Rereadings: Persuasion

March 19, 2010 at 12:00 am 6 comments

Last week KT led a great Classics Challenge discussion involving Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion. As it so happens, I was also rereading that novel at the same time for the first time in five years. But since we’ve already discussed Persuasion (and I think I’ve been enthusiastically in favor of it enough on this blog), I’d like to broaden this Rereadings post and ask you about your rereadings of all Austen’s books.

One of the essays in Anne Fadiman’s Rereadings is called “Pemberley Revisted,” in which author Alllegra Goodman discusses her rereadings of Pride and Prejudice. She walks us through her rereadings as a teenager, as a know-it-all undergraduate, and as a twenty-nine-year-old who just lost her mother. Among many interesting questions in her essay, Goodman concludes,

“Is it possible that if you read Pride and Prejudice too young, the book is ruined for you? At what age should you read Jane Austen? At fifteen? Or twenty-nine? At thirty-six? … I reread the novel because I read it at nine. I return to it not because it is the best novel I have read, or the most important, but because of the memories and wishes I’ve folded in its pages–because on every reading I see old things in it.”

Assuming you do, I now ask: why do you reread Jane Austen? Is it for nostalgic, critical, or recreational reasons? And which do you reread when you do? Austen has a limited canon, which can be good and bad in terms of rereadings.

My own reasons are some mix of Goodman’s nostalgia, my own affection for the books, and a growing appreciation for the scholarship of Austen. Like Goodman, I’ve gone through cycles of experiencing and appreciating Austen, the most recent of which is a new-found appreciation for literary scholarship about Austen (for this change of heart, I firmly credit my co-blogger). As I’ve suggested throughout this series, each rereading of a book is often more about who you are when you reread the book than the book itself. Pride and Prejudice doesn’t change; the reader does, and I think it is that personal change that makes each rereading so interesting. I’d love to hear about yours, so sound off below.

–Corey

Image courtesy of the Toll House Bookshop.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  March 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    I mostly reread Jane Austen for recreational reasons. So far, I haven’t had to extensively study Ms. Austen, so my enjoyment of her hasn’t been tainted by literary criticism as of yet :)

    My favorite Austen was always Sense and Sensibility, and it’s the one I most often turn to when I need an Austen fix. That said, I’ll also flip through Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, or Northanger Abbey as the mood strikes me.

    Reading Persuasion, though, was a very different experience for me each time. The first time I read it, I was not in the right mental space and didn’t really appreciate it. The second time, I was a little older, a little wiser, and a little disappointed in how my life (if not my love life) is going, as I think Anne Elliot is at the beginning of the novel. Both Anne Elliot and I spend a lot of time thinking about what could have been done differently, and I definitely identified more with her character.

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  March 21, 2010 at 7:13 am

      Indeed, I think most Austen rereading is recreational; she’s such a beloved author but mostly on a personal level. I’ve never been in a class that had any assigned Austen reading (weirdly), so it appears that the individual is responsible for reading her to begin with or for rereading her.

      I wondered which was your favorite! Sense and Sensibility makes a good deal of sense for you for some reason. :) And while I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with life-disappointment, I’m glad Austen could be there for you and that you could like Persuasion more as a result. Its message of “it’s never too late for everything to work out!!” has been extremely comforting and hopeful to me on numerous occasions.

      Reply
  • 3. Natalie  |  March 25, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I read Pride and Prejudice in middle school and was immediately a devoted Austen fan. I’m not sure it’s possible to read Austen too young (although a basic understanding of what’s going on is necessary, of course), but I do think that Austen’s works are appreciated differently by various age groups. I have certainly come to appreciate her wit and humor more as I’ve gotten older and [hopefully] wiser.

    There is also a comfort factor, as Corey and KT both mentioned. It’s the same sort of comfort I get out of watching “Under the Tuscan Sun”: when things in my life are not going well, I know that Frances will find her ladybugs and that Elizabeth and Darcy will live happily ever after.

    Reply
    • 4. Corey  |  March 30, 2010 at 9:48 am

      Absolutely! I often read Little Women for the comfort factor. If they can persevere the face of a war, poverty, and general hardship, surely I can get over whatever little thing I’m having trouble with!

      Reply
      • 5. KT  |  March 30, 2010 at 8:31 pm

        I love the part about Amy and the limes, and Jo and Laurie dancing in the study at the ball so no one can see the back of her dress. Awww. :D

        Reply
      • 6. Corey  |  March 31, 2010 at 5:15 am

        The dancing in the study is such a great part! The whole “Jo moving to New York and making it in the big city” part was also super-comforting when I moved here.

        Reply

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