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Persuasion - Jane Austen I have been feeling sentimental for the past couple of weeks, and it made me think of Persuasion. I haven’t felt sentimental for quite some time, so it feels like a sort of stiff and creaky homecoming in some ways. The Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds movie of Persuasion has traditionally been my go-to movie for sick days, but I haven’t watched it in a couple of years because somehow I lost the feeling that let me sit through a beautiful love story. But, here I am, these past couple of weeks, mulling over sloppy bowls of soup, sliced mutton, intemperate sorbet, skin like macaroons, and some of the best marzipan in all of Bath. Actually, maybe I’m just hungry.

Just kidding, but I think there is something in the messy appreciation of food in the movie that speaks to my home-and-family-comfort sensibility. And, yes, this review is going to mostly be about the movie because I saw and loved it before I read the book, and even though I loved the book on its own, it is impossible for me to remember it on its own. So, the food and powder and grease and almost-tangible smells of the movie are going to be all up in this review because they were all up in my reading of the book and are my sense-memory of this story.

The real reason I’m feeling sentimental is because I lost some people I love a couple of weeks ago. They didn’t die, but you know how sometimes when you don’t fit into people’s lives anymore, it is a similar mourning to experiencing death? It is for me anyway. This past year, I worked with these four people, who are some of the best people I have met, and we have all been through a lot together. And I love them in that way, where when I see them, my heart jumps into my throat. My dear friends, like family. I am working on the fourth floor of my building now, where I was on the second, and sometimes that is enough to lose people. It is not bad, but mourning is hard.

Anne has that sense of not fitting into the lives around her, and I have always identified with that. In a lot of ways, I’ve identified with Anne, and I would say of all the Austen stories, Persuasion resonates with me the most, with the possible exception of Sense and Sensibility. Mostly, the idea of Wentworth coming back, and Anne and he still loving each other, seems to me like the most hopeful and meaningful story of romantic love that Austen tells. They love each other because they know each other, and that is beautiful. I love the cynical humor of Elizabeth and Darcy and the sad wisdom of Marrianne and Col. Brandon, but Anne and Wentworth is the most hopeful couple to me. In my view, if you can come back to love after heartbreak and years, then it was real and not based on inventing an ideal of another person.

But, Anne was always identifiable to me in this other way, in her lostness and sense of despising her family, but at the same time being their unappreciated servant. Maybe it is arrogant of me to say I identified with that, but it is true. One morning, after I returned from Peace Corps and was living with my parents to help them with their business, we were sitting on our porch eating breakfast. My dad started telling me not to give up hope about someday getting married because a guy working in our neighbor’s yard the day before had expressed some interest in me. Then, he started describing his trip to the coffee shop the weekend before.

“I was sitting and watching people walk by,” he explained, “and there are just so few really attractive women in the world. Sometimes, you’ll see one really attractive woman, and then after her, there will be twenty women who are just ugly. When I was at coffee that morning, I counted forty-six women in a row who weren’t worth looking at. But, it was a rainy morning, and not many women’s looks can hold up to that.”

I must have smiled for the rest of the day. It was so wonderful. Anne’s father from Persuasion:

He had frequently observed, as he walked, that one handsome face would be followed by thirty, or five-and-thirty, frights; and once, as he had stood in the shop in Bond Street, he had counted eighty-seven women go by, one after another, without there being a tolerable face among them. It had been a frosty morning, to be sure, a sharp frost, which hardly one woman in a thousand could stand the test of.

And then, Anne has some culpability in her lostness. The story is sort of Anne’s journey to figuring out how to stand up to her ridiculous family. And, even though Wentworth is the venue through which she can ultimately escape them, I think through the story she does develop her own ability to live her life. And she proves that by choosing the man, for herself, whom she rejected in the past for other people.

I remember watching this movie over and over again, watching Anne’s hopelessness about escaping her family, and watching her stand up to them, separate from them, and stop letting herself be victimized, even while keeping her sense of humility and service. I think that development of her character happens related to Wentworth’s return, but also aside from the love story. I think I stopped watching this movie when I stopped being fascinated by that transformation, and it was when I had gone through that transformation myself, though admittedly in a more awkward, ham-fisted way.

So, I think this story is always going to be a part of me and maybe a symbol, even, of transformation, long-lasting love, and spiritual intimacy. It is high-falutin’ to use all of those phrases, but I think they apply here. Anne had to revisit her betrayal of Wentworth and develop the sense of self to allow her to reject Mr. Elliott and choose her own life. And even though my absolute favorite part of this story are Anne’s sister and father and the ludicrous stuff they say, the brave quiet around her transformation is the sentiment that brings me back to this story and makes it one of the most comforting I have heard.