Thursday, October 6, 2011

Persuasion - the art of liking Jane Austen

I had my first book club meeting last Sunday, and I almost did not attend. I was having one of those delightfully busy, yet cozy in my own home, Sundays. However, I had already purchased all of the ingredients for my potluck dish and as the time to depart grew nearer, there was no doubt that the Green Bay Packer's were going to win. (By the way, I made a savory bread pudding from Cooking Light. It was delicious. I am making it for dinner again tonight.)

I made it to book club and was overwhelmed by the number of new people I was meeting. I had to remind myself that one of positives of the book club, in fact, was meeting new people. Luckily, there was lots to eat and drink and I settled in with a plat full of food ready to discuss Persuasion. I was hoping the discussion would make me love the novel, Jane Austen, and give me a whole new lease on literature. (Spoiler: this did not happen.)

I am not a die-hard Austenite, as many book club goers are.  My initial awakening to Jane Austen occurred when I was a teenager and watching You've Got Mail. The main character, Kathleen Kelly, loves to read Pride and Prejudice and the film itself is a re-telling of the story. Eventually I decided to pick up the novel and I slogged through it. I also read Emma, after checking it out of the library several times. I discovered the film, Sense and Sensibility and loved it. Eventually, I read the novel it was based on. My best friend in college (she still is my best friend), Caitlin, loves Jane Austen and I watched more than a few versions of Pride and Prejudice with her. I even studied for the GRE English subject level exam by watching BBC versions of Austen classics with her next to me on the futon.

My most positive experience with Jane Austen came recently. With my iPad, I have access to many free books, one of which being Pride and Prejudice. I spent the first few days of June searching for wedding accents and feverishly reading Pride and Prejudice. For the first time, I was caught up in the attraction between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy; the pride and the prejudice.I could also feel its "modern" connect. (And because I am no longer enrolled in grad school, I can use modern and not interrogate too much what that means. I leave that to you.)

With the excitement of a new book club, I dove into Persuasion hoping to love it. In this novel, the heroine Anne's love interest is named Captain Wentworth. Captain Wentworth and Anne were in love 7 years prior to the novel's plot and Anne rejects him because of the advice of a friend. In the novel, they meet again and are both still in love.Like in Pride and Prejudice, there is a tension in the traditions of primogeniture and the land-owning rich. In Persuasion, the possibility of power (at least for men) exists in the navy, especially for Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft.

Overall, nothing excited me about the plot. Austen writes in a lot of glances, a lot of equivocating, and a lot of internal struggle. The dialogue that moves Pride and Prejudice forward is much slower moving and less focused in Persuasion. The climax of the novel, however, is the letter that Captain Wentworth writes Anne, declaring his constant and everlasting love. I must say, I loved the letter!

Overall, I don't think I will read Persuasion again. I really don't love Austen. I was glad, however, that I went to book club and listened to Austen scholars discuss the novel. And, it gave me something to blog about - when I finally got around to it. I think I will stick to movie adaptions of Austen, from Colin Firth to Bridget Jones to Clueless. And of course, You've Got Mail.