This book is probably the most underrated book of Austen and yet it is the best of the seven novels she has written. The thought and maturity with which she wrote this book reflects in her characters and the scintillating dialogues. The book begins with Sir Walter Elliot reading from his family book describing the family history and himself. It is the only book he ever reads! Austen brings out Sir Walter Elliot’s vanity in a sentence! Such gems are spread throughout the book and will make you fall in love with the book again and again.
The story is about Anne ,the second daughter of Walter Elliot. Austen has written the book from Anne’s perspective and we know about the rest of the characters either through their dialogues or Anne’s thoughts about them. Anne falls in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth at a young age of nineteen. At the time Wentworth has no fortune to talk about. When Wentworth proposes to Anne, she is persuaded by her Godmother to give up the match. Anne’s Godmother is Lady Russell who belives that the match will be an imprudent one. Anne is heartbroken and yet she refuses Wentoworth. Wentworth is heartbroken ( “When you broke my heart in pieces”) and is determined to make a mark for himself . Time moves on and it is seven years later that he returns once more to Uppercross village because his sister and brother-in-law(Mrs and Mr Croft) have rented Kellynch hall. Anne and Wentworth meet again. The silent looks , Wentworth’s resentment towards Anne, Anne’s jealousy of Wentworth everything is shown so subtely and yet it reaches the reader like fresh air. You can feel it but can’t see it or describe it. Reader’s heart secretly prays that they unite again . Austen makes sure that this wish is fulfilled only at the end (sigh).
The story is very simple one so what stands out in this beautiful love story is the journey through with Anne and Wentworth realise their frailties and embrace what should have been theirs from the beginning. Austen makes the first separation worthwhile for both the protagonist. If Anne had rebelled and married Wentworth would he have gone on to become a naval officer or taken up dead ship like Asp (which would have sank many times) and make a fortune out of it? Would have Anne have realised that firmness of character is the most important of all for a solid foundation of a relationship? The answer would be no to both I believe. A particular incident involving Louisa Musgrove changes their lives once again. Wentworth realises that firmness of character is not a permanent trait and that one can be persuaded to do something against our character. This key incident is the turning point of the book. Both Anne and Wentworth re-unite with complete acceptance of their past behaviour and look forward to a golden future.
The other characters which appear in the novel add to the drama and bring Anne and Wentworth closer. The delightful Mrs Croft has a fantastic character and has some of the best quotes of the book. When Wentworth says he doesn’t like women on ship , she immediately snubs Wentworth(who is her brother of course) saying “I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” I fell in love with her character soon after this. Anne’s siblings are nothing but vain and stupid so there is nothing much to say there . Lady Russell is the one who persuades Anne to reject Wentworth the first time but second time she fails but Austen makes sure that reader doesn’t feel any animosity towards the Lady Russell. All in all they make a great family with delightful incidents.
Austen’s narration is through Anne. Austen probably did this because Anne is reticent by nature and the only way Anne could tell the reader how she felt was if she herself narrated the story . This proved to be the best part of the book. Anne describes everything so well that we hardly need anybody else’s thoughts in it.
There is another reason why the book may captivate many. Because of numerous quotes (you can say gems) throughout the book. The best one is this
“My idea of good company...is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation;that is what I call good company.’
‘You are mistaken,’ said he gently ,’that is not good company that is the best.”
There are many more gems . The letter Wentworth writes to Anne at the end is the best love letter any man could possibly write. We must read the book just for this. There is one more quote which also reflects the age to Austen belongs. But somehow it is relevant even to this day .
“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”
This quote shows Austen’s opinion about women’s role in society. She depicted/described women’s role in Victorian era so well that we probably don’t have to look into history books for it.
We all know what a genius Austen was/is (through Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility) but this book affirms it thousand times more with her mature and wiser writing. Writing which reflects the fact that she had understood the world better and most importantly what love meant.