lundi 14 septembre 2009

Sometimes all you need is a classic

Just before a trip, my favorite thing to do is to prepare my list of books to read. I inevitably end up bringing a huge pile, thereby increasing the weight of my luggage but at least I’m well armed against the onslaught of boredom while away from the comforts of home. Usually I take the newest ones on my shelf but this time around, I took Persuasion by Jane Austen. I had never read it yet despite its presence on my shelf for a good while now. It turned out to be a wonderful choice.

We learn quickly at the beginning of the book that Anne Elliot, the well pedigreed but over looked daughter of Sir William Elliot, had fallen in love, 7 years ago with Frederick Wentworth, a young and handsome sea captain. Unfortunately her father and sister were dissatisfied with her choice and persuade her to break off her engagement. Eight years later, still single and “past the first bloom of youth”, Anne re-encounters Captain Wentworth who has by this time acquired a handsome fortune of his own. And he hasn’t forgotten nor forgiven Anne’s treatment of him.

What a treat this novel is! I don’t know why I waited so long to read this one. It really shows Austen at her writing peak. And it’s a shame to realize that Persuasion is in fact the last novel she completed before her death in 1817. All the elements of an Austen novel are present—the snobbery of the English upper class and the ever present concern for rank and fortune, an engagingly elegant and smart heroine and a biting wit the skewers severely the social mores of Austen’s times. But above all these elements (which are all very fine) this is a novel about second chances at life and love. Her heroine has suffered a grievous loss and we feel it palpably through the strength of her gorgeous writing. It makes it even more poignant to read how Anne struggles to find her way into the grace of a miraculous second chance. We should all be so lucky!

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