When it comes to classic novels, it’s a love or hate relationship. There’s no in-between, no neutrality. At least that’s what I thought.
I bought Persuasion by Jane Austen about a year and a half ago. But I let it rest in my cupboard for a good few months before attempting it. When I did, it took me a long enough to get through just half-way. I admit, it was slow. But I didn’t want to give up.
People had said wonderful things to me about Austen and her Persuasion. And I wanted to see what they saw in her books.
I spoke to a well-read friend, and she mentioned she didn’t like classics like Persuasion. I felt like I had hit a speed bump. Just when I worried that I was the only one doubtful of the book, here was another who was brave enough to admit it. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one struggling to love Austen.
Not long afterwards, life drifted by, and so did the book. Until a few weeks ago when I decided to finish the goddamn book. Closure is a powerful motivator.
I finished the book in three days and it changed my opinion about Austen and Persuasion. Also, I understood why people had conflicting views about her books.
I liked Persuasion.
The story was great. Anne Elliot’s character is relatable — she isn’t just a pretty face. She hats everything about her false and two-faced society. The small talk, the vain parties—she struggles to get through them on a daily basis. That’s most of today’s women. And Austen wrote this story almost a century ago. That’s the beauty of it, that it holds true even after such a long time. I love how Austen portrays social conventions — how Mr Elliot entertains his rich cousin Lady Dalrymple despite being in weak terms. He worries that Lady Dalrymple hadn’t sent her condolences for his wife’s death (thereby ending ties) only because he hadn’t sent his condolences for the viscount’s death. He wonders how to revive the relationship.
“How to have this anxious business set to rights, and be admitted as cousins again, was the question: and it was a question which, in a more rational manner, neither Lady Russel nor Mr. Elliot thought unimportant.”
“Family connexions were always worth preserving, good company always worth seeking.”
He seeks to trumpet their relationship because of the Lady’s wealth, and not because he cares—that’s the reality of the present society too.
The story was great. But the writing was old. The narrative comprises lengthy sentences, archaic spelling, paragraphs of reported speech, and plenty of passives. Persuasion isn’t for the modern reader. It’s not for the 21st century youth with fleeting memories, and attention spans that span less than a goldfish’s. It’s not for the internet surfer, the scroll-addict, or the lover of the feed.
Persuasion is a classic. It’s for those who read for the pleasure of reading. It’s for those who look below the narrative layer and seek the symbolism in the prose. Complex sentences display the complexity of Austen’s society. Reported speech shows how other characters influence Anne; the words, the thoughts aren’t hers. Weird spellings reveal how outdated the society’s mindset is, even for the 19th century — a mindset that lives even today.
That’s how beautiful the story is. It goes beyond the plot in the page. It takes the reader into the English society that Anne lives in, explaining both in words and in symbols, how others influence our thoughts, our decisions, and the way we live our lives. The book is a truth serum that mirrors our own modern life that isn’t much different from Anne’s.