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Persuasion: Perfecting the Jane Austen Template

There is currently rumored to be in the works a new film version of the classic Jane Austen story, “Persuasion.” The one version that was made in 1995,starring Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth, was excellent. However, the film’s sound recording has always been rather poor, and the latest viewing was the best for me, as I used Closed Captioning to hear all the missed bits of dialogue that had previously been overlooked.

The Jane Austen Model

This story is one that seems to embody most of the elements of an Austen classic without some of her early and more shallow and lighter headed heroines. The mainstay of all Austen universes is one where the Elizabeth Bennett/Pride & Prejudice model is preserved. The heroine is a wiser and more stable character from all those who live in a world of frivolous cares or empty-headed chatter.

This pervasive baseline for all previous models is one that is still found in “Persuasion.” The heroine, Anne Elliot, is definitely, to borrow from Professor Harold Hill, “The sadder but wiser girl.” She has loved and lost and feels that life has now passed her by.

And so, determined to be useful but also quite adept and capable, Anne, along with her trusted neighbor, advises her family to leave their larger estate and move to Bath. Her suggestion is extremely fortuitous for those in her family who find themselves in the situation of having to ‘retrench’ in the vernacular of the day. This would seem to be a euphemism for ‘Down-sizing’ which in the case of the Elliot Family, is due to economic woes.

The Jane Austen Targets

The story is one that centers around the town of Bath. And as in her last unfinished story, “Sanditon”, Austen seems to have focused on this place as a goldmine for the type of character she was able to psychoanalyze and dissect the best.   Jane Austen has been famous for centuries in her ability to spoof and to mock those with pretensions and false notions of vanity. The pseudo-intellectual and faux-elite who preen and fawn and pretend and have no real purpose in life other than to gossip and to primp are her prime targets.

Anne is the one balanced and probably the most level-headed and sensible of all the characters Austen created. She is one who listens and doesn’t interject, she is not too talkative nor is she critical. She is long-suffering and is also hiding a deep and abiding loss of her true love.

The Jane Austen Touchstones

The persuasion theme, from the title of the book, comes from a family friend who advised her-who persuaded her-to reject the offer of marriage from an eligible sea Captain. Captain Wentworth then went on to make something of himself. And so he returns, wealthy and an eligible match for all to see and to wrangle for his affections.

The story is more complex in some respects than many of Austen’s earlier work. But it manages to land on all of the usual suspects we know to be Jane Austen touchstones.  It begins with the role that women must play in society, which subjugates them to a subservient position, no matter how capable and earnest or hard-working they may be. And the role that the laws of entitlement held, and why it created a point of no return for some to become idle or lazy and even vicious and filled with malice and envy.

A Magical & Inviting World

This magical and inviting world of Austen finds all of the creatures that we know in the small corner of Bath, which is the bubble for this tale. And there is no mystery in the end, when we know that Ms. Austen was like Shakespeare in that the only good ending was one where the ends of the story tie neatly with a bow that is found in matrimonial bliss.

Because of the many multi-faceted characters that Jane Austen has created, the re-telling of her stories is always a long-awaited delight for all of us who claim the title of “Jane-ites.” And the new version of “Persuasion’ promises to be a much-anticipated treat.

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