I first entered the world of Jane Austen by studying her last novel Persuasion, for my O Level Literature examinations as a teenager.
Anne Elliot was persuaded to break off her engagement with Frederick Wentworth, a man she loved with all her heart, because he lacked social rank and connections. This rendered him an unsuitable choice in everyone’s else mind except Ann. She regretted the decision. When he came back into her life, several years later, the scene was set.
Our teacher Mrs Hogan, was passionate about Literature and a Jane Austen fanatic! Our interest grew as she compared Persuasion with the other Jane Austen Novels sparking our interest with this “old fashioned classic author” as we initially deemed her.
The language seemed impenetrable, but once we studied it, we realised it was just more formal than we were used to. Class discussions bought forth our criticism of Anne’s lack of backbone in standing up to her family. But as we delved deeper into the novel we understood the class social structure of that time and how important it was to “keep up appearances.”
Quotations gave us extra marks so we learnt several off by heart:
“One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering.”
“If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk.”
“A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman! He ought not; he does not.”
There was no study books, Google, nor online book discussions available to assist us with our studies in Rhodesia where I lived. Just a devoted teacher, an English family background and in-depth, paragraph by paragraph studying of this marvellous novel.
I read Pride and Prejudice next, for my own pleasure, and became an ardent Jane Austen fan forever more!