The year of reading women: Revisiting Austen

1 Aug

There aren’t many Austen novels, and each of them can only be read for the first time once. As such, they’re precious treats that I have tried to consume slowly, over several years, only occasionally allowing myself the delight of a new one. I have put off reading Persuasion for over a decade because I knew for many it is considered to be Austen’s finest and I wanted to save the best for last, but on a bus heading for the south coast of Turkey last week, I knew it was finally time.

I didn’t build it up too much: I wasn’t disappointed. The wait was worth it.

This is such a complete, whole and perfectly balanced novel that it reminds me of a small, round, white pebble (or the ‘little bit of ivory, two inches wide’ that she herself uses to describe the delicate miniature of her novels). The characters are so wonderfully observed and real – despite being rendered in Austen’s signature gentle irony – it’s a bit of a departure from the earlier novels, which draw the characters slightly larger than life. Here the internal world is so acutely rendered that you feel you know these people – both from the outside, as others see them, and with all the doubts and misgivings of an internal view of the self. The social situations are, of course, the most brilliant: the way she describes certain moments of tension between Anne and Captain Wentworth made me positively shiver with the intensity of emotion.

As always, though, there is more to chew on: the themes of self-reliance, the difference between confidence of mind and stubbornness… The integrity of growing older and learning to recognise and listen to good advice and reject that which is well-intentioned but misplaced.

I devoured this book and no doubt it will be one I return to again for comfort and escapism – but also reassurance and dignity.

ps. I wrote this post at the end of my trip, after 6 hours’ sleep in 3 days. Forgive me if the above is incoherent or worse.

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