Book Notes: Jane Austen’s Persuasion

We are reading this novel for my book club. Even though I read it before, I retained absolutely nothing, so it’s like reading a completely new book.

What I don’t like about Austen is that she wrote thesis novels. She’d take a thesis (which is almost invariably that moderation in everything is best) and set out to prove it in the book. The thesis is kind of obvious and deeply non-controversial, and the novels never live up to their full potential because they are subjected to this need to teach a lesson. Austen’s sensibilities are that of the Enlightenment era, and for her art always has to be didactic. It goes in cycles, and today we are back to valuing art that describes reality not as it is but as it should be according to our moral code. Read the article I linked yesterday about sensitivity readers to see what I mean.

Austen’s literary successors – the Romantics – abandoned didacticism (think Brontes) and chose to emote instead of lecturing. Then realists came and started manipulating and teaching moral lessons. Then modernists canned didactic in art for a long time. And now it’s coming back again.

Persuasion shows us the limits of the didactic literary style. The characters, the stories, and the plot lines appear almost identical to the ones we see in Austen’s other novels. It’s all very predictable, superficial but gossipy and easy to read. Structurally, the novel is weaker than Austen’s other work. Cutting the last twenty pages would have improved the novel dramatically.

But hey, without Austen we wouldn’t have Liane Moriarty and the entire genre of mommy lit, so I can’t complain. Enlightenment authors didn’t write much fiction, preferring didactic treatises but what they did write had a gigantic impact on the trajectory of fiction for centuries to come.

5 thoughts on “Book Notes: Jane Austen’s Persuasion

  1. The gossipy bits are easily the best part of the books from this period! The overarching plot feels inane, the main characters plodding or arch on the whole, but I live for pages upon pages of needless detail on a minor interaction between minor characters, described with wit, levity and keen perception.

    This is honestly what contributed most to flipping my judgement of gossip-mongers from a nerd’s “this is inane bullshit” to treating it as having complexities that I am not skilled enough to appreciate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always thought that because of the way she talks about her characters she’d be funny and exciting as a private person. But nope; I’ve started reading a book with her letters and it was boring as hell.


    2. Not only are the plots non-existent, there are also 4 or 5 characters that appear from one novel to another with different names but identical personalities. The first novel one reads is great. But by the third one, there’s a sensation of being hit over the head with the same, very primitive idea that the author wants you to understand.


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