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The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen

The Annotated Persuasion (2010)

by Jane Austen, David M. Shapard (Editor)

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Persuasion was Jane Austen's final book. She died before completing the editorial process, which means that it is, perhaps, a little bit less polished than her other books, all of which were shined to a glass-like finish before being submitted for publication.

There are echoes of her other stories: Anne is a beaten down version of Lizzie - what Lizzie would have been if someone persuaded her to turn down a poorer Darcy in spite of her deep love for him. Captain Wentworth is an angrier Darcy - still resentful of the fact that his beloved was insufficiently strong-willed to stand up for herself and take him in spite of her family. William Elliot is an even more nauseating version of Mr. Wickham or Mr. Willoughby - more successful at being a self-serving, amoral douche, more adept at hiding his true nature.

Persuasion is darker and sadder. Anne has no one to look out for her best interests. Sure, Lady Russell means to do the job, but she is so easily swayed by appearances that, as it turns out, her advice is worse than useless, but is actively subverting Anne's happiness albeit unconsciously. And by the time the tale opens, Anne is firmly on the shelf, a woman of eight and twenty who has lost her looks and her charm and is no more than a body to support others, as all unmarried ladies are.

Her father overlooks her, her elder sister disdains her, and her younger sister uses her. And because she has a fine sensibility and intellect, she is perfectly capable of discerning these things and understanding that this is her life. Potentially forever. Unloved, unimportant, expected to simply extinguish herself in the service of others, becoming essentially a non-person. And because she is a non-person, she isn't even allowed to resent the advantage being taken of her, but rather, must respond with relentless chirping appreciation that she still has a place to live, even if her place is as little better than a kitchen maid.

It is truly difficult to decide who is the least likeable character in this book. Austen has sharpened her pen, but she has also become more subtle with age. None of these people are caricatures - there's no Mrs. Bennett, with her well-meaning but completely insane approach to marrying off her daughters, no Miss Bates, sweet but vacuous to the point of vacancy, no Lady Catherine DeBourgh, with her relentless self-absorption and superiority, no Mr. Collins, endlessly diverting with the intensity of his obsequiousness. The antagonists in Persuasion are still unlikeable, but they maintain a pretense of realism. And because of this, Persuasion is much less comic than Austen's other work, and much more painful.

And Anne, well, Anne is a bit difficult to admire. She is all that is admirable, but still, she feels weak. She was in love with Wentworth. Truly, deeply, madly in love, and she let him go because she was persuaded by her family to withdraw her acceptance. What does this say about her? And then, years later, she is forced to watch him pay attention to other women, to potentially fall in love with other, younger women. It hurts to be her - heck, it hurts to read about it.

She is not, however, guilty of the grievous sin of inconstancy that he has laid at her door. She has repined for Wentworth, never stopped loving him. And once he realizes that her sin is really an over-abundance of filial respect, as opposed to fickleness, the way is cleared for them to reunite.

Everyone knows Darcy's words from Pride and Prejudice, when his love for Lizzie overcomes him:

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”"

Many fewer know Wentworth's impassioned words to Anne:

"“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant."

Has there ever been a better description of the exquisite disorientation of love than "I am half agony, half hope?"

I've read Persuasion many fewer times than I've read Pride and Prejudice, or even Sense and Sensibility or Emma. Prior to this reread, I would've said that it is my least favorite Austen save Northanger Abbey, which I have also never liked. I don't think that is still true.

I also loved the fact that Austen took aim at the broader cultural silencing and disempowerment of women (tongue firmly in cheek, of course, as the pen was in her hands):

Captain Harville: "But let me observe that all histories are against you — all stories, prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

Anne Elliot: “Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. 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.”

Thank you Jane Austen, giving a voice to women for 200 years. ( )
  moonlight_reads | Dec 11, 2016 |
I'm surprised whenever I hear that this is someone's favorite Austen novel. It's a difficult read -- dark and bleak. There's not one happy moment or event that doesn't hinge directly on unhappiness or outright misery. There isn't much humor, and when there is, it's rather over-broad.

Of course, it's still Austen. So it's still brilliant. We can all be grateful that she had the time and strength to rewrite the "proposal" scene into the magnificent passage it is. It gives me the shivers at a time. I have to slow my reading speed to a walk. (If hearing that there's a proposal in an Austen novel counts as a "spoiler," you need to stay inside more. With a good book.)

As in all the "Annotated" editions, David Shapard is meticulous and generous. Even a reader new to Austen will have no difficulty navigating her way with Shapard to help. And he always gives fair warning about spoilers. ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
This is an excellent edition for the reader coming to Persuasion for the second time, especially one who wants a greater familiarity with the physical reality of the setting and some insight on a literary level into the writing.

I'm very fond of annotated versions of novels, especially novels written before the 20th century. Words change meaning and implication over time. Social mores change, styles of living change, even what it means to be rich and poor change. In the case of this, Jane Austen's last complete novel, someone who does not have a certain amount of familiarity with late 18th/early 19th century English society and culture will lose much of the nuance of the story -- the obstacles appear absurd and contrived, the situations dull, the various difficulties faced by the characters ridiculous without that knowledge. This annotated version gives all that information in a fairly unobtrusive but convenient way, by placing notes on each facing page of the text.

It includes maps of areas, references to Austen's letters as source material, interesting facts, definitions of words as used at the time, and much more detail, trivia, and observation by the editors which add to the novel without interfering with it. I enjoyed the Annotated Pride & Prejudice I read a few years ago, and I'm looking forward to starting the Annotated Sense & Sensibility by the same editors. ( )
1 vote Murphy-Jacobs | Mar 30, 2013 |
If as an adult, you are going to read Jane Austen, and I have only read Austen as an adult, you should do yourself a favor and read Austen with the aid of the Annotated versions edited by David Shapard.

Here in Persuasion we have a great amount of detail to add to this rather short tale. It makes the reading that much more enjoyable having at hand what otherwise would have required a full 100+ volume library to understand much of what Austen took or granted when writing this 200 years ago.

The story, is perhaps one of my favorites, for here we have love placed on hold and when our protagonists meet, can they act like adults and remember that they have got on with their lives. Or is there still some fire left in them for each other.

A true love story of course has the latter, but the journey is handled with a deft hand and with depth. We do not see the Hero's thoughts until the end, and that may have made the journey much more rounded. Still, with that we see through the annotated version, we get a full look at these thoughts and reflections. We also see how Jane finally gets the war that was prevailing into the tales. She had her brothers away as Naval officers and she honors them with this tale.

A worthy read and reread. ( )
  DWWilkin | Feb 10, 2013 |
Jane Austen's novel, "Persuasion," written near the end of her brief life, tells the story of a woman, Anne Elliot, who regrets yielding to the persuasion of friends and family and breaking off her engagement to Captain Wentworth, a naval officer with little money and few prospects.

Several years later, now 27 and seemingly destined for spinsterhood, Anne gets a second chance when she and Wentworth, who has gotten rich in a recent war, are brought together again. The captain, however, still stung by Anne's rejection, seems more interested in two younger women. Whether he will ultimately marry Louisa or her sister Henrietta becomes the main topic of conversation in their circle.

In time Anne and Captain Wentworth do reunite, and this time it is the friends and family who are persuaded that the match will be a good one.

Written by anyone else, this would have been a long-forgotten romance novel. Thanks to Austen's wit and amazing use of the English language, it remains worth reading nearly 200 years after it was published. And its message has not become dated: Be careful about yielding to the persuasion of others rather than following your own heart. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jul 22, 2012 |
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Shapard, David M.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307390780, Paperback)

Anne Elliot, heroine of Austen's last novel, did something we can all relate to: Long ago, she let the love of her life get away. In this case, she had allowed herself to be persuaded by a trusted family friend that the young man she loved wasn't an adequate match, social stationwise, and that Anne could do better. The novel opens some seven years after Anne sent her beau packing, and she's still alone. But then the guy she never stopped loving comes back from the sea. As always, Austen's storytelling is so confident, you can't help but allow yourself to be taken on the enjoyable journey.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:53 -0400)

This editor presents a volume that juxtaposes the complete text of Persuasion with more than 2,000 historically and culturally informative annotations on facing pages.

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