Thursday, August 21, 2014

Autumnal Expectations

by Jane Austen

Thanks to Jenna of The Lost Generation Reader for hosting Austen in August reading event. 

"How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been--how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence!  She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older--the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning." (p 33)

In Jane Austen's last novel, Persuasion, which was not published until after her death, Austen created a strong, mature, and independent heroine, Anne Elliot. One might consider this an autumnal work which emphasizes the flow of human sympathy and charity. Austen's attention to the sensibilities of her characters has been honed over the course of her preceding work, notably in Emma which she completed not long before beginning Persuasion.

Anne Elliot is characterized as having "lost her bloom". She is depicted as having a resigned melancholy due to her relations with her family who regard her as a "nobody" and her lack of having someone close to turn to. Her mother was no longer present, having died when Anne was fourteen. Having foolishly broken off an engagement eight years earlier to Frederick Wentworth, a penniless naval officer, Anne at the age of 27 has remained unmarried--and secretly devoted to Wentworth. The novel captures the poignant and seemingly hopeless situation of Anne by sharing the depth and subtleties of her emotional life. This is the essence of the book and its strength. Austen adopts a more metaphorical approach in her story than in preceding novels and, through Anne's feelings and the counterpart of nature, we see Anne coping and perhaps for the optimistic among us there is a possibility of hope in her future.

Major changes in Anne's life result from the move of her father to Bath while she remains behind in Uppercross with her younger sister's family. Thus begins a series of events that bring Wentworth, now a Captain, back into Anne's life. An unfortunate accident leads to Wentworth to begin re-examining his feelings about Anne. The changes that occur over the remainder of the story yield the expected classical ending; however the changes also suggest that the world of Kellynch Hall that Anne was raised in has been left behind for a new life that is not quite as expected.

This novel rivals Emma as my favorite of Jane Austen's novels; along with Pride and Prejudice it forms a trio of novels that I read again and again with growing joy and understanding.

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Brian Joseph said...

As you know I have just discovered Austen. I am actually in the middle of Emma right now.

This one is on my list of must reads. I like the fact that, as per your commentary, Austen added a bit metaphor to this one.

Brona Joy said...

This is my favourite Austen; I'm always happy to hear of another fan!

I've often felt that the ending was somewhat rushed & wonder if JA had had more time if she wouldn't have tweeked it some more.

James said...

I will look forward to your reaction to Emma. Austen is a delight to read.

James said...

Brona Joy,
You have a good point regarding the possibility that Austen may have edited her last novel a bit more had she the opportunity. It is still a wonder.
Some time ago I compared Anne Elliot to Lucy Manette from A Tale of Two Cities here:

Maria Behar said...

Very interesting review, James! I greatly enjoyed reading it!

I have only recently 'discovered' Austen myself, lol. I read "Pride and Prejudice" in high school, and didn't like it then. I suspect that was because, at the time, I didn't catch all the subtleties of Austen's writing. Besides, being of a very emotional disposition, I much preferred "Jane Eyre", which is my favorite classic novel, bar none!

I read "Pride and Prejudice" again very recently, and again disliked it. However, I decided to give it one more try, and then....a miracle occurred! Lol. Suddenly I began to appreciate this novel! While it can't compare to "Jane Eyre", in my opinion, I was better able to appreciate its qualities, the third time around. So now I definitely want to read more of Austen's work! And I might very well start with "Persuasion", which looks very appealing!

I guess I really shouldn't compare these two novels. They're vastly different, after all. It's also a matter of temperament, as I stated above. Bronte is more my temperament than Austen. But I will go on to read "Persuasion" and more besides. I already own this book, as well as "Emma" and "Northanger Abbey".

By the way, I'd like to thank you for joining Brian and myself for the upcoming "Jane Eyre Read-Along"!! I'm looking forward to your insights and discussions of this great novel!!

James said...


I had the same experience that you did with Pride and Prejudice. As an adult I noticed the humor that had eluded me as a teenager.
On the other hand Jane Eyre has been a favorite since my early teens (maybe even earlier, I'm not sure) and has continued to be a favorite to this day.