Persuasion made quite the first impression on me and in truth, part of my motivation for taking up the novel was the 1995 film adaptation starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds(a version that I still prefer but would happily see a new cinematic take on it hopefully soon).
It's odd,I suppose, that one of Austen's last books would be an ideal introduction but nonetheless, Anne Eliot's emotional journey was one that I did connect to rather well.
While the main focus of the plot is about Anne unexpectedly reuniting with former love Frederick Wentworth, who she was talked out of marrying by well meaning family friend Lady Russell several years prior, in reading this book again, a new theme popped out at me. Anne is not only looking to revive an old romantic love, she's also seeking a new family to love.(spoilers ahead!)
After all, the book begins with Anne's boorishly pompous father Sir Walter(a vain and careless with money sort) reading the only book that interests him; the Baronetage, a record of his family line. Much mention is made throughout the novel of the "Eliot way, The Eliot pride, the Eliot countenance" as if they are part of a royal lineage instead of the minor league nobility that they truly are.
When Sir Walter and his awful oldest daughter Elizabeth are faced with real financial troubles, one of their first big ideas on how to save money is not bringing Anne a present from their regular trip to London(which she clearly is not a part of ,ever!) and even when Anne does present some good options to help out in this situation, her word "means nothing, she is only Anne".
It's also telling that Anne often feels more comfortable around other family groups such as her younger sister Mary's in-laws, the Musgroves. They are really delightful people, open and loving, who do make her feel welcome among them.
However, Anne’s visits tend to put her in the middle of many a family dispute, due to Mary’s tendencies towards claiming herself ill(cured by grabbing the attention she craves away from someone else) and insisting that everyone remember “whose daughter I am” resulting in disharmony. Anne does what she can be yet it’s a shame that she is put in such a position to begin with:
While Anne is given some respect and is sincerely liked by the Musgroves(Louisa Musgrove is overheard at one point to tell Captain Wentworth that the family would exchange her for Mary in a heartbeat), her reunion with the rest of her family in Bath shows a marked difference from such warmth of feeling in Uppercross.
Although her father and Elizabeth act somewhat inviting upon her arrival, Anne is mostly seen as a good way to round out their social engagements(a fourth at cards). The flattering manners of hanger on Mrs. Clay are more valued along with the reappearance of wayward cousin Mr. Eliot(set to inherit the family estate such as it is).
What really excites Sir Walter and Elizabeth is the arrival of very distant relations, Lady Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Cateret. Despite barely knowing these people, they are bound and determined to have them as acquaintances in Bath.
Anne is less than impressed with such “noble” relatives and is polite enough in their company yet not willing to give up the chance to visit an old school friend, Mrs. Smith for one of the Dalrymple’s tea parties:
During this period, Anne also finds new friends such as Admiral Croft and his lovely wife Sophie (who happens to be Wentworth’s sister) along with other sea faring compatriots of Wentworth like the Harvilles and Captain Benwick.
She even regretfully wishes that such good people would be in her social circle already if not for heeding that long ago advice about marrying a man “with nothing but himself to recommend him”.
This makes me think of the modern concept of found family, which is generally seen as people not directly connected to each other making a family circle of their own. Some blood ties are included but it’s mainly created from a joint need for love and acceptance from a source other than the group they’re born into.
We see this more and more often in pop culture these days, from action movies(The Fast and The Furious series comes directly to mind) to TV dramas and yes, superhero shows where such unity is a real strength for the team at hand:
While Anne Eliot isn’t a superhero (although her skills at empathy and problem solving give her that potential), her need for a loving and supportive family is abundantly clear.
Yes, she does want to be Wentworth’s wife but Anne also wants to have a loving family as well.
Marrying him brings her fully into a world where keeping company with the Crofts and Harvilles(plus the Musgroves who wind up being part of the bunch via marriage too!) is not seen as beneath anyone.
In a way, Persuasion has more than one happy ending as Anne not only reconnects with Wentworth, her true family gathers together at last.
This is a good way to wrap up my Austen rereading here(I plan to revisit Edith Wharton next) and when I return to these storytelling shores, may my former fondness for the work bring me to new creative realms of insight: