When I was seventeen, my parents gave me a set of four Jane Austen paperbacks in a little slipcover case for my birthday or Christmas, I forget which. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion. I’d seen movie versions of the first three by then, but not of Persuasion. I read the other three first I think—it’s a hard to remember, twenty years later. Persuasion was the only one of Austen’s books my mom hadn’t read before, so she couldn’t tell me much about it either. I had to go into it not knowing anything but the blurb on the back cover.
That first time, I liked Persuasion because things happened fast in it. And big things happened—people got severely injured, even, they didn’t simply take ill for a while. Also, I’ve long loved stories about sailors and tall ships, and this book had lots of both. So I liked it for a variety of reasons. But I told people it was my favorite Jane Austen book partly because none of my friends had read it. My mom hadn’t even read it. When I got to college, my new friends weren’t familiar with it either. Saying it was my favorite made me different, and I liked that. So I kept saying it, even as my memory of the story faded.
I didn’t read Persuasion again until over ten years later. In my early thirties, I found a boxed set of all six of Austen’s completed novels in the clearance section of a bookstore. I bought them mostly because I tired of the set I’d gotten for my birthday so many years earlier—I’d loaned them to someone who destroyed all their spines while reading them. Those broken spines just bugged me, and I couldn’t make myself want to reread the books because of that. Petty and weird? Probably. True? Totally.
Anyway, now that I had fresh, unspoiled copies of Jane Austen’s books, all six instead of just four, I decided to re-read them. All in one year. Because I could.
I wondered, as I embarked on that reading journey, what I’d think about Persuasion compared to the other books. Would I still like it best? I’d never read Northanger Abbey, and I’d forgotten Mansfield Park after reading it in my twenties. Maybe I’d end up changing my mind about my favorite Jane Austen book.
Nope. I still liked Persuasion best. In particular, I love the characters. Anne Elliot, Captain Wentworth, and Admiral and Mrs. Croft are all people I’d love to be friends with. Hang out with. Attend a dinner party with. Go to a concert with. Spend a quiet evening by the fire with. Walk by the seashore with. They’re such dear fictional friends of mine, since I’ve read this book five or six times now. I look forward to continuing our imaginary acquaintance for the rest of my life.
Besides its characters, I love this book for its themes of second chances, of persistence and patience rewarded. It spoke to me even more in my thirties than it had in my teens. I’d lived enough life to value those themes. And I felt I could fully understand the heroine, Anne Elliot, as she struggled to deal with her family, sifted advice from friends, and learned to value her own wisdom and judgement aright.
The more I learn about Jane Austen, the more this book reminds me of her, too. Patience and persistence were things she knew so much about. She tried repeatedly to have her books published before a publisher finally accepted Northanger Abbey… then the publisher never published it, so she later bought it back. Both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey went unprinted until after her death, and Persuasion is her last completed book. She had to give herself and her own books many chances and be patient while she honed her craft and sought an audience who would value her books. Just like in Persuasion, her persistence and patience were rewarded… eventually.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Kovaciny’s western fairy tale retelling novels “Cloaked” and “Dancing & Doughnuts” are now available in paperback and Kindle editions. Learn more about her at her author website, rachelkovaciny.com