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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Book Review
by Jane Austen
p. 1818
Public Domain Books Edition 2006
Read on a Kindle

     Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were both published posthumously together with a biographical notice, in 1818.   In the ensuing decades, Jane Austen was what you would call an "Artists Artist," well regarded and even stolen from by Authors from the next generation, but not what you would call a "popular success."   There is no better illustration of her nineteenth century literary insider status then the plain fact that Sir Walter Scott- who was much, much more popular at the time then Austen herself- was  acknowledging her genius as early as the publication of Emma, when Scott wrote a four thousand word article in the Quarterly lauding Jane Austen as a major literary figure.

  The dual publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey was not what you would call a hit.  In 1820, Jane Austen's publisher remaindered the remaining copies of the Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.  He had sold 1400 copies of the two books the first year, and almost none thereafter. (1)

  You can't really discuss the Audience reception (or failure to appreciate) Jane Austen's novels upon their initial publication without considering the Novels that were popular at the exact same time.  In the 1820s, the literary scene existed, but barely, by the standards of the later part of 19th century and since then. In the 1820s, there were only a few literary trends, mainly the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott.  These historical novels had the same kind of Romance and political overtones that spy/espionage Novels do today, and Jane Austen's quiet country ladies were anything but "historical" in nature. 

  Persuasion, her last completed work before her death, covers familiar ground: An older sister considered past her prime, dueling beaus, and precarious family circumstances.  Again however, Jane Austen's taut psychological insights into identity and relationships carry the reader along through the lazy river of her plot.                              

   In the aftermath of her untimely death, what was transmitted to the Audience and other Artists was a 'feel good' factor in the popular novel that no one had yet thought to analyze, but that people recognized as instantly gratifying and desirable.  (2)   Persuasion is like all her books in terms of themes, but it is in my mind "truer" to Jane Austen then Emma.  Persuasion is also much shorter then her other completed titles- it makes me wonder if she was suffering while she wrote it.


(1) Harman, Claire Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered The World, (London, 2009) 
(2) Id. 

1 comment:

Eesti said...

Austen's novels are never innocent of the issues which affected their period and this is yet another example as Austen deftly and subtly critiques gender roles, social class and the notion of `appearances.' In its whole, this is a great book, perhaps the fact that it was written by an older and dying Austen may explain the nostalgic tone of decline or sadness that seems to pervade it. It is well worth the money you would spend to buy it and the time you would take to read it.

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