Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

            Jane Austen’s novels are set in early 19th century England, and the main characters usually belong to a high rank in the “landed gentry,” such as a Baronet, Knight, Esquire, or simply a Gentleman. A woman in this society, regardless of her wealth or rank, had few rights. Women in England could not own land, so in the absence of a male heir, their father’s estate would pass along to the next closest male relative. So, many of Austen’s female characters rely on a good marriage match to be made for them (i.e. a good financially provident marriage match; love was of secondary importance). Women could, however, inherit someone’s fortune, which then sometimes made them an object of prey for some unrespectable men.

            In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is the second daughter of three belonging to Mr. Elliot, a man as obsessed as he can be with his own good looks and rank in society, in that order (he is a Baronet). Anne’s mother died years ago, and she finds little comfort in her father’s presence and that of her older sister, Elizabeth, who is a carbon copy of Mr. Elliot. Anne’s younger sister, Mary is married to a man name Charles Musgrove. So, Anne is left to be the sensible one of the family, often relying on the advice of her mentor and mother’s dear friend, Lady Russell.

Anne is now twenty-seven, an age at which a woman was already considered an old maid. She once had an offer of marriage (eight years ago) from a man named Frederick Wentworth, but her father and Lady Russell both advised against marrying a man who was nothing more than a member of the Navy. Anne truly loved Wentworth, and she still wishes she would have married him. She has followed his career in the Navy and knows that he has made his fortune while rising to the rank of Captain.

            So, when Sir Elliot’s debts force the Elliot family to rent out Kellynch Hall, their estate, they relocate to Bath (the last place that the simple Anne would like to spend her time). And just who is coming to rent and occupy their home? None other than Captain Wentworth’s sister and husband. Anne is both mortified and elated by this news, wondering but almost afraid to find out whether he still thinks of her as she thinks of him.

            As the story progresses, Anne is thrown into the company of Captain Wentworth, but along with other younger eligible ladies in addition to an attitude of disdain from her former lover. Then, Anne meets a young Mr. Elliot, the man who is to inherit the Elliot estate upon the death of Anne’s father, and he shows great interest in her. If she were to marry this Mr. Elliot, she wouldn’t have to leave her beloved Kellynch Hall. The timing of the plot keeps the reader in suspense until the very last page, wondering which way the powers of persuasion will swing. Jane Austen uses plot twists to persuade the reader to keep reading to see which way the powers of persuasion will swing. I think that this novel gives Pride and Prejudice (my all-time favorite) a run for its money. The characters are just as exciting, real, and sometimes ridiculous. The plot moves a bit faster, and once again, Austen showcases not only the human tendency of trying to manipulate others for one’s own good but also the human tendency to achieve peace in life by being humble, loving, and kind.

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Sierra Leone 2014–Part One

I went on my fifth mission trip this summer. It was my first (and surely not last) trip to Africa. As usual, I fell in love with the people of Sierra Leone (or Salone in Krio), more specifically, the ones in Kathirie village just outside the city of Makeni near the center of the country. I always struggle with putting my experiences on missions trips into words. The vastness of the difference between what I am used to and what I experience on trips like this always renders me inept to describe what I saw. To use an Jr. English vocabulary word, it is an ineffable experience.

I’ll start with the most vivid images I can remember. The humanity that surrounded me each time we visited Kathirie—that I will never forget. Nine children standing around me, each one grasping one of my hands with his or her hand under the hot sun outside the village. Three children sitting on my lap at the Day Camp we facilitated, until only one two year old boy is left, sleeping on my chest. The ornery little boy whose big, bright, clear eyes crinkled with his huge smile, running from group to group of people, making mischief as he went. The 14-year-old girl unable to stay awake during the school lesson, and sighing in boredom as she waits for the teacher to dismiss them all. That is a familiar look I’ve seen, but I’m sure her reasons for being sleepy and “bored” are quite different from any of the freshman girls I teach. Who knows how far she may have walked to get to school this morning. The strident singing of the young women who led the march into church, dressed in their colorful dresses and head wrappings, moving to the rhythm of the song. And the beauty of the young girls at the school dedication, with their hair freshly coiffed, their deep brown complexions glowing atop the new white shirt of their school dress uniform.
These are just a few images that I will treasure forever.

When asked what we did on our trip, the best word that I can come up with is “represent.” Our church raised enough money during our Christmas offering in 2012 to build a church and a school for the village. Our team’s main purpose in going on this second of three trips was to celebrate with the village and represent our church at both dedications, which was a great honor to be a part of. I am so thankful for the many people from my church who sacrificially and lovingly gave money for the good of this village. I hope that I did a good job representing Grace Point’s love toward  the people of Kathirie village. The villagers had been working hard, in conjunction with the contractors, to finish the school and church before we arrived, and we could see how proud they were to show the buildings to us.

One morning, carrying through on our plan to continue our support of Kathirie, we sat around a table with the Village Development Committee and a representative of World Hope International as the VDC came up with a list of needs they have. Our team represented our Church’s commitment to this village.

And now that I am back, I ask myself, what did I really DO for those people? I mean, I saw the great structures that my money helped pay for. I hugged kids and prayed with people and listened to their needs and handed out some medicine. But did I make any difference in going? Why go on trips like this? It comes back to that word—represent. I now represent Kathirie village in Sierra Leone and the people who work in Sierra Leone for World Hope International. I can share my experiences with other people and let others know about this organization who is doing great work in a country that is trying to climb out of a deep poverty-ridden, post-Civil War hole. I represent the people of Sierra Leone. I represent the work of World Hope International. I’d like to write a few more posts about what they need and how you could help.

To start, check out World Hope International. I’ve sponsored a child in Nepal for years, and I’ve always wondered what else I could help with. Now that I have seen WHI in action, I’m amazed at the work this organization is doing! Maybe you can find a place to share your wealth with others!

 

Jane Austen and Me

Even though I was an English major as an undergrad, I didn’t read one Jane Austen novel until after I received my degree! I have a picture from my senior year Literary London class trip of myself in front of Austen’s house in England, smiling like I knew what I was standing in front of. Ha. I remember fellow classmates at college talking about her books (and movies), and I knew I was missing out on something. Truly, I almost felt like I had committed an English major sin of omission . . . wait . . . nope, that was when I didn’t finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . . . which would be a sin of commission. Anyway, I felt a tinge of English major guilt because of my lack of expertise on Austen novels; yet, I assert that I haven’t always been as strong a reader as I am now. Yes, truly, I struggle (at times) through each of Austen’s books. I’m not afraid to admit that. If I can’t understand how to struggle with reading, how will I be able to help my struggling readers in class?

Anyway, my first Austen reading experience was during my second year as a teacher when I checked out the old blue dusty hardback from our high school’s library. I was determined to comprehend it without resorting to watching the famous “faithful” 1995 film adaptation I’d heard so much about. I had seen portions of director Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice in college, so that was an aid to understanding, but soon it didn’t really matter because Austen carried me away with the suspense of when Elizabeth would see Darcy again and what she would say to him. It became my favorite book, even if I didn’t understand it completely. I loved the caricature of Mrs. Bennet, the sense of Elizabeth, and the mystery of Mr. Darcy. I loved the exquisite English grammar. I loved the opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Oh, the irony! After reading this novel, I decided I would eventually read all of Austen’s novels.

Not too much later, I became an “expert” on Pride and Prejudice. I read The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (the novel on the left page, footnotes on the right page!) for my 19th Century British Women’s Lit. and Film and Lit. classes, and now I have taught the book three times so far. Austen’s wit is the best part of her literature, but to understand some of her best jabs at the English gentry, you almost have to have annotations telling you facts like this: blue was the fashionable color of mens’ coats in 1813. Or this: a ragout (pronounced ragu, like the spaghetti sauce) would have been out of fashion to have for the evening meal among high society. Studying the book more deeply helped me appreciate it even more, and each Austen novel has been easier for me to enjoy because of my knowledge about England in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

This January, I made a New Year’s resolution to read the rest of Austen by the end of the year. I finished (finally; it took me a few restarts) Sense and Sensibility while in Sierra Leone (which was quite a stark contrast), and I’m happy to report that I didn’t have any assistance in understanding the story. My copy of Emma Thompson’s film adaptation stayed in its plastic wrap until I was finished with the novel!

I just finished Persuasion this past week, and I have a lot to say about it. I bought it at a bookstore in 2009 but didn’t read it until this summer, which happens to be the very best time in my life for me to read that book. Don’t you love it when that happens? Look for a book review soon!

So, here’s my progress:

Pride and Prejudice (Fall 2007)

Emma (Spring 2008)

Sense and Sensibility (June 2014)

Persuasion (June 2014)

Mansfield Park (next!)

Northanger Abbey (need to purchase)

Sandition (need to purchase)

To finish my musings on Austen and Me, I want to encourage those of you who haven’t read an Austen novel to give it a shot, especially if you have seen any of the film adaptations. You will find that the characters in these novels are the characters in your very own lives, male or female, rich or poor, old or young. Austen’s insight into human nature and the way society works (fairly or unfairly) is applicable to today’s world, no matter how different it may seem.