Persuasion, by Jane Austen, read by Michael Page
It should be of little surprise to fond readers that Persuasion has long been a particular favorite among Jane Austen novels for me , and it is a novel I reflect on very often. Yet I thought that it would be worthwhile to listen to the novel in a well-done audiobook to see if there was any sort of pattern or insight that could be found in hearing the novel read that would not necessarily be present in reading the novel as I have done many times before. As it happens, there was such insight. In particular, it is striking how often one hears discussion of persuasion in the novel, as characters discuss the difference between characters that are too malleable and lack any sort of fixed moral compass, those who can be persuaded by others, sometimes to their hurt, and those who are obstinate and cannot be convinced at all to refrain from acting as they wish. At the novel’s center is an enigmatic woman, Anne Eliot, who is a woman of sense but someone who is deeply shy and timid, although resolute in a quiet and restrained way. She is, in her late 20’s, in some fear of being a lonely spinster, and her one chance at love was wrecked by family opposition at the unsuitability of her fiancé. In many ways, I have felt myself to be somewhat similar to Miss Eliot, someone who struggles with being an outsider, with being appreciated, and with finding success in love and romance given my native timidity in such matters.
The story itself is among Austen’s finest, and a very clear romance with at least one event that seems somewhat magical, or at least like wish fulfillment. The first half of the novel paints Anne in a difficult position, as an unwanted sister whose family is in financial straits and who is valued chiefly as a patient listener by her various friends and relatives, few of them being emotionally sensitive enough to listen to her, and she has to bear the love of her life being cold and resentful after years of silence. It was painful to listen to the audiobook, not least because the reader was so skilled with voices that one could hear the conversations as if they were real, and could imagine oneself having to deal with the cold and resentful silence the protagonist did. After a magical incident at Lyme where the bloom of youth returns to Anne and where her chief rival for the affections of one Captain Wentworth gets a serious concussion from a fall because of her stubbornness, the novel takes its time to wind its way to a happy ending, introducing Mr. Eliot as a Mr. Wrong and then stacking the deck against him with some revelations from a Mrs. Smith. The ending is well-earned, though, and given that Jane Austen wrote the book as she was dying, the romantic tone of second chances and new life in the face of aging and decay is itself an example of a writer turning their own lives into beautiful art that gives them a kinder and happier ending than their lives provided them with.
Does reading a book like this give someone like myself more pleasure or more suffering? To be sure, Jane Austen was a person not too much unlike myself, known for being both immensely creative and somewhat prolific as a writer despite her busy life and uncertain economic position, for being witty in conversation and disastrously unfortunate in her own romantic life. Yet more than any other Jane Austen novel, this one speaks to my own life experience, of moving in limited social circles, of having a deep longing for revival and restoration, of wishing for a reversal of past misfortunes and patterns of silence and withdrawal. This is a novel that is likely to provoke among those who are people like myself feelings of great longing without necessarily feeling a great deal of hope that life can imitate this lovely novel. And just as Anne loves when all hope of its existence in her beloved is gone, so too many others face that same sort of fate themselves, without the same confidence that the author of our fates will have kindness on us and place us along the way where our happiness may be secure, even where we are not quite so impossibly good as such a literary figure in our own lives.
 See, for example: