So I am going to talk about how I have been re-reading Persuasion. It's such an easy read; it's the perfect 'sit down of a rainy afternoon and enjoy oneself' book; and the subtleties and nuances of it are so constantly surprising to me. Every time I re-read Persuasion, I feel like I've never read it before. Possibly the only other one of Jane Austen's books that feels that fresh to me on re-reading is Northanger Abbey; and I think it's quite significant that they were both published at the same time, one revised while the other was written approximately at the same time; and both deal very strikingly with Jane Austen's impressions of Bath.
The first film version of Anne Elliot I ever saw was the BBC's ancient musty production of it; and I was really taken aback at how fierce and fiesty Anne's character came off (I believe she was a subtler version of a temperamental redhead--her hair was auburn). Then I watched Amanda Root and thought, 'she is so quiet and passive; that is not Anne.' The Anne Elliot of my heart is somewhere in between the two of them, though much, much closer to Amanda Root's interpretation, ultimately.
Persuasion has become one of my very favorite movies ever; I have watched it and rewatched it probably more times than any other movie I own save The Philadelphia Story, and the 6-hour P&P, which one can just pop in and out at any part and watch endlessly. Persuasion draws me back to itself time and time again; and it is the only one of Jane's novels that I can honestly say made me fall even more in love with the story than I already was.
Persuasion is the kind of movie I should like to write. I say that it is the kind of movie I should like to write because the movie captures as not even Jane's beautiful economical prose can do the physical beauty of place and the utterly sensual, as well as sensory, nature of experience. I believe feelings are always implied rather than felt in Jane Austen's novels; this makes them more gratifying for us as readers, I think, to imagine, and return to, and linger over. But as many times as I have loved re-reading Persuasion, the book, the kind of writing I want to do finds its essence somewhere in Persuasion, the film: somewhere between the sparkling brilliant views of the ocean from the Cobb at Lyme, and the wordless moment when Wentworth is handing her into the carriage: a hand, a waist a moment, and a burst of quiet intensity.
The thing that is striking me most on this particular re-read is the way Jane Austen's narrator (she is almost her own character to me, now, in each of my reads of all of her books - the same wry voice not-quite telling us everything, and telling us enough to know that she knows far more than she's really saying) frames her characters, even and especially Anne, in irony. The first time I read Persuasion I thought it was somewhat sad; my second impression was that it was dark; and then for a while I thought it was full of the unbearable lightness of being. Now I find it to be all those things at once and cased in irony, so much irony, I never realized!
Specifically I have been mulling over the moment when Anne hopes that Captain Wentworth may have at last realized that persuadable tempers may be as likely to be happy as rigid ones. She herself, of course, has not known that happiness, and I think that irony touches everything that we see of Anne. She spends most of the book preaching ideals and opinions of happiness that she has not realized and does not think she will ever realize, for herself. And while possibly that is one thing that makes the ending of Persuasion so singularly satisfying (or is it The Letter? Possibly it's The Letter), it also, I think, makes the whole story one huge piece of irony. Maybe that's why we need to reread it so much. It somehow feels more vital to me, more crucial, that Frederick Wentworth pick the right woman, and that Anne Elliot pick the right man, in Persuasion, than in any other Austen novel. She has no one else on her side - no one else in all the world who will stand up for her right to be loved, other than our narrator and herself. And I think that there's a sort of breathtaking uncertainty in Persuasion that either of them are going to pull it off.
But then they do. And that's even more breathtaking. I love Persuasion.
I would very much like it if each of you Janeites would respond to this post with your favorite Austen quote. Or more than one of them. I am not picky. I love Jane Austen.