“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! – When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Persuasion, and hope

I was just reflecting on what an uplifting story Persuasion is, despite its bleak beginnings and stark lines between heroes and villains. As Austen’s last novel, some critics have dared to attack it for containing lesser subtlety—almost a fairytale of sorts. While I’ll have to defend fairytales another time, I’d like to defend Persuasion against a jab about its subtlety.

It isn’t a typical happy ending tale. This isn’t a case of a princess having a fleeting meeting with her prince, a brief period of disappointment and longing, and then bliss. This story comes to us after eight years of Anne Elliot’s suffering. She didn’t have just a fleeting meeting; she had a real chance at love, and threw it away.

Elizabeth Bennet arrives on the scene not yet one-and-twenty, never having been in love. Marianne Dashwood has probably thought she was in love half-a-dozen times.  

But Anne. Anne screwed up. Now, I don’t blame her—she was young. She was basically unsupported in every area of her life except by one, much older friend who was basically a surrogate mother figure—and that’s the voice that told her to let go of Wentworth the first time around. I don’t blame Anne for listening to that voice.

But can you imagine the guilt? The misery of looking around at your foppish father and your querulous sisters, and thinking, I chose this? And eight, eight years go by. Reinforcing the permanence of that choice every day.

I guess I resonate with this because I feel like one of my greatest fears is missed chances. As if I, like Anne, listened to the wrong advice and threw love away before I knew what it was. Or maybe I never got the opportunity because there’s something wrong with me—I’m just trapped by a refrain that, this is my life, this is my life, so nothing good and unexpected and beautiful could happen…

What a hopeless refrain! Yet it permeates much of Persuasion…because after eight years, Wentworth returns…and seemingly wants nothing to do with Anne. Yes, we can imagine her bitterly thinking (for even Anne, with her patience and goodness and sweetness, had some bitterness mixed in by the force of cruel circumstances)—this is my life. He comes back, he doesn’t want her, he throws the possibility of a relationship with a younger, spunkier woman in her face—and Anne just has to suffer through it. She has no one to confide in, no one who is looking at her. The one person who she might have shared everything with is angry with her. And one of the sharpest truths is that he is still in love with her, and that’s where his anger comes from—but all she can see is his indifference, because as every woman knows, we can’t see inside men’s heads.

It seems so hopeless.

And then. Anne keeps living, because this is her life. She sucks it up, she continues to be patient, to be good. She doesn’t wallow, as much as she probably wants to. And it is that persistence that shows Captain Frederick Wentworth what he’s missing—that resentment isn’t going to mend his heart, she is–and he cannot live without her. This is his life, and he can’t imagine Anne not in it.

They get their happy ending. And I get a bit of hope—all of us readers do, if we are struggling with the mundane realities of every day, with the fear that we blew our big chance at a golden future.

Of course our lives aren’t novels. (At least, they haven’t inspired any yet). But our lives are not without hope. And the uplifting message of Persuasion is that sometimes living out the lives we have is what draws in the sunshine we have felt so lacking for so long.


The worst is over. I have seen him.
We have been once more in the same room.
A bow, a curtsy, I heard his voice and then, he was gone.

He has not forgiven me.
I have used him ill, deserted and disappointed him.
And worse, I’ve shown a feebleness of character
in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper
could not endure.

Once there were no two hearts so open, no feelings so in harmony,
but now we are strangers.


You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that a man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

- Jane Austen, Persuasion, Ch. 23.


My favorite characters in order 

Behind every man is a great woman.

 Mr. Darcy & Elizabeth: “You must know… surely, you must know it was all for you. You are too generous to trifle with me.” “If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes have not changed, but one word from you will silence me forever. If, however, your feelings have changed, I will have to tell you: you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”

Mr. Lefroy & Jane Austen: “I have no money, no property, I am entirely dependent upon that bizarre old lunatic, my uncle. I cannot yet offer marriage, but you must know what I feel. Jane, I’m yours. God, I’m yours. I’m yours, heart and soul." 

Captain Wentworth & Anne: "I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago." 

Mr. Thornton & Margaret: "Miss Hale, I didn’t just come here to thank you. I came… because… I think it… very likely… I know I’ve never found myself in this position before. It’s… difficult to find the words. Miss Hale, my feelings for you… are very strong…” “I spoke to you about my feelings because I love you; I had no thought for your reputation!”

Mr. Nobley & Jane: “It’s as if I have never known you before this moment and naught else matters in this world but you, and how my heart beats for you. I love you.”