Friday, June 8, 2012
Lost in Persuasion
I’m about to say something that is sacrilegious to many readers. I am not a big Jane Austen fan. Go ahead and gasp, throw something, or think belittling thoughts about me and my reading preferences, but I’m just not. People who know me are probably shocked by this statement, most likely because I own every Jane Austen novel—sometimes multiple copies (Pride & Prejudice), but that’s mostly due to gifts, inheritance, and an odd feeling that every bibliophile is required to own them (also they tend to be pretty). The thing is, I like the stories, the characters, the witty banter, but I tend to tune out during the prose—you see, I prefer the movies. Go ahead and curse me again, I understand. I love the screen versions of Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park, but I just can’t extend that love to their written forms. I’m not saying I hate the books, far from it; I just don’t love them as other readers do.
That being said, for some reason I have always been drawn to Persuasion and most particularly to the books that try to reimagine that narrative. For some reason I am utterly drawn to that tale. I don’t know if it’s the slight tang of melodrama that reels me in, the love-loss story of Ann Elliot and Captain Wentworth, or just a connection with Ann on some subconscious level, that draws me in every time. Whatever the reason, be it psychological on my part, or that it is entertaining for me on a level the other novels cannot attain to, I can’t get enough of Persuasion.
In that vein, I have, over the last several years, found some reimaginings of this novel that have brought me great enjoyment. One is The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz, a contemporary look at the tale that takes place in the literary world between the daughter of the founders of an impoverished, yet famous foundation established to help budding writers and an author, once spurned for his lowly station—who is now highly successful. The perfect mix of comic and tragic, this modern romance is a wonderful blend of “chick-lit” and Austen homage.
Another, a teen-aimed retelling with a post-apocalyptic style twist, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund (release date 6/12/12) is a fun reintroduction to Ann and Wentworth’s love story. Set in a distant future, where the destruction of scientists’ genetic engineering has rendered many of the population into “Reduced”—people with severe mental handicaps, “Luddites” now rule what is left of the world, living as though it were once again the 19th century. Elliot North, the daughter of an esteemed Luddite family falls in love with Kai, a “Post”—descendant of the “Reduced”—lacking any of the malformations of his ancestors, but refuses to run away with him for the sake of saving her ancestral estate and those people who are dependant upon it for life. When years later an impoverished Elliot is forced to take on Post borders, she finds herself once again in Kai’s presence, but now he is the prosperous and famous Captain Malakai Wentworth, filled with a heart-wrenching loathing for Elliot and her past decisions. Despite the post-apocalyptic theme, this book is remarkably true to Austen’s original narrative. She faithfully recreates Ann, her struggles, her narcissistic family, and her seemingly unreciprocated love for Wentworth in the characters of Elliot and Kai. Author Diana Peterfreund was able to evoke in me the same feelings of frustration with (Kai) Wentworth’s actions and his persecution of (Elliot) Ann’s actions. I cursed Kai, and wept for a despondent Elliot, wanted her family packed off to Timbuktu, and hoped for a dramatic reconciliation (although, it was never really in doubt). All the things that drew me to Persuasion I found alive within this book. The addition of futuristic science was also interesting and innovative, recreating the past within a new world, while holding onto the essence of Austen’s original plot. Despite the horrid title—I consistently mess up the title when talking about this book to people, because it is just too convoluted, regardless of it’s underlying meaning to the story—I found myself being drawn in just as much as I was with Austen.
So, while I still stumble through the works of Austen, hoping to someday catch the fever that enthralls so many, I will remain on the outside looking in on enthusiastic readers. Who knows, maybe there is hope for Jane and me in forthcoming years, but for the time being I will hold tightly to my enjoyment of Persuasion and it’s many reincarnations. For now, I will be happy with the newest, For Darkness Shows the Stars, will revisit The Family Fortune, and await whatever the literary world throws at me in the future.
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