Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I started reading this novel years ago, when I was reading all of Jane Austen, and I didn't finish it. It was too tense and agonizing. The suspense was almost painful: here is this young woman in her late twenties, still in love with a man she rejected because of family pressure eight years ago, and he comes back into her life. At first he seems cold and distant, but then she begins to think that maybe he still loves her too. But in this society, the woman can't speak first. She can't simply say to him, "I still love you, and I'm sorry I didn't accept your proposal eight years ago. I was given bad advice by my family." No, she has to wait for him to put aside his pride and ask if maybe she's changed her mind about him. She's on pins and needles the whole time, and there are terrible humiliations, and she's treated very badly by her family, but in the end it all works out.

Still, it's so painful to think that women once lived like this: utterly dependent on marriage for survival; dreading being an old maid; prevented from doing any kind of real work at all; prisoners of a rigid class system; and silenced by rigid gender role conventions.

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