Reading this classic novel raises the question of the extent to which any reader can appreciate a book of little relevance to our times.
Jane Austen’s world is the one of the genteel aristocracy – privileged, snobbish, devoid of work – where ambition is social and gossip peddled.
It is difficult for the modern reader to understand those values of 200 years ago.
The critic, academic or Jane Austen fan will counter this by arguing that she writes with such effortless elegance and perception that being out of date is irrelevant.
Whilst I see the argument I am not persuaded by it – certainly not in Persuasion.
The story is not complex.
Anne Elliot – the heroine – is the middle daughter of impoverished Sir Walter Elliot.
Earlier in her life she had fallen in love with Captain Wentworth, a naval officer, but they never married.
She is now 27.
Sir Walter is obliged to rent out his ancestral home Kellynch Hall to Admiral Croft, whose wife is the sister of Captain Wentworth, so despite the Elliot family moving to Bath he reappears in Anne’s life.
The most interesting aspect of Jane Austen is Jane Austen herself.
The daughter of a clergyman from Hampshire she only appeared to have had one relationship and certainly one proposal of marriage, which she turned down.
Her closest soulmate was her sister Cassandra but the letters to her were destroyed.
So how could she write so well about passion?
Unless – and this is most unlikely in those times – there is a darker Austen, with numerous dalliances and hot passions, she cannot be writing of and about her own experiences.
Her brothers were in the Navy – one was at the Battle of Trafalgar.
So she can and does write knowledgeably on naval officers.
My other difficulty was keeping track of all the characters.
I could not recall who Mrs Harvill and Mrs Smith actually were.
There is a Charles Musgrove and a Charles Hayter. There must be 40 characters in all.
I spoke to a colleague on the Rust who never got beyond the third chapter. We agreed the best way to appreciate Jane Austen is on film.