“Yes, here I am . . . quite ready to make a foolish match. Anybody between fifteen and thirty may have me for asking. A little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy, and I am a lost man. Should not this be enough for a sailor, who has had no society among women to make him nice?” — Captain Wentworth, Persuasion
In celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the novel served as the theme at the Tenth Annual Jane Austen Festival. The festival, July 13-15, was presented by the Greater Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America. The setting was Louisville’s Locust Grove, the lovely historic home of William and Lucy Clark Croghan and, in later life, George Rogers Clark, Lucy’s brother.
Published in the year following the author’s death, the festival’s theme, Persuasion, is a novel of second chances that explores the renewed acquaintance of Anne Elliot and naval Captain Frederick Wentworth. Years after a broken engagement and war separated them, they encounter one another again, much to their mutual discomfort. Though less well known than Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion shows the mature Austen at work. Consider a hero who writes in a letter to his love “you pierce my soul”; if that doesn’t melt you, have somebody check to make sure you have a pulse!
Among the festival’s speakers was Jeremy Strong, Professor of Literature and Film at the University of West London, who presented “Austen Meets O’Brian: Persuasion and the Aubrey/Maturin Novels.” The late Patrick O’Brian, author of Aubrey/Maturin Novels, admitted he was an Austen fan, and if reading his works alongside Austen’s novels, especially Persuasion, it is easy to see the influence. Those who like action and adventure will not be disappointed in O’Brian’s series, beginning with Master and Commander. The twenty completed books of the series follow the fortunes of British naval officer Jack Aubrey and his friend physician and naturalist Stephen Maturin, over high seas and lands across the globe throughout the Napoleonic Wars. Think Regency with grit and humor and plenty of action.
Other two hundred year anniversaries in literature this year include Austen’s hilarious send-up of the Gothic novels popular in her time, Northanger Abbey. While our heroine is busily imagining the kinds of horrors found in her reading, the real horrors are readily to be found in the social situations around her: a repulsive but persistent suitor, fortune hunters (male and female), a rude host, and a debauched army officer. To all these charms, add the delightful hero Henry Tilney. Can you resist a hero who has several dogs, is a good judge of dress materials, and is a famous partisan of novels?
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” — Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey
To fully appreciate the kind of novel Austen poked fun at, be sure to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, also published in 1818, which the author started when she was only eighteen.
To find out what goes on behind the scenes of a major Jane Austen event, in this case the Jane Austen Summer Program at the University of North Carolina, check out Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan by Ted Scheinman.
And if you have not yet read all of Austen’s novels, as Captain Jack Aubrey would say, “There’s not a moment to lose!”
— Cheryl Turner enjoys a wide variety of books, especially those by nineteenth century English women novelists. She is a Public Service Associate at the Walton Branch where she has worked for 18 years.