It is a good while since I have read any Austen, so I was looking forward to this a lot. The universe thought it would have a little laugh at my expense first though. I have a beautiful bound copy of all the Austen novels with illustrations. However, it is fairly heavy to hold, never mind cart around with you, so I ordered a 99p copy of Kindle – I know – I’m sorry, but it was just easier.
I began to read one night and grew increasingly perplexed. Austen had lost, not only some of her skill in writing prose, but there was a decided lack of her trademark wit and intelligence. Bemused, I am ashamed to admit I read until Chapter Three before I realized something was drastically wrong. I went downstairs to my bookshelf to consult my hard-back copy. Needless to say, it was completely different. My kindle edition was some sort of very badly abridged version. I wrote a strongly worded complaint to Amazon and got my 99p back, but not my pride.
Anyway, on to the correct version of the novel. Once normal service had resumed, I was delighted to find I enjoyed this book enormously. Austen is a master of both storytelling and characterization.
Anne Elliot had been in love with Frederick Wentworth at the age of 19. He had proposed marriage, but Anne had been persuaded not to marry him by her friend Lady Russell (remind you of any other Austen novels?!) due to his lack of wealth and standing. Despite loving him she gave him up. He went off to join the navy utterly heartbroken.
Anne is now 27 and has lost her beautiful first flush of beauty and bloom, due to allowing herself to be talked out of marriage, and the general hassle of living with a vain father – Sir Walter Elliot and two hideous sisters. Anne’s elder sister Elizabeth seems to be even worse. She is as vain as her father and only cares how she appears to others and what she can get for herself. She is also horribly mean to Anne.
Anne means little to her father or Elizabeth as we are told in Chapter One: “but Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way – she was only Anne.” (Chapter 1)
However Anne is a wise character and is able to keep her head when all those around her are being silly. Frederick Wentworth returns from the Navy, and when he and Anne meet again, we are into classic Austen territory.
I won’t tell you anymore of the story. Suffice to say, it is a romantic tale with morals galore and witty observations on both human nature and society.
With Austen, you know what you are going to get, and while some readers don’t enjoy that, I find that immensely comforting. She is a genius at writing flawed characters who are completely oblivious to their flaws. Her hero and heroine are always empathetic and have to go through the same fears and doubts that I am sure we have all faced at one time or another. There is always the ‘wicked’ man who tries to steal the fair lady’s heart, but is inevitably found out before all is lost. I don’t mean to sound trite, because though Austen may write of universal themes, she does so with an originality and a timelessness that has made her one of the most loved authors of all time. Having read Persuasion, I now want to re-read Sense and Sensibility and the other Austen novel I have not yet read – Northanger Abbey. If you have read Austen, which is your favourite? If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?