Everybody knows Jane Austen. She was writing within a tradition already choked with the weeds of epistolary novels, historical novels with exposition galore, and the gothic tales of suspense and horror. Read in this context, Jane Austen can be seen as something of a pioneer.
Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall is the main female character in this novel. She is 27 years old, unmarried and unloved by her widowed father or either of her ridiculous sisters. She has but one friend, a Lady Russell who was friends with Anne’s deceased mother. Although Lady Russell might mean well, she had previously persuaded a 19-year old Anne to break off an engagement with the man she loved, Frederick Wentworth. At the time, Wentworth had no name and no connections. Lady Russell did not think him a suitable match. In his distress over the broken relationship and his determination to prove Lady Russell wrong, he went out into the world to seek his fortune and found it. Now these many years have passed and circumstances bring Anne and Frederick into the same society again and there is great tension over whether or not they will end up together again. This is Austen though which makes it entirely predictable. The joy is in Austen’s ability to turn a phrase and fill her stories with deep emotion and great hilarity. She is altogether charming and reading her books are such a pleasure.
Criticism that Jane Austen’s neat endings (including this one) are artificially achieved, with too much exposition in the wrapping up, is fair if one judges her by today’s standards.
Readers of Persuasion will discover that neither her skill for delicate, ironic observations on social custom, love, and marriage nor her ability to apply a sharp focus lens to English manners and morals has deserted her in her final finished work.