By now I should not have to harden you to the possibility of Austen appearing among my reviews (I reference her in nearly every situation imaginable). I re-read Persuasion this month and a regency romance novel that I was sent for review. I also found out about a September Wives and Daughters read-along five days before the month ended. Unfortunately I would have needed to have been touched by the holy hand of Christ if I was to make it through an 800 page Victorian novel in five days. I have been touched by something however, because I have made a 300 page quick start, and I already know it is the best Gaskell I have ever read!
Persuasion by Jane Austen
If I could but speak to any character in literature, I would speak to Frederick, and I would say something that sounded very much like this: “Oh! Frederick! Please marry me!”
Anne Elliot is one of the best creations to come out of English literature. There, I said it, and I won’t take it back! Anne is endlessly walked over, down trodden, ignored and has no equal in the company around her; she lacks the strong attachment of female friendship that our other heroines seem to have (Lizzie has Jane, Emma has Mrs Weston). But through every trial and hardship, Anne remains kind, intelligent and strong with a bottomless sensibility and an unwavering power of will. To borrow a phrase from another Eliot, she is one of those people whom the world depends upon for unhistorical acts; she has all the power of vision, but she does not harm people with her acute knowledge of them. Anne is a Theresa… if St Theresa had a huge crush on Frederick Wentworth.
Whilst Emma is the perfect novel for being the physical embodiment of everything I have ever held dear, Persuasion is perfect because it is imperfect. Its rectitude and quiet-love persist with the same force of a tremendous under-water current. It is undoubtedly a monstrous tonal shift for Austen. To an extent, it is why I love it so much. Anne is hyper-sensitive to everything that is happening around her, and the tangible way Austen depicts this does so much to christen it as the first of its kind in literature. When Frederick takes one of the unruly Musgrove children off of Anne’s back, or in the scene where Anne has finished reading that letter, it feels as if I am frazzled and lost for breath—I could feel my heart pounding beneath my rib cage! It burns me up to think that Anne’s quick succession of thoughts, feelings and emotions evoked some sort of primal instinct in me.
There were so many things I rediscovered about Persuasion that I had forgotten I loved. I shall list them to be more efficient (and to avoid sprouting an endless string of superlatives). I love how Sir Walter literally regards the retrenching of his house as wartime, the passion with which Frederick talks about conker nuts, how cute it is that the only thing Charles cares about is sport, how Captain Harville is the best wing-man in history (yeah, I see what you did Harville you little minx), how Mary suddenly becomes better when someone pays attention to her, and the depth of love she holds for the ‘Elliot countenance’. All of these things are entirely wonderful, and adding them into the mix when Austen’s sensibilities are at their most profound just numbs me to the core.
Persuasion is one of those books that I feel the need to turn over and begin again immediately once I have finished it. To those critics who claim it as the worst of her novels… I wish you punished with eternal marriage to Mary! It is a marvel, a feat, a work of supreme art! It is true, I offer myself to Persuasion with a heart more its own than when I had first read it two years ago.
Emily King by B.A. Smith
Emily King is on the husband-hunt. Her father, a heavy-handed tyrant, has gambled away the family fortune and her sister Cassandra, infirm and immovable, desperately needs to take to the waters at Bath. Emily’s rich Aunt, Lady Louisa, is only sympathetic to an arm’s length; she is happy to see her niece kitted out in finery so long as she agrees to nab the rich suitor at Compton Abbey, Lord James Copeland, or fixes on marrying Mr Houghton, who has already offered for her, or perhaps she would consider settling down with the eligible Mr Crawley…? Indeed, Emily King’s family is very far away from anything you might call ‘picky’. They only desire that her new beaux is capable of solving their very pressing problem of being entirely short of money.
Smith’s novel is more of a starter-before-the-entrée in terms of the regency romance genre. The love story is a modern one, dressed in descriptions of bonnets and capes and the like. Emily King is mercurial, bold and not at all meek, and I have to say, I was charmed by her without being able to exactly fix on why. The plot was housed in twists and turns. It was like the Regency equivalent of a rollercoaster—I was being thrown from my curricle at every proposal, at every calamitous mishap and I felt as if I needed to be bandaged from head to foot before I could savour the ending.
Emily King is a quick study. It is fun and light-hearted and has somehow left me with the feeling that I have been lucky for having escaped the attention of so many nefarious suitors for so long.
Have you read any of these novels? Do you love Persuasion just as much as I do? I would love to hear your thoughts! Talk to me in the comments down below or you can catch me over here on Twitter and Instagram.