“That of loving longest”: Love in Persuasion

Anne Elliot in Persuasion

Anne Elliot in Persuasion

All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.

–Persuasion

Oh, Anne Elliot. How I feel for you.

Persuasion is the last of Jane’s novels, published posthumously, and written in 1816. At the time, Jane was living with her mother and Cassandra at Chawton Cottage, and she would die precisely a year after finishing it. There are some questions as to whether she was done revising Persuasion at the time of her death–there is the case of the famous alternate ending. It is, certainly, a very different beast than her previous novels. Anne Elliot is the oldest of her heroines, and the tone is decidedly more mature than in some of her other novels.

Anne’s story is a bit of a Cinderella story. She isn’t important to her own family, really. Her father and sisters don’t see her worth as much more than a nursemaid or a second-rate companion. Anne’s closest friend, Lady Russell, convinced her to toss away her best chance at happiness because the man was beneath her socially. But as the novel opens, the Elliots have fallen on hard time and are no longer above many people, socially. And Anne has matured, and regrets the loss of Captain Wentworth, who wanted to marry her.

Today’s Dominicana essay, “Heaven’s Last Best Gift”, studies marriage in Persuasion and the “reward” of marriage in all Austen’s novels:

Here, I would like to offer quite a different allegorical interpretation of the marriage plot as used by Austen. It is easy to consider the marriages simply as the reward for the virtuous efforts of her heroines, especially considering that each one is brought about through a Deus ex machina. They all have struggled through the challenges of life and have come out on the other side as women possessing and growing in virtue. From this perspective, then, marriage is the end towards which the virtuous lives of her heroines are directed. Turning Henry Crawford’s allusion to Milton on its head, for Austen’s heroines, marriage is heaven’s last best gift.

It is true that a love match is “heaven’s last best gift” for her heroines; I shudder to think that Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins is considered a “gift”. 🙂 But I think the Esteemed Brother has done dear Anne Elliot a good turn in his essay. I, certainly, enjoy Persuasion very much, and the quote I started this piece with is one of my favorites in literature. If you haven’t seen the films, I highly recommend them, especially the most recent BBC production, which has Anne Elliot playing my favorite piano piece, Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, in the presence of Frederick.

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