Quietly reflective in tone—yet ultimately joyful—Persuasion introduces Anne Elliot, Jane Austen’s maturest heroine.
In many regards, it’s a Cinderella story. Several figures can be seen as fulfilling the step-mother role—the insensitive and ungrateful Sir Walter, the well-meaning Lady Russell, and the anti-hero Mr. Elliot. There are even two sets of “step-sisters”—one pair undervaluing Anne, the other stepping between her and the prince. Anne joins her prince (a prince who has some flaws of his own to overcome) near the beginning. There’s a separation and—ultimately—he has to find her again.
Through it all, Anne’s sweetness and maturity show forth the beauty of waiting done well. There is a richness and fullness that comes with actively living through providentially timed waiting. And while the prince is still coming to recognize his flaws—Cinderella is serving. Everyone depends on Anne. Gentle and quiet yet able to speak her mind—clear-sighted—with gratitude, honesty, humility, wisdom, and a touch of humor—Anne is absolutely beautiful.
In its entirety, Persuasion is less about persuasion per se as it is about maturity, wisdom, discernment, and judgment. Duty is a major theme. It’s definitely tremendously important to Anne, and interestingly enough, would be a major factor in the world of the navy, which itself plays such a particularly definitive role in the story.
In the end, when the prince does recognize his princess—and she has safely escaped the designs of the villain—both see their union as a gift. Anne was guarded from Mr. Elliot by her love for Wentworth while Wentworth himself says, “I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.” In His perfect timing, God always uses ways and means to bring a man and woman together in marriage, but at the same time that union—if accepted with humility and entered into faithfully—is always a gracious and undeserved gift.
So of all Austen’s books, Persuasion often ties for first in my list of favorites! And as a side-note, the conversation at the White Hart between Captain Harville and Anne (with Wentworth writing) is probably my single favorite scene out of all her work. With regard to both structure and content, it’s a tingly masterpiece!