne was so easily persuaded in the first place to refuse Wentworth, she wasn't mature enough to have married Wentworth right then anyway. Although he did go on to make his fortune, if they had married then Anne would have been left alone with her family when he left again and been tormented endlessly about her bad decision. But it makes me sad that she didn't accept his proposal. Not only has she been unable to get him out of her mind, but her life has literally begun to crumble apart. As Captain Wentworth says upon seeing her again after all this time: "[She was] so altered he should not have known [her] again." Austen makes it sound as though Anne hasn't really found any other reasons to enjoy life since she gave up Wentworth, and that is really depressing.

4. What do you make of Anne's family (and extended family, including Lady Russell), and her place among them? How do the people in Anne's life treat her, and what was your reaction to that?  

Poor Anne! Her family really is just awful to her. I just don't understand it. She's ignored by her father and two sisters unless they have a need for something from her, but I don't entirely understand why that was. It's a little frustrating for me that she's so incredibly passive, almost acting like she simply accepts the idea that she's worthless and no one should like her. Lady Russell is the one good character who actually seems to care about Anne's happiness and well-being.

5. Discuss Anne's first few meetings with Wentworth, or Wentworth's entry into the story in general.

I think that Wentworth's arrival in the story really signals the beginning of everything, acting almost like a catalyst for the upcoming events. To me it seems as though Wentworth has had quite the impact on Anne's life - more so than simply being a lost love. He's obviously still bitter about the way things ended, as evidenced by his biting remarks about how Anne has changed. But I think Anne has been even more affected by it. Except for Lady Russell, Anne seems to have no escape from her cruel family or any indication that others care for her. I've read this story before but I don't remember it too well, so I am anxious to read about future interactions between Anne and Captain Wentworth.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

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