Jane Austen must be almost unique in the consistency of her excellence: many novelists have one work that stands out as their best, the masterpiece that makes you realise their other work is adequate but nowhere near the same standard. In contrast, all of Austen’s novels deserve to be reread (frequently), and no one can quite agree which is her most stunning work – the critics may choose Emma, the most popular choice is Pride and Prejudice (too right!), but arguably the most refined choice would be Persuasion.
The protagonist Anne Elliot is more mature than most Austen heroines but despite being regarded as over the hill and unmarriageable at the ripe old age of 27, she is kind, sensible, intelligent and genuine. Eight years prior to the current setting, Anne was proposed to by the man she loved, Captain Wentworth. She was persuaded by a close friend and her insufferable family to decline him as they disapproved of his lower social standing, which highlights the emphasis placed on social class at the time. Fast forward to their first meeting after these heartbreaking events; Captain Wentworth has made his fortune and Anne can only look on longingly as fate forces them together again. But unsurprisingly, that’s not the end of it. Whilst their friends and family flutter around causing their own mayhem and largely ignoring Anne, she realises her feelings for him may never have left. Accepting the situation as her own fault, she hardly dares to hope that Wentworth could feel the same, especially when his affections seem to lie with another woman now. Thankfully all is not as it seems (sly dog) and neither party is disappointed again.
Whilst the outcome was fairly apparent from early on, there are many unexpected twists and turns on the journey there – Austen doesn’t make it easy for the reader to foresee how the pair will come together again, let alone for the characters themselves! There are also some brilliant characterisations written into this novel; Anne’s younger sister Mary is a self-absorbed, whiny hypochondriac unless there’s a good party to attend, and their father is priggish and vain with an unfortunate tendency to excessive spending. Add in a disabled ex-governess who has more helpful knowledge than Anne’s more fashionable acquaintances, a suspicious cousin and another intolerable sister – you’ve got a pretty good novel!