Monday, February 12, 2007

Reading. Austen.

I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was quite young, the first novel I ever read by Jane Austen (my first copy had illustrations of key scenes in the story), and have probably read it once every year since. It was not until much later that I came across Persuasion. It is difficult to say which story I love more, because they are so different, the former with a wider cast of characters, intricate plot lines weaving in and out like the complicated steps of the dances performed at the grand balls; different stories must come to their conclusion before our hero and heroine can be united. The latter is like a slow waltz between two people, a story of love lost and then regained, love constant and not erased by time and distance. There is the possibility of a second chance at happiness, when all hope is gone; it was not in vain that your heart still loved.

At nineteen Anne Elliott was in love with young captain Frederick Wentworth, then without fortune and with only confidence in himself and his abilities to recommend him. Her father is against the match, her friend and advisor Lady Russell advises against it, and so she refuses him. Eight years pass, and he is back in her life, his sister and brother-in-law having rented the Elliott home, Kellynch Hall, while Sir Walter Elliott and his eldest daughter Elizabeth depart for Bath. In these intervening years Captain Wentworth has made his fortune at sea, and Sir Walter has had to rent out his family home as his fortune declines and there is no son to inherit the estate. As he and his eldest daughter have moved to Bath, Anne goes to visit her younger sister Mary, now Mrs. Charles Musgrove, and it is there that she and Captain Wentworth find their lives intersecting once more.

When they meet again, it seems that all love has died between them, or at least on Captain Wentworth's part; he tells her sister that Anne has "so altered that he should not have known her again." He has returned to dry land, now rich, with the goal of finding a wife, anyone except for the woman he once loved, for he has not forgiven her for the earlier refusal. At first they are almost worse than strangers, in the way that only people who have loved each other once can be awkward with one another. There are obstacles - he might fall in love with the two young sisters of Anne's brother-in-law; Anne is courted by her cousin, the heir presumptive to the Elliott estate - but in the end they find themselves once again together, only without anyone to prevent their being together.

Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever, writes Captain Wentworth to Anne, after eavesdropping on her conversation with his friend Captain Harville. 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. All the anger and resentment and disappointment at the previously thwarted love falls away, and the lovers are reunited.

No comments: