In Jane Austen's time, young women were taught that it was practically their duty to "marry well" -- someone of at least equal social/financial standing.
But if a woman turned down a suitor for being poor, she ran the risk of losing the man she loved. That's the problem for Anne Elliott, the heroine of Jane Austen's final novel "Persuasion" -- a delicate romance that takes place AFTER the romance, rejection and heartrending sorrow. There's some slight roughness around the edges, but the story and the characters are simply brilliant.
Eight years ago, Anne Elliott was engaged to the handsome, intelligent and impoverished sailor Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to dump him by the family friend Lady Russell.
Now she's twenty-seven (ancient by the time's standards), and her vain father Sir Walter is facing financial ruin. So he decides to relocate to Bath and rent out the vast family estate -- and it turns out that the new tenant is Frederick's brother-in-law. Of course, Anne still loves Frederick, but he doesn't seem to feel the same, especially since he's rumored to be interested in some younger, flirtier girls.
And Anne's worries increase when she joins her family in Bath, where her father is attempting to live the lifestyle he feels he deserves (since he's a baronet). His heir, William Elliott, recently reestablished contact with his relatives -- and he seems very interested in Anne. But Anne suspects that he has ulterior motives... even if she doesn't realize how Frederick truly feels about her.
It's pretty obvious that Jane Austen wrote "Persuasion" late in her life -- not only is Anne Elliott older than her other heroines, but she seems to have been more sympathetic to women who bowed to society's "persuasions." This was the last book that Austen wrote before her untimely death, and it was only published posthumously.
As a result, the book can be a little rough and the story is rather simple. But Austen's writing is still intense and powerfully vivid. Her prose is elegant and smooth, and her dialogue is full of hidden facets. The half-hidden love story of Anne and Frederick is among Austen's most skillful writing ("I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever"), and it's virtually impossible not to be moved by it.
And Austen went out of her way to praise the self-made man, who got ahead through merit instead of birth (something that bugs Sir Walter). She also pokes holes in social climbers, vain aristocrats ("Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did"), nasty family and false friends.
Anne herself is a very rare heroine, both then and now -- she's past her designated "marriage" years and would have been considered a lost cause. But she remains remains kind, thoughtful, quiet, intelligent, and as time goes on she starts to appreciate her own judgement instead of being "persuaded." And Captain Wentworth is a vibrant portrayal of a strong man who worked his way to the top, but had to do so without the woman he loved.
Jane Austen's last finished novel is a little rough in places, but the exquisite beauty of Frederick and Anne's love story is simply staggering. Truly a masterpiece.