Persuasion by Jane Austen
A guest post by Jessica Prescott
Before I begin, I’d really like to thank Heidi for allowing me to do this guest post on Persuasion for Cinderella Week—it’s such a wonderful honor! Persuasion has been my favorite Jane Austen novel, hands down, ever since the day I read those gorgeous final scenes for the first time as a teenage girl. (And no, I don’t just refer to “The Letter”—although that was obviously a huge part of it ;-) ) To this day, Persuasion remains one of the most powerful love stories I’ve ever read; and I firmly believe it is Austen’s best work. Until Heidi included it in her Cinderella Week list, however, I never thought of it as a “Cinderella story” in any way.
I see now, however, that this novel is, most definitely, a Cinderella story—perhaps one of the most beautifully written Cinderella stories ever to grace the world of fiction. (Which shouldn’t surprise anyone, I suppose . . . we are dealing with Jane Austen, after all.) I probably won’t be able to cover all its Cinderella-like elements in this post, but I’ll try to hit the most important ones.
First, we have the most important feature of any Cinderella story—a beautiful, kind-hearted, but completely undervalued and mistreated heroine. Voila. Anne Elliot.
Although nobody around her recognizes it, Anne is truly beautiful—actually, she’s the Austen heroine that I have the most vivid mental picture of, thanks to Austen’s short but evocative description in chapter 1: “delicate features and mild dark eyes.” Personally, I always imagine her looking somewhat like a young Enya:
Besides her outward beauty, Anne is also genuinely kind, sweet, loving, and gentle—astonishingly so, in fact, given the treatment she’s received all her life. Neither her father nor her two sisters care anything about her; but she’s always doing something for them, trying to help them out and make them more comfortable. She seems to be one of those characters who just want to be kind and helpful to others, whether the favor is returned or not. Obviously, a deeply admirable trait—and a very “Cinderella-like” one as well. After all, isn’t Cinderella always busy working for her stepmother and stepsisters, even though they do nothing whatsoever to show their gratitude?
What about the “evil stepmother” element? At first glance, it seems that Austen has replaced the evil stepmother with an evil stepfather—and although Sir Walter isn’t technically a “stepfather,” he is unquestionably evil. Here he has a daughter who is quite possibly the nicest character in the history of British literature, and he shows not the smallest bit of affection for her or concern for her welfare. On the contrary, he is always trying to make her feel worthless—leaving her behind when he takes Elizabeth to London, refusing her money, making fun of her friends . . . the list goes on and on. To say nothing of the fact that he does his best to ruin her entire life by refusing his consent to her earlier match with Wentworth—okay, I’ll stop now. Suffice it to say that I hate the man.
However. An argument can be made (Heidi was the first to point this out to me) that Lady Russell is something of an “evil stepmother” figure as well. I, personally, think she definitely is. Not just because she fulfills the “evil stepmother” function by being an obstacle in the way of Anne’s relationship with her “prince,” but because she is also a deeply flawed character. Not truly “evil” in the way Sir Walter and Mr. Elliot are—but still. I think she’s much more than just a good person who happens to make some mistakes (as Anne, for example, regards her). In my opinion, Lady Russell makes what are called “culpable mistakes.” In other words, she makes Mistakes She Should Not Have Made. She makes mistakes because there’s something seriously wrong with her character, something she would do well to fix before any more time elapses. Namely—the desire for control. Lady Russell’s real motive (whether she admits it to herself or not) is to run Anne’s life, to make all her choices for her. And that’s just wrong. Even though she believes that she knows what’s best for Anne, it’s still wrong to try to force another person’s choices. Yes, I know she regarded Anne as a daughter and all that, but once your daughter (or your son) has reached adulthood, you absolutely have to step aside and give them control of their own destiny. You can’t live their lives for them.
So . . . that was a bit of an Anti-Russell Rant. Let’s move on to happier subjects. Like the Prince. Otherwise known as Captain Frederick Wentworth.
And is he ever a prince. Captain Wentworth will always have a special place in my heart—and I think in the hearts of almost all Austen fans—for his fiery, passionate nature, his unbending loyalty, and his genuine sweetness and humility. (The guy even agrees to be friends with Lady Russell, folks. Now that’s charity.) Oh—and he has dark eyes that glow. Like, they actually glow. Go read “The Letter” scene again and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
By the way, Captain Wentworth is a hard guy to match with a picture. I know how he should look, but there aren’t many actors out there who fit the bill. The only person I know of who actually “works”—to my mind anyway—is Ioan Gruffudd:
(Watch out, Mr. Elliot; he has a sword and he knows how to use it. ;-) )
Interestingly, the usual Cinderella pattern is turned upside down here—Anne and Wentworth do come from completely different “worlds” (social positions), but this time it’s Anne who has the high status and Captain Wentworth who is the apparent nobody. Initially, at any rate—once Wentworth makes his fortune and Anne’s family loses theirs, the roles are reversed yet again . . . But yes. The girl and her prince meet, they fall in love, they plan to get married . . . and then they’re swept apart. Just like in all Cinderella stories. But here, the separation doesn’t just last a couple of days or weeks. Instead, Anne and Wentworth are divided for eight long years.
(I don’t like thinking about that part. It hurts.)
And when they meet again, of course, the “stepmother” (Lady Russell) is still trying to throw obstacles in the way of their relationship. (I hate how she tries to persuade Anne to accept Mr. Elliot. Never mind that she “didn’t know” how bad he was. She has no business trying to make Anne’s choices for her.) And of course, we have Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove as well, whom (as Heidi also pointed out) can easily been seen as another pair of “stepsisters.” Don’t they remind you of Cinderella’s sisters fighting over the glass slipper to try and win the prince? “Oh, it will surely fit my foot—no, it will surely fit my foot!”
But . . . fortunately . . . Henrietta marries Charles Hayter, Louisa goes off with Captain Benwick, and Wentworth finally realizes that he still loves Anne and—equally important—that she still loves him. And then . . . we come to everybody’s favorite part. The Letter Scene.
This is, of course, the counterpart of the “slipper fits” scene in a real Cinderella story. And it’s every bit as thrilling, romantic, beautiful and—ultimately—satisfying. Not just the words of the letter itself (although they’re absolutely phenomenal) but just the way the whole thing is written. Listen:
“. . . and instantly crossing the room to the writing table, and standing with his back towards Mrs. Musgrove, he drew out a letter from under the scattered paper, placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a moment, and hastily collecting his gloves, was again out of the room, almost before Mrs. Musgrove was aware of his being in it . . .”
Is that not complete and utter gorgeousness? (Told ya his eyes glowed, by the way.)
Finally, Cinderella and her prince are together again. Finally, Anne Elliot has someone who loves her—truly loves her—the way she deserves to be loved. Finally, Lady Russell and Sir Walter have both been put in their proper places. And finally, we have reached the end of another glorious Jane Austen romance—which also happens to be one of the best Cinderella stories of all time.
I love Persuasion. I don’t think I shall ever stop loving it.
(Thanks again, Heidi—I had so much fun!)
(Thanks again, Heidi—I had so much fun!)
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