Recently, JSTOR had a short article called “The Physical Pleasures of Jane Austen’s Persuasion” by Erin Blakemore — Here is a link/url:
The author, Blakemore makes several interesting points about why this Austen novel: “often gets overshadowed. It’s more subtle and less action-packed than fan favorites like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and is one of her less-frequently adapted books.” Which is very true. I think my favorite and one of the more recent adaptations was in 2007 with Rupert Penry-Jones, who is my age born in 1970, so he was about 37 when he played Captain Wentworth.
Obviously, Austen wrote according to the social customs of the time and even going outside that circle was a bit much for the proper constraints of the family. Even though her family encouraged and supported her writing to a point, when Austen was published to save any undue embarrassment, her work used the fail safe generic pen name: “By a Lady.”
Persuasion, again to note, is a later Austen novel which features older characters, a love affair that was once young — in that it was originally two people who fell in love during their youth, but the match was not approved due to social structure, specifically because of Wentworth’s class and income during their youth.
And I will note here, it’s not mentioned here in Blakemore’s article, but I think Persuasion becomes a fan favorite as people age, because there is a romance there in the whole idea of a second chance at love. But more on that later.
During the novel, Wentworth returns to Anne’s life during a financial crisis, and he is also older and here is big news: fiscally stable. He is no longer a gamble or a risky choice, but the cliche of a “catch.” As is custom, many younger ladies are busy vying for his attentions for a match. But it is as Austen wrote overall documenting their later year romance — and I’m paraphrasing here — it is definitely “still on” between Anne and Wentworth. The attraction materializes to the point, where the reader notices both parties never really lost their emotion or physical attractions to each other. Blakemore notes, “Austen’s use of blushes, beating hearts, physical gestures, and almost-contact–devices that weave a web of physicality around Anne and Wentworth.”
But there is a bit of plot and obstacles to wade through before the older and wiser couple are finally united, including the use of the letter for Wentworth to declare his love for Anne. Austen often uses letters in her novels Darcy writes to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice explaining his actual relationship with George Wickham and disclosing the near scandal involving his younger sister Georgiana. Willoughby writes perhaps the original sad “Dear Jane” letter to Marianne in Sense and Sensibility — striking their entire romance and returning the lock of her hair for good measure.
During Austen’s life and time period, letters were the general and most common form of communication, after face to face conversations — so it makes sense Austen would use letters so often in her plots to convey critical information that characters cannot for whatever reason communicate in person. In Darcy’s case, I believe he was ashamed in the lapse in his care-taking of his sister and the situation in general that he did not want to disclose it — until being absolutely pushed over the line — which he was by Elizabeth’s rejection of his proposal and then criticizing his treatment of Wickham; having only heard Wickham’s propaganda about Darcy. Willoughby was also procrastinating to the point of hoping to have his match for the money and run away for his genuine love for Marianne. But her letters and confrontation at the ball forced his hand to for once tell her officially in writing — and again I’m paraphrasing here — that their relationship was done and over. Yes a little bit of mansplaining with both characters but in the Regency style.
Love is never easy. Love can hurt terribly. Love sometimes works out and sometimes it doesn’t. And the idea of falling in love in different times of your life can be complicated as well — the intensity might be different in your 50’s than in your 20’s but perhaps just in a different context. I try to remember all this and Austen’s take on it as I draft the pages of my own novel — about two people in mid-life finding each other and trying to weave their lives together around other responsibilities and limitations their lives have posed for them. Unlike Anne and Wentworth, my characters did not have a youthful romance — but find they have many connections and coincidences in common. That whole idea of a small world or six degrees of separation — I’m kind of playing with it and I’m not sure my two characters would have fallen in love when they were younger.
The idea of having a second chance at love or another chance at love for an individual should not be dismissed and I think should be celebrated as much as “young love.” Because older love can be hard worn and won. Sometimes people have limited choices, the life they live molds them into different people, and they find someone they love or love again, but in a different way, perhaps years later. And this timeline it makes their love just as precious as a youthful couple trying to figure things out.
Perhaps it is the romantic in me but I think people can have more than one great love in their life. It’s possible maybe not for everyone but I think it is a variable. I’m not sure Jane Austen would agree with me about that but if given the chance I’d like to ask her over a cup of tea.