Persuasion: Is It Better With Age?

Persuasion Dick MusgroveAs amusing as it is to have an “annotated” e-book version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion with so-called “exclusive” content identical to a Wikipedia article, I decided to lodge a complaint with the company that sold it to us for 99 cents.

I emailed Amazon, and its representatives told me to take it up with Jane.

They said: “In this case, the best people who can assist you with your concern will be the publisher or author of this book, ‘Persuasion (Annotated)’ so you can verify with them about this information you provided.” Well, the book didn’t contain the name of a publisher, and Jane Austen was the only author listed.

This came after Amazon’s representatives “assured” me that the unnamed e-book creators hadn’t lifted the content directly from Wikipedia, despite the fact that the Introduction is identical to a 2013 edit of what appears to be an older Wikipedia article (judging from the edit history).

After I informed them that Jane Austen has been deceased for nearly 200 years and that the book was wrongly advertised as containing “exclusive” content, Amazon sent my complaint to the “Kindle Investigation Team,” whatever that means.

Meanwhile, as I went back and forth with Amazon, my husband finished reading the novel at the heart of this conflict. Persuasion is his third Austen.

Here’s what Mr. A.M.B. had to say:

I read a lot of biographies, virtually all of which, I must sheepishly admit, are about men; says Anne in Persuasion, “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story.” But I think my good friend Jane (after three books, we’re friends now) would grant me some leeway, because the biography I was reading — written by a man about another man and probably read almost entirely by men — helped me understand the context of Persuasion, a novel many mislabel as being only for silly women.

The book I was reading was Steven Englund’s biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, who looms large over Persuasion, which takes place during the interludes to the Napoleonic Wars.

As I read Persuasion, I couldn’t help but see numerous parallels between Napoleon and the two main male characters, Captain Wentworth and William Elliot. Wentworth values “the character of decision and firmness” over “the worst evil of too yielding and indecisive a character,” and shows unfailing loyalty to his comrades; William Elliot, in turn, is someone “whose presence of mind never varied, [his] tongue never slipped,” such that “[h]e endured too well, stood too well with everybody,” as he schemed against everyone around him. These were all quintessential Napoleonic traits. Even Wentworth’s effusive letter to Anne reminded me of Napoleon’s similarly unrestrained letters to Josephine, and I couldn’t help but assume that Austen had indeed seen Napoleon’s sorrowful letter to his brother after learning of Josephine’s infidelity — a letter intercepted by the British and then published in the London Morning Chronicle.

Persuasion reflects its historical time, perhaps more so than the other two Austen novels I’ve read.

While writing this post, I googled around to find a timeline of the events in Persuasion (I settled on this one), and discovered a surprising animosity towards it. Last year, a writer at Slate trashed Persuasion as Austen’s worst book, and dismissed support for the book as a mere effort to give Austen weight: “I suspect that some readers prize Persuasion because it is superficially more ‘serious’ than Austen’s other novels.”

That is not quite how I saw it; the book is full of Jane’s usual wit, from Sir Walter’s narcissism to a “Dick [Musgrove]” joke.

Sure, there is plenty to be serious about — I am quite aware that when Lady Russell counsels Anne against marrying Wentworth in mid-1806, she is doing it merely months after the most revered sailor in the British Navy, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, gave his life at the Battle of Trafalgar — but the book isn’t somber or wretched. It’s surely more fun than the Philip Roth book I tortured myself with out of a misguided sense of man-lit duty. All that makes Persuasion “serious” is that the protagonist has lost her “bloom” of youth at 27 and, having also lost her first love, might remain unmarried.

In More Reasons Why Pride & Prejudice Isn’t Just For Girls Who Want a Boyfriend, I wrote that part of what made Pride & Prejudice interesting was Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett’s “internal contradictions and the way in which their personalities and beliefs change,” and it seems to me that Persuasion is the other side of the coin. What’s interesting is how Anne and Wentworth do not change during the events in the novel. They are too mature, too old, for that. I would not have understood Persuasion at 18, or even 24, but life looks a bit different once the “bloom” of youth leaves and you realize that, at some point in there, you’ve become mature.

Anyone who dislikes Persuasion but likes Jane Austen’s other work might appreciate it more in a couple of years.

*Mr. A.M.B.’s comments on Pride & Prejudice are linked above. His comments on Sense & Sensibility are available in Jane Austen Isn’t Just For Mothers and Daughters (So Says My Husband).

About A.M.B.

I am an attorney and the mother of three. Check out my "About Me" page for more information.
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25 Responses to Persuasion: Is It Better With Age?

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  7. Lindsey says:

    I love when a nonfiction book informs a novel. It makes them both more interesting reading experiences, I think.

    By the way, do let us know if you get in touch with the author. I’m sure many of us have some questions for her. :)

    • A.M.B. says:

      Now I want to read the biography on Napoleon. I never would’ve thought to pair it with Persuasion. I’ll definitely let you know if I get in touch with Jane. I was thinking about asking Amazon which method they would suggest I use: ouija board or medium!

  8. You have to wonder about the intellect of those working at Amazon. My gosh are they uninformed. I think I would push this issue to the max, even if it was for the humor of it all! I really like your husband’s reviews. They keep my interest and perk my curiosity. Good job, Mr. A.M. B.

    • A.M.B. says:

      I really wasn’t sure if I was emailing a person or a bot. Either way, they had no idea what they were talking about. I’m glad to hear that you like my husband’s reviews!

  9. Kassie22 says:

    I’ve always been really fond of Persuasion (and all Austen novels for that matter). I wonder if I show these posts to my fiancé if he will finally give in and give them a go… I’ll definitely have to try it out :)

  10. I loved Persuasion when I read it. It was my first non required Austen read. I was only 17 or 18; and haven’t read it since. I still remember it though. I love amazon’s response to you. “Jane Austen” was doing a signing at BEA. Maybe you can track her down. Ha ha.

    • A.M.B. says:

      I’m glad to hear from others who love Persuasion. It doesn’t deserve the criticism it often gets. I should’ve asked Amazon if they’d recommend I track down a Jane Austen impersonator!

  11. Ha ha ha! You really ought to take this issue up with the author. Oh, that made me laugh!

  12. My husband is a fan of Jane Austen’s novels, at least of the ones he has read. I think he would agree one hundred percent with your husband in the novels being not just for women. I don’t think he’s read this one yet though.

    I read Persuasion a few years ago and really liked it. Your husband brings up points I hadn’t even noticed when I read it, but admittedly I am not too familiar with Napoleon and his history.

    • A.M.B. says:

      I hadn’t noticed these points before either (I don’t know much about Napoleon). It’s interesting how we all see something different in Jane Austen’s work. Even 200 years later, there’s still something to talk about. :)

  13. Fabulous reading and I agree! Sadly and strangely enough I just made this same point elsewhere (things getting better with OUR age) about the movie Death to Smoochy. Sorry, Ms. Austen …

    >

  14. I finally purchased a “complete Jane Austen” collection for Kindle at Amazon. It cost me a whopping $1.99. :) I hope to be able to read some of these soon, because after getting your opinions on the various novels, and enjoying the film, The Jane Austen Book Club, I’d like to see what all the fuss is about. (I mean this with all respect!)

I appreciate your comments (respectful dissent is welcome)!

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