I believe it is customary at the beginning of any discussion of Austen's work to line up her books and discuss which ones are the favorites, the most mature, the most critically acclaimed. Such as: Pride and Prejudice
is clearly her most liked, but the heroine of Emma
really is a better model of someone being confronted by their limitations and learning from them again and again. Fanny Price is the most morally assured, the elder Miss Dashwood the most practical, the best this, the most that, et&c. It's weird. Why we do this? Is it because Austen is a girl, writing about girl-things? Because there are only six books?
Anyway, here goes mine: Persuasion
is my favorite Austen novel. I'm not exactly sure why. Of course, I, like everyone, loves me my Lizzie Bennet. But I've never been quite easy with her epiphany at Darcy's estate. Why there, surrounded by her spurned lover's pile of furnishings and stuff, did she understand that she never knew herself? The answers bother me. It's too, I dunno, bourgeois or something. (I know, I know, it really doesn't do to bring up this sort of language when talking about Austen, but there it is.)
I like the difference between Anne and the narrator. The narrator says terrible things, is prickly and funny, and does all the social mockery that Austen is best at. Her conjuring and dismissal of Dick Musgrove is truly brutal, and hysterical in its brutality. Anne is nothing of this. She is docile, domestic, competent and extremely forgiving. You'd probably want to punch her in the face. But the narrator doesn't lionize her, doesn't set her up as “perfection itself” (as Wentworth says, in the end). Indeed, Anne isn't even mentioned until several pages into the book, but she slowly appears, like someone being unwrapped. A corpse, or a lover. Both at once.
I like Anne and her regret. I like the silences she shares with Captain Wentworth. Reading this time, I noticed how little was actually said by our protagonists, how their silent misunderstanding tips slowly into silent understanding. Even Wentworth's declaration, the mending of the breach, is done in a letter, not with a voice, a rush of declarations. Those silent, speaking words themselves are penned while Wentworth eavesdrops, listening to Anne's quiet demurrings about her gender's capacity for pain and loss. Ah. And again, ah.