Sunday

Persuasion and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - Book Review

As part of the Masterpiece Theatre “Sundays With Jane” program, I have been exploring the entire Austen canon. As I’m reading the novels in the order of their television appearance, my first read was Persuasion, my second, Northanger Abbey. I’d read excerpts of Persuasion during various Lit. Courses but had not read nor viewed this title in its entirety. I’d read Northanger Abbey in my twenties and now realize that I’d not appreciated it to its fullest measure.

Persuasion was Austen’s last novel, completed at 40 years of age. She was ill for a good deal of its construction and died before titling it. Her earlier themes of fidelity, sensibility, and fortitude are present. Her protagonist the strong, quiet type once again. Her witty, masterfully subtle sarcasm continues, as does an effortless awareness that she is writing on topics she might have herself lived. There are a couple of new themes incorporated: that of an older heroine and of being self-made rather than born-into wealth. The wording seems longer and less plot driven (not to say this was ever her case) than her other works. Perhaps she would have edited more tightly if feeling healthier or given additional time …..

After five Austen novels, I cannot declare Persuasion a favorite (the ending was too easily resolved). However, the Masterpiece Theatre rendition gave it added depth. When reading Austen, it is laborious for a modern speaking gal to fully envision the flawlessly executed banter of which Austen holds sway. If I were studying her writings for class, and thus reading at a slower and more critical pace, I might better visualize the scenes. At any rate, the show was exceptionally presented. I grew to love Anne. Her actress, Sally Hawkins, executed the role superbly.

My second reading, Northanger Abbey, was Austen’s first novel. It was written when she was 23, but not published until after her death. Once again, this story seems to incorporate Jane’s own life. Since so little is fact and speculations abound as to Austen’s own romance, it’s easy to imagine a young Jane hurt and wounded because money was against her love. Perhaps Austen’s use of sarcasm is best considered in not only the period’s context, but also in inventing her a broken heart. Austen’s witty meditation on Gothic novels, especially steamy romance, is easily achieved. Another recurring device is the use of miscommunication. The miscommunications create tension and a ‘how will it resolve’ plot advancement. The fact that the protagonist is missing information causes further miscommunication (also on the reader’s part). It’s easy to see J K Rowling’s being an Austen aficionado and emulator. Though this novel is uneven, with the Northanger Abbey section taking on a more direct Gothic feel, I liked it for its brevity. The writing was exact and effortlessly imagined.

Masterpiece Theatre gave a second rousing performance with Northanger Abbey, though I feel Persuasion was the better of the two. Now I really wish I’d spent more time in Bath!

Buy Persuasion HERE
Buy Northanger Abbey HERE
Buy Masterpiece Theatre: Northanger Abbey HERE
Buy Masterpiece Theatre: Persuasion HERE

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