In honor of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to pay tribute to the author that has had–for multiple generations–the best insights into the heart: Jane Austen. While Jane Austen has written about wide variety of relationships in her books–friendships, parents, sisters–she’s gotten her most followers because of her subtle but spot on way of depicting how romances play out. In particular, she has mastered the art of not telling but showing people’s flaws in judgement on their romantic prospects.
The best thing about Austen’s novels is they aren’t just about romances; they are about communities and manners and observations on conventions. Yet the reader can’t help be drawn into the romantic relationships that are central to the books’ plots because Austen makes the characters compelling and not easy to forget.
One of the best romantic relationships Austen writes is contained in “Persuasion.” The plot focuses on Anne Elliot, a woman who breaks off her engagement after her close confidant and mother-figure convinces her that his life station will not support her. Years later, she meets her ex-fiancé again and has to confront the past and her regrets since choosing a different path.
Anne Elliot is one of the most relatable Austen characters, as she is living with regrets of decisions from having a younger, more impressionable mindset. How many of us have done things at an early age, only to realize years later we would have chosen differently with more experience? I could acutely feel Anne’s pain of having to live with her past decisions.
Readers get an understanding of Captain Wentworth–Anne’s ex-fiance–through Anne’s observations. We get to learn he is affable, hard-working, and still very much hurt by Anne’s rejection. Seeing Captain Wentworth through Anne’s experiences and thoughts really helps the readers get invested in their previous romance and understand how deep it was for it to cause such cold behavior from Wentworth.
Austen doesn’t explicitly criticize Anne for her past mistakes, but slowly reveals how judgement in romance is sometimes better and more on point with more years of experience.
While I had a pleasant reading experience, I wished at times the story would go deeper. As mentioned earlier, Austen strengths aren’t in just in writing about romances but also about drawing out a whole world. At times, the story felt like it was only scratching the surface in the relating of some events events. I know some of the reason I felt this was due to how different Austen approached this novel versus others (namely “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice”). In those books, readers get to know the minor characters’ personalities and can compare and contrast each to get a full understanding of that world. In contrast, “Persuasion” gives us mostly Anne’s views and doesn’t go into the depths of the other characters. In my third read, I may prefer this style of writing and find it more intimate, but I was unable to do so in this read.
Overall, I highly recommend reading all of Austen’s novels, but would say start with “Persuasion” first. Not only is it a lighter read, but it is also a simple and relatable story to follow. If you would rather not spend your Valentine’s Day reading, I would recommend watching the 1995 version of “Persuasion,” for your Valentine’s Day movies. I usually am hesitant to recommend movies over books but this adaptation does the novel credit with the characters and the plot line.
Proud to be a book nerd but also love talking and writing about TV. My favorite shows are those that have complex and multi-dimensional characters. Other hobbies include going to classical music concerts, trying new restaurants, and visiting art museums.