Friday, January 11, 2013

The Benefits of Persuasion

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.” Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel.  The premise of the story is this: A young woman, Anne Elliot, falls in love with a young man, Captain Frederick Wentworth.  Despite their deep affection, when her young man proposes, Anne refuses him due to family circumstances.  Rejected, Frederick sails away and Anne remains at home where the beauty of her youth fades, and she dons the title of spinster.  Then, many years later, to Anne's horror, Frederick returns in the company of a young woman.  Miss Elliot still loves her Captain Wentworth, and regrets not marrying him in her youth, but: 

She understood him. He could not forgive her,-but he could not be unfeeling. Though condemning her for the past, and considering it with high and unjust resentment, though perfectly careless of her, and though becoming attached to another, still he could not see her suffer, without the desire of giving her relief. It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed.”  

Personally, I think that is the most heartrending paragraph I have ever read.  Haven't you ever wondered whether someone's attention is purely out of the goodness of their heart?  Haven't you feared your feelings could not be returned?  Anne has no hope.  She despairs of her situation.  (I am given to the same tendency)  Its one of Austen's most sentimental novels (published after her death).  And, thus, ends the way we hoped, with Frederick reassuring Anne: “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you."  And in the end, "It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest: she, in receiving his declarations and proposals, or he in having them accepted.” 

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