Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion by Regina Jeffers

In the dramatic opening chapters of this sequel/prequel/retelling of Persuasion from Frederick’s point of view, he gets shot by an American assisting the French—just as he finally has enough money to purchase an estate for himself and Anne.  They are in love as ever.  Then we leave “future” Anne and Frederick and travel back in time to when they first met. This version of the lives of our Persuasion characters cuts in and out of various periods of their lives, making connections between what is happening now and what in the past inspired it. Anne’s rejection, for instance, spurred Frederick’s determination to advance, and that advancement enables the rest of the story to occur as it does.

Though Jeffers sometimes ruins moments with jarringly modern, or at least seemingly modern, turns of expression (“up close and personal,” 52, “a real trooper,” 220, “hook me up,” 175, “hands on types,” 362), for the most part, this was a compelling read, offering new details both about the past to which Austen alludes, and about the future, which she leaves largely unchartered. Most readers of Persuasion will, I think, enjoy learning what Frederick is thinking when our favorite scenes (such as when Frederick insists Anne ride home with Admiral and Mrs. Croft) are happening, and certainly they will love watching his clever sister, Sophie, figure out where his interests lie much earlier than we know she does for sure in the original. Jeffers successfully develops the relationship between Frederick and his brother, Edward, the only person who really knows what happened with Anne and its long-term effects on Frederick. It becomes a relief to the reader to have Frederick finally have someone to whom to talk openly, almost as much as it is for Frederick to unburden himself.

When, finally, Anne and Frederick reconnect, Jeffers suggests that, in this reunion, they are “more exquisitely happy” than they would have been had things worked out when Anne was 19; is that why the resolution of Persuasion strikes such a deep chord with readers? All Austen’s novels provide delayed gratification, but a much more delayed one exists in this novel than in any of the other five. The delay after the wedding is, no doubt, not Jeffers’ fault but almost absurd: the couple has been waiting a long time to be alone legitimately, but after the morning ceremony, they have to spend all day traveling, eating, and shopping—and then he is bound to take drinks with the men while she nervously bathes. Odd, odd tradition. In this version, at least, we really get to see what happens to them next (after that first night), and Jeffers is clearly having fun with this, often at Sir Walter’s expense. Though Lady Russell reveals that Sir Walter and Anne’s mother, Elizabeth, married for love, he is not redeemed enough in our eyes that we feel at all sorry for him with the twist that will really bunch up Mary Musgrove’s knickers as well.

That twist sufficiently compensates for some awkward language (the pre-consummation of the union dialogue included) and situations (Jane Austen is Anne’s favorite writer, but she claims that Austen’s books argue that the “economic structure . . . paralyzed [their] efforts for independent thinking,” which doesn’t seem to me to be Austen’s argument). A jarring grammatical error also bothered me: Frederick asks Anne to “come lay next” to him, and she responds that she “will lay” with him. (I just taught my freshmen the difference between “lie” and “lay,” so presumably Frederick and Anne should have learned it by now.) To her credit, Jeffers has selected an excerpt from various poems that compose our literary canon with which to begin each chapter (I didn’t actually even attempt to connect each snippet to the events of the chapter, but I liked rereading some of my favorite snippets).

Finally, Sophie Croft is 35?! I always imagined her as a much older woman. I don’t know if I should feel inspired, surprised, or just depressed J.

Published in: on December 29, 2009 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  

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