The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Not long before Borders closed in my town, I made a stop there, hoping to find a wealth of classic literature for a fraction of the price. As it turned out, there was very little left in the way of classic literature by the time I got there. However, there were pretty paperback versions of Jane Austen's "Persuasion" and "Mansfield Park," so I snapped them up.
Then I found the Annotated Persuasion at my local library. As a result, it's taken me twice as long to read the book, because I've been utterly fascinated by the comments and explanations on the opposite page of every page of Austen's writing.
I've read other books by Austen and enjoyed them immensely, but the annotated version of this book so enhanced my reading experience, opening up a window to an era so different from ours.
Yes, I'm just curious enough to like knowing the difference between a curricle, a barouche-landau and a chaise-and-four--and sometimes it sheds light on the meaning of what the characters are saying.
I've never quite understood the difference in addressing the wife of a baronet, the daughter of an earl, or the younger daughters of any of them! The annotations explain all that.
And without explanation, I think it's hard for us 21st-century readers to grasp just how rigid were the rules of society in the early 18-hundreds. Suppose, as a woman, you wanted to let your ex-boyfriend know that you still had feelings for him. You couldn't even write him a letter to let him know of your feelings!
Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, a sweet, lovely young woman who had, eight years ago, been "persuaded" to break up with the love of her life, Captain Wentworth.
Basically, Anne had listened to bad advice, and she lived to regret it. She never got over Captain Wentworth, but figured he was out of her life forever.
And then, through a change of circumstances, he shows up in her circle of acquaintance, and they are thrown together repeatedly.
Does the captain still have feelings for Anne? Did she break his heart too badly for him to try with her again?
It all plays out in inimitable Austen style, complete with snobbish and vain relatives, scheming social-climbers and dashing cads.
Taking to Bath
The main setting for the book is Bath, England, a place where Austen lived at one point and often visited, and her familiarity with the town is obvious throughout the book. Actual street names and place names are used, and the annotations clue the reader in on all of them.
The book whetted my curiosity about Bath, which boasted hot springs where people went to "take the waters." Apparently, Austen never really liked the town, but her name has been honored with a Jane Austen Centre and a city walk.
What did I think?
I enjoyed the story very much, and as always when reading Austen, I'm struck with her understanding of human nature--and with the fact that, despite changing mores and modern technology, human nature really hasn't changed at all.
Oh, and I dare you not to be moved by one of the most romantic love letters in fiction. Who wouldn't be moved if someone told you, "You pierce my soul"!
And I heartily recommend reading this annotated version, especially if you're a true Austen lover. It's almost like taking a mini-college course in the customs and culture of the era of which she writes.
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