Persuasion

To read Austen is to recognize what a trapped life women led in the 19th century English countryside (and before and after and elsewhere, I’m sure). The whole rigamarole of what Austen constantly writes about does not appeal to me: the quest for a good social match that also involves a genuine liking on the part of both parties. Of course a good social match means money, lots of it, and perhaps a title to boot. In this novel, we have Anne, the daughter of a spendthrift baronet who must rent out his estate, still recovering from a heartache of long ago (Captain Wentworth). When he proposed eight years prior, she was persuaded to reject the match since he had no money. Lo and behold he comes marching onto the scene with £25,000, quite the good match now. Anne herself is the perfect Austen character: sweet, charming, well-read, good brains, correct manners, and everyone loves her (except her family, who treat her as an afterthought). She has two good friends, Lady Russell (the earlier persuader against the Wentworth proposal), and Mrs. Smith (an old school chum who provides information about Anne’s cousin which makes us gloat when he walks away with nothing at the end). Through all the whirling gaiety and parties and walks about the countryside, you’re struck by the absolute reliance these unmarried women had on others. Anne must be invited to stay with her sister and Lady Russell in order to stick around the countryside until winter. She’s unable to decide where she goes. She must submit to the advances of her cousin Mr. Elliot, knowing she’ll turn down his proposal. In the end, she must acquire her father’s blessing in order to marry Wentworth. She’s accompanied everywhere, unable to walk alone back to her house and contemplate the hurried letter she gets from Wentworth proclaiming his feelings are still intact. Luckily, brother-in-law Charles hands her off to Wentworth to walk the remaining way to her door. This lack of privacy, autonomy, independence chafes my brain.