Love in the Napoleonic Era

Persuasion - Jane Austen

I have attempted to read this book twice and for some reason I simply get lost halfway through, and while I do read it to the end, there is something about this writing that simply does not appeal to me. Okay, I must admit that this book at least holds me for the first part, where as some books simply lose me after the second or third chapter, but seriously, if I am to like a book I really need to be held right until the end. Personally, I really don't know what it is about some books, and even then there are some books are hard to follow that I still manage to enjoy. I guess it has more to do with them being a very difficult read (such as Chaucer). As for this book, I simply don't think that that is the case.



I suspect that this is typical of 19th century English Romance, though I would hardly call it romance in how I understand romantic genre. Seriously, the entire attraction is based upon money. The protagonist, Frederick Wentworth, at the beginning of the novel is a poor military man, and Anne Elliot is persuaded, by her father, not to marry him simply because she can do much better. As it turns out, she can't, because when he returns from the Napoleonic Wars, wealthy and prestigious, he decides to reject her simply because she rejected him. Okay, maybe she didn't reject him, but it is like when your boss makes a decision and then expects you to pass it on so that you take all of the flack. Then again, I guess that is what the corporatist model is all about: forcing underlings to do your dirty work.



Maybe there was romance, and maybe Anne did like him, but then again we are talking about 19th Century England here where the woman, especially in the aristocratic classes, really didn't have a say in anything - they simply did what they were told. Sometimes the novels do give us a hint of choice, and no doubt Austin was a member of that class (simply because she not only could write, but the audience tended to be those who could read, and literacy among the lower classes was not really all that high).


Things have obviously changed a lot since then because choice in whom we make our life partner has changed a lot. While it is not clear how things worked out among the lower classes, it is clear that when one was in the upper classes the choices were made for you. Mind you, it appears that men could pick and choose who they could marry, however women generally didn't have much of a choice even if there was an illusion of choice. Sometimes I wonder if Austin, and the other 19th century Romance writers, are painting a picture of an idealised world, though we can be sure that by the end of the 19th century things had changed. I say that because we have Bernard Shaw writing about how the woman has the power to say no, but we see in this text that it is not so much Anne saying no, but her father making the decision for her.


Obviously, when Wentworth does return from the wars it appears that things had changed a lot. He was poor but now he is not, and she was wealthy but now she is not. The family home has been rented out another family, and poor Anne is looking for somebody to lift her out of the mess that has befallen her family. However, remember that at this time there was no social security, so a fall from grace could bring a pretty hard landing. Mind you, a fall from grace in our world can destroy somebody as well, despite the soft landing that welfare provides.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/437953932