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  • Katherine Dahl

Persuasion: Austen's Most Romantic Novel in Three Songs

Perhaps the most underrated Jane Austen novel of all is Persuasion. It is short, sweet, and overall one of her most romantic stories that proves love can triumph over all. It focuses on the “washed up” Anne Elliot, who, once thought to be beautiful, has since lost her youthfulness; thus, she believes she is unworthy of her past lover, Captain Wentworth. Although she and the captain were once engaged, they had not spoken for eight years by the time he returned, and, in light of her family’s growing financial troubles, the awkwardness between them is not among her most important problems. One thing that is clear, however, is that the love they share hasn’t died since their broken engagement.

Despite these strong feelings, Anne was persuaded (hence the title) to abandon her relationship with Wentworth all those years ago because her family deemed him below her. She is of a high-class family and, at the time before her father's debts, was not too poor off. Wentworth was solidly average in the societal aspect. Thus, she is the “uptown girl” he is after, like in Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” At the time, she had been living in her “uptown world,” in which her family disliked associating with anyone outside of their class, and Wentworth definitely would not be able to “afford to buy her pearls.” It’s only after “[his] ship comes in” and he rises through the naval ranks that he becomes a desirable marriage candidate. 

But Anne’s dismissal of him did not leave him unscathed. The grudge of lost love remains potent even during the course of the story, so much so that the love is “heartache anyway,” even if their feelings are pure. “But Beautiful” by Billie Holiday is thus the second song for Persuasion. Wentworth is hurt, but he still loves Anne; he can’t help it. The “love is tearful or it’s gay” because it is marred by a difficult past, but the feelings are strong enough to sometimes overcome that. Ultimately, beyond the “problems” that scar it, their love is still “beautiful” and romantic because it lasts. Eight years only strengthened their feelings.

That staying power is precisely what fuels the plot of the novel: their love will “never die,” as in the Beatles song “And I Love Her.” It is a simple song, yet it exemplifies the timelessness of their relationship. Despite the hardships, sometimes it is as simple as acknowledging “[he] [loves] her.” By the end of the story, Wentworth realizes that his pain is not so strong that he cannot forgive Anne or live without her.

As with the rest of the Austen canon, Persuasion ends with the couple happily married. I hope everyone had a restful break and is ready to kill this semester; this is the last Jane Austen post for a while, I swear. I won’t promise anything, but a break from her, too, may be in order.

Thanks for reading this short one!


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