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Our Intrepid Heroine

I'm a multitasking, knitting, cooking, voraciously-reading library worker who wants to spread her bibliomania as far as possible.

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Ash and Silver: A Sanctuary Novel
Carol Berg
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Madeleine E. Robins
China Mieville

Persuasion (Oxford World's Classics)

Persuasion - Jane Austen

I've been hard pressed the last few weeks to explain my undying love for this book. In all honesty, I don't know how well I can word it, because so much of the beauty of the story lies in what remains unsaid.

What caught my attention was Mary Musgrove, who is horrid. I know that woman, and she is vile. She makes me absolutely insane. She is every co-dependent, whiny woman who makes the rest of us look bad. Her suffering is greater than anyone else's suffering, and no one has ever been as ill as she becomes the second someone accuses her of hypochondria. Mary is funny because she is ridiculous; pitiable because she doesn't realize that her self-victimization is depressing. Austen nailed the characterization: by understanding Mary, I began to comprehend Anne.

Every family should be so lucky as to have an Anne. Especially a family with an attention-starved youngest sibling, a father unable to see past his own vanity, and an eldest daughter comfortable taking up her father's mantle as an attractive (and thereby superior) member of Society. Any family with an Elizabeth and a Mary must have an Anne or the entire house of cards goes caput, regardless of the caliber of advice offered by good friends. And any Anne -- who must make everyone else's lives function properly -- goes unnoticed as the cogs in a well-oiled machine. She is quiet, efficient, and practical, and she works with what resources are available.

This is a tale which encapsulates familial relations, constancy, and silence, bound together with duty, honor, and resilience. It contains one of the most obvious Austen discussions on bloom, and whether a woman can be expected to retrieve a bloom once lost. Persuasion ponders the boundaries of social class, dwelling upon the stratification between a wealthy naval officer and a broke baronet, urging the reader to choose the infinitely superior without setting aside the issue of bloodlines. For which is better: the company of clever, well-informed people with a good deal of conversation, or a blue-blooded court, fanning itself with peacock feathers and crocodile smiles?

Alongside all this is the titular issue of persuasion – not just the feebleness of character so despised by Frederick Wentworth, but the ability of language to impact its surroundings. A well-worded argument from a well-meaning friend causes Anne Elliot to end an engagement with a good, but poor, man with minimal prospects. Conversely, Mary's constant protestations of illness are counterproductive from the beginning, as no one ever believes that she is actually ill. Likewise, Louisa Musgrove's constant assertions of self-will and independence fall flat: they lack substance aside from youthful enthusiasm and flattery.

The double-sided nature of language reveals itself through simple, cheerful gossip. A handsome officer waltzes into town, and every man, woman, and child wonders aloud which of two women he will marry. An innocuous statement repeated only as a conversational standard, it still has the power to influence the behavior of the main characters. I loved the symmetry between Frederick and Louisa, Anne and Mr. Elliot. Anne is never fully convinced that her Captain intends to marry a pretty, flirtatious girl, but he hears a few reports of Anne’s presumed engagement and tears off in a huff. No communication occurs until both cease to listen to external voices, and, uncertain of how to properly converse, are rendered speechless. Every time I read the passage in which Captain Wentworth and Anne wait out the rain, I catch my breath because it is so natural, I can see it happening, both stumbling over their own tongues in an attempt to convey that which cannot easily be vocalized. I love the letters; I love the moments of stillness and silence.

I know it’s some sort of review convention to explain why this book isn’t Pride and Prejudice], but I’ve no wish to get into that line of reasoning. I love Lizzie Bennett, and I see a lot of myself in her. But Lizzie is loud, and Anne is soft. One is considered a local beauty; the other has lost her bloom. Lizzie gets her fairy tale redemption, and Anne, an adult, engages a grown man who knows her through and through, enough that they can be quiet and still understand one another perfectly.

Forget Mr. Darcy. I want an Anne in my life.