I want to share a conversation I had with a family member recently. The wonderful thing about having written a modernization of Persuasion is that so many people I know are picking up the original book to understand the source material before they read my book. While I, in no way, think I accomplished with Austen did, I very much hope that I captured something close to the emotional landscape that makes Persuasion my favorite.
At a recent family… well, a family funeral (it was a sad event, but one where we all got to see each other) a cousin told me about how he had finally finished reading Persuasion. He wondered why Anne was so stupid. I didn’t have to wonder what he meant, but I had to be more specific. It’s not that she’s stupid, it’s that she’s emotionally repressed. Constance Grady wrote about Anne’s emotional repression in her article on Valentine’a Day. The emotional climax of the novel is when Anne allows herself to feel the emotions she has repressed for years.
Here is the thing, I don’t think Anne would be all that different in this day and age. Anne is a stoic. She suffers alone and in silence. We still value that emotionally. Rationality is good and emotions are bad. Even Star Wars tells us that!
The book really ends with that emotional climax. Anne can’t escape Wentworth. He is all consuming for her. Grady writes about Anne’s overwhelmed emotions driving her to be unable to focus and process anything. I know not everyone loves the 2005 movie adaptation, but it beautifully captures that moment with Anne running back and forth on the streets of Bath looking for Wentworth. No, it didn’t happen in the novel, but it never fails to bring me to that emotional climax. The entire emotional moment is summed up perfectly by Wentworth: “I am half agony, half hope!” The investment of feeling such conflicting emotions is exhausting.
They are idiots; both of them. You want to yell at both of them. You want to slam the book down. You sigh in relief when they FINALLY get back together. It doesn’t even matter if they live happily ever after at the point. I mean, I assume they do because they are so well matched, but really I don’t care. All I care is that they finally broke through their emotional barriers.
Frankly, I am even exhausted writing this. This feeling is why I love Austen- specifically Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice. I never got it from any other of her novels. Maybe Emma, but not in the same way. We will discuss Emma another time. Catherine Morland is too caught up in her fantasy. Elinor and Maryanne Dashwood are too emotionally polarizing for me. We will not discuss Fanny… at all. Anne and Elizabeth are idiot in love who realize they are idiots in love before they can reconcile the emotion with the man causing it.
When I look at the love stories I write, very often they come back to Anne and Frederick’s story: correcting a mistake and getting a second chance. Not only that, be someone who represses emotions recognizing how important emotions are in their lives. The best love stories, for me, are those where the characters start in a place of emotional dishonesty and repression. It probably speaks more about me than anything else. Still, what would the story be if it was easy for our characters? Who wants to read a love story where everyone is emotionally healthy and just living a happy life with the people they love?
Yes, we want that in life, but not from novels. We want our heroes to struggle and then have that epiphany. It is the way readers learn how others struggle with life and still manage to pull through to something better. Reading fiction teaches us empathy for those who aren’t us, but it also helps us process our own lives as we compare it to others. That so many women long for a Captain Wentworth or a Mr. Darcy says something about these characters and women of the world… but that’s a conversation for another day.
For now, thank you all for reading along with me.
What is going to happen next. Actually, I already know! I am going to continue with the Austen read-a-longs, but waiting until Fall. I already have an idea for my November NaNoWriMo novel and it’s a modernization of Emma (no, not Clueless). I went to get a copy of Emma to re-read in prep and it’s massive! It’s one of the longest Austen novels. So, in September and October, there will be a two month Emma read-a-long. We are going to have some fun with it too. I may let people make decisions about my characters as we learn about Austen’s characters. In August, I will give you more of a set up for it.
Next year, 2018, may even kick off with a Pride and Prejudice read-a-long. It depends on when novel #2 gets published. After that, well, then I may have you all pick the book we read together! Until then, share your thoughts in the comments!