Oh, this is going to be a fun post!
In preparing for my Find Wonder in All Things 5th bookiversary this month, I contacted other authors of Persuasion-inspired stories and asked them to answer some questions about the beloved novel we share. Persuasion-esque authors are a sisterhood of sorts – we know that Darcy gets the majority of the press around Austen-World, but…Wentworth…Letter!…Pierce my soul!!!
So, without further ado, I present my Persuasion Panel: Laura Hile, author of the Mercy’s Embrace trilogy, So Rough a Course, So Lively a Chase, & The Lady Must Decide; Regina Jeffers, author of Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion; Susan Kaye author of the Frederick Wentworth, Captain books None But You and For You Alone; Melanie Stanford, author of Sway, and Shannon Winslow, author of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen.
This is longer than my typical blog post. I didn’t want to deprive readers of any of these fabulous authors’ answers. So grab a cup of tea and a biscuit, sit back and enjoy…
Karen: What do you love most about Persuasion and why? Is it your favorite Jane Austen novel? If not, where would you rank it out of the six?
Susan: Persuasion is my favorite because, simply, who doesn’t want a second chance now and then? There are second chances in some of Austen’s other works, but the initial break and intervening years have shaped both Frederick and Anne in ways that play out over the course of the novel. These things have formed them into who they are as adults. It has colored their view of life that nearly destroys their reunion.
Melanie: I love all of Jane Austen’s works for different reasons, so it’s hard me to rank them from first to last (though Mansfield Park is my least favourite). I love Persuasion because out of all Austen’s works, it’s the one I really got. I felt it. It moved me. I connect to it personally more than the others.
Regina: Needless to say, Persuasion offers the reader Austen’s most mature voice. Although we acknowledge her genius in earlier novels, in Persuasion, Austen has mastered character development, the providential incident to advance the plot, and the universal truths that mark all of humanity. We, the readers, view the world through the lens of an English landscape. In this novel, Austen perfected the art of showing the full gamut of emotions plaguing life in its simplest forms: The interesting things in life can happen at home.
I grew up in the turbulent 50s and 60s when there was a strong awareness of social change, and although they cannot control the “how” and the “why,” in Persuasion, the upwardly mobile naval officers symbolize this change. Anne Elliot faces a future with Wentworth with the fear of another war. Such fears and pride spoke to me. I came from a military family, and I lived through the Korean and Vietnam wars, with a front row seat to those who served. I knew people, such as Wentworth and Anne, whose marriage had a national, as well as a domestic, significance. Therefore, Persuasion remains one of my favorite Austen tales. I do not think I could exist without hearing Elizabeth Bennet’s declaration to Lady Catherine to marry Darcy and to celebrate the brilliance of their unequal marriage. Nor could I abandon the intelligent, masterful, ruthless, yet generous and considerate hero I discovered in Wentworth. It depends upon my mood, which one I tackle.
Shannon: Persuasion is my second favorite Jane Austen novel, right behind Pride and Prejudice. As to why I like it so much, that’s hard to say. I think it’s because I appreciate the “second chance” aspect of the story, and the fact that the heroine is a little older (and a little wiser?) than the others. It makes her more relatable, and maybe more inspiring. Anne has a quiet dignity and courage, which shows in the way she continues on after her enormous “disappointment”, even to the point of suffering to watch Captain Wentworth courting someone else.
Laura: What I adore about Persuasion is the second chance for love. That Anne Elliot, faded and much put-upon by her family, is able to marry the dashing Captain Wentworth is just so delightful. I have to confess that my favorite Austen novel is Pride and Prejudice (because of the sparkling banter), but Persuasion runs a close second. Very close.
Karen: What made you want to write a variation on Jane Austen’s last novel?
Susan: I wanted to know Frederick’s point-of-view. After reading Persuasion the first time, I wanted to know what he did when he left Lyme, (to hopefully lessen any attachment felt for him by Louisa Musgrove), and spent three days in Plymouth. What does a guy do when he realizes that he’s thoroughly wrecked any chance of reuniting with the one woman he’s ever truly loved? Is there enlightenment or a lot of what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas? To find out, I wrote as story called Plymouth. It was the first of four stories that covered Persuasion from the Captain’s POV.
Regina: Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion was my third novel for Ulysses Press, which had joined the Jane Austen Fan Fiction rage of the first decade of the 2000s. I had already written a retelling of Pride and Prejudice (Darcy’s Passions in 2008) and a sequel to Pride and Prejudice (Darcy’s Temptation in 2009). Because I adore Persuasion and always taught it when I was still in the classroom. I pitched it to Ulysses, and they accepted the story.
Also, at the time, I was in the midst of reading Debra White Smith’s Austen novels. Her Possibilities is a modern Christian-based version of Persuasion. It is set in Charlotte, where I live, and I thought it would be a good thing to write my own version, a retelling of Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view.
Laura: More than her other novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion has so many “white spaces” for fan fiction authors to fill in. And what a wonderful cast of secondary characters! I snagged them and ran!
Shannon: I had the idea that, especially being her last novel, Persuasion might be the most autobiographical of the six. What if the story of Anne and Captain Wentworth was actually inspired by unknown events in Jane’s own life – perhaps a secret romance in her past? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was really possible Jane had enjoyed more romance than the official record discloses (maybe even with a happy ending?). The premise of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is that Persuasion represents Jane’s public homage to her very private love affair with a sea captain of her own – a romance that spanned decades.
Melanie: Like I said above, I really connected to the story, and I feel like it’s timeless- when you break up with someone for a flimsy reason and then regret it. Then to see that person again and have to constantly relive the mistake you made… oh, the angst! Specifically, though, I was watching 2007’s movie version of it and that’s what really got me thinking- this would be a great modern day story!
Karen: Do you think Jane Austen would consider Wentworth to be ‘gentlemanly’? Why or why not?
Melanie: Good question. And yes, I think so. He’s bitter, he can be mean and neglectful, he ignores Anne’s feelings and basically uses Louisa… but he does it all in a gentlemanly way (lol). In the Regency way. Even when I put him in a modern-day setting, he wasn’t talking smack about Anne, he wasn’t sleeping around with other women, but he’s a man who still feels hurt.
Susan: I think Austen respected Wentworth. Anne is her voice, I believe, and Anne never attributes evil motives to Frederick. Foolishness, yes. Meanness, no. Early on, Anne says she doesn’t think that FW is in love with either of the Musgrove girls, but she also doesn’t think either is in love with him. No harm, no foul. She does fear that their familiarity goes on any longer, that will inevitably change. In the end, Austen has Wentworth apologize not only for his behavior with Louisa, but for not renewing the engagement in “08 when he returned with a promotion and couple thousand pounds in his pocket. I think carelessness, pride, and emotional fear drove Frederick throughout Persuasion. But, I think those things drove Anne as well. She could have spoken up in the relaxed atmosphere of Uppercross but chose not to. See, everybody got a second chance.
Regina: I am a big believer that happiness is a result of merit — of acting with humanity and grace — of performance with tenderness of manner. I first read Pride and Prejudice at the age of twelve, and I immediately fell in love with Fitzwilliam Darcy, for he loved a woman for her mind, as well as her comely countenance. Next, I met Mr. Knightley. Although I was quite taken with how tenderly he treated Emma, I must admit I was a bit put out by the age difference between the pair, for at the time I did not understand the reasons men chose younger wives during the era. Finally, I found Captain Wentworth. As I said above, I come from a military family. In fact, I am a naval brat, and so Wentworth became a steady favorite. In truth, some of his least “appealing” qualities — being headstrong and intractable — were qualities I admired in the strong-willed men with whom I interacted upon a daily basis. I witnessed the devotion of the sailors upon the naval base upon which we lived to their families and to our country. I knew admiration for the men they had become.
Wentworth is likely, by birth, the son of a clergyman (based on his brother being a curate), which in Austen’s society would provide him “gentleman” status and a gentleman’s education, but moreover, he performs as a gentleman. For instance, he patiently consoles Mrs. Musgrove and listens attentively to the woman’s remembrances of Richard Musgrove. Although he knows he does not affect the girl, Wentworth is willing to marry Louisa Musgrove, for he acted foolishly by flirting with her. He takes note of Anne’s fatigue upon the return walk from Winthrop and arranges for her to ride with his sister and Admiral Croft. I think Wentworth is Austen’s most perfect hero, for he lacks perfection. He transforms himself into the man Anne Elliot deserves
Laura: Wentworth might not be born into the gentry, but Jane Austen shows us his quality as an honorable and loyal man. And she hints that he could well earn a title in future. Take that, Sir Walter Elliot!
Karen: Do you think Wentworth never got over Anne? Or do you think he fell in love with her again
when he returned eight years later?
Regina: I always felt that Wentworth achieved his exalted position — his acclaim — because he wished to prove Sir Walter and Lady Russell had erred. His success was a matter of pride. Although Sir Walter did not withhold his consent to Anne and Wentworth’s marriage, he “[gave] it all the negative of great astonishment, great coldness, great silence, and a professed resolution of doing nothing for his daughter.” (Persuasion 28) Lady Russell spoke to Anne of Wentworth’s “spending freely, what had come freely” and the fact he had nothing of consequence to show for his previous prize money act at his motivation. This was Wentworth’s wake-up call. Wentworth was insulted to be judged as a “failure” by his betters.
As to whether Wentworth falls in love with Anne again, I am of a mind to think there is a thin line between love and hate. Upon his return to the area, Wentworth thought to despise Anne, but slowly Providence, or Fate, or whatever one wishes to call it, chips away at his resolve. He notices that other men recognize Anne’s goodness and her blossoming attractiveness — specifically Mr. Elliot. He is “obliged to acknowledge that only at Uppercross had he learned to do her justice, and only at Lyme had he begun to understand himself.” (262)
Melanie: Both! He definitely never got over her, he just thought he did. But seeing her again, eight years later, seeing the woman she became, he eventually sees she’s even better than she used to be. More mature. More decisive.
Susan: “I can listen no longer in silence … You pierce my soul … I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you with a heart even more your own that when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan.”
That sounds pretty definitive. I think he probably tried to fall in love with others. He even says that all others were compared to her. I believe Frederick detested her living rent-free in his brain, but he couldn’t exorcise her from his mind or heart.
Karen: What was the biggest challenge you faced as you wrote your Persuasion-inspired story?
Shannon: My biggest challenge was designing a plausible alternate story for Jane Austen that didn’t contradict any of the known facts of her life. Working with the established timeline, I merged the Persuasion story in where it fit and used the “blanks” in the documentation of her life to fill in what might have been. Since I don’t fully outline my stories in advance, it was touch-and-go for a while to see if the concept would work in the end. But I was delighted how it turned out!
Melanie: I had a few: sticking too close to the original in my first draft, picking a job for Wentworth, making sure my Anne character didn’t come across as a pushover or passive while also making sure Wentworth didn’t come across as too much of a jerk where the reader wouldn’t want to see them together.
Regina: I think Persuasion possesses an overtone of “sexuality” not found in other Austen’s novels. At the concert venue, Wentworth says, “The day has produced some effects, however; has had some consequence, which must be considered as the very reverse of frightful,” and we view the captain’s emotional rollercoaster. He embraces the unexpected turn of events. He begins to realize the consequences of desires and malleability. Wentworth fears displaying his jealousy. His feelings for Anne frighten him. Nothing in his experience has lessened his affection for Anne.
That being said, finding a proper balance between strong emotions and an “Austenesque” approach was the most difficult part of writing this variation. In truth, I toned down some of the scenes when I re-released the story. Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion is currently out of print from Ulysses Press, but my contract with Ulysses permits me to self publish the book. Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion is available from all book sources.
Susan: Without question: Anne. I avoided writing her for years. I couldn’t identify with her until one day I realized that she is motivated by the need for security.
Her need is not the “please take care of me” sort, but the need to have place. In the year ’06, she turns 19. She falls in love and is ready to follow Frederick anywhere. To stop her, Lady Russell paints a picture of poverty and want. I think that scared Anne, but she is a romantic and would battle everything to be with the man she loves. That being said, Anne is a thoughtful woman who also understood that Frederick’s rank—that made poverty a possibility—also made her appreciate the respect she just assumed as the second daughter of a baronet. She knew that respect would not follow her outside the influence of Kellynch Hall.
To Anne’s credit, she came to understand that she needed love even more than security. This is why she turned down Charles Musgrove’s proposal. She knew herself and that any security an alliance with the Musgrove family gained her, would also leave her empty in a vital way.
Though, I think it’s fair to point out, her refusal had little or nothing to do with Frederick. At 22 or 23, Anne was still romantic enough to desire a love match. She was still young, reasonably attractive, and she expected another young man to come along with whom she would fall in love. Anne stilled cared about Frederick in that dreamy, nostalgic way, but I think if the right man had presented himself, she would have gone on to have a satisfactory marriage.
Laura: My Mercy’s Embrace books center around Anne’s beautiful elder sister, Elizabeth, who is as arrogant as the day is long. At the end of Persuasion, Jane Austen leaves her in a terrible situation: her father is a fool; her social cachet is fast disappearing (along with his money); and she is about to turn thirty. Elizabeth desperately needs the independence a husband will bring, so she takes matters into her own hands. Plenty of grist for a story there! Especially when I borrow the newly-divorced James Rushworth and bring him to Bath…
Karen: Let’s face it, most Austen-inspired fiction is based on Pride and Prejudice. What would you tell a reader to convince her to cast her reading eye from Mr. Darcy to Captain Wentworth?
Melanie: Ooh, that’s a tough one. Darcy is Darcy, know what I mean? But at the same time, Wentworth isn’t broody and sullen, he doesn’t suffer from improper pride (at least not to the same extent). Wentworth is confident, he’s handsome, he’s a navy man (hello!) yet still polished and eloquent, he’s loyal, and he owns up to his mistakes. But most importantly, THE LETTER. It’s gotta be the most swoon-worthy literary moment ever. Nothing the other Austen heroes do beats it!
Shannon: I’m the first to agree that Mr. Darcy IS wonderful; as I said, P&P is still my favorite JA novel. However, to limit yourself to ONLY P&P fiction is to miss an awful lot of great stories and equally swoon-worthy heroes, like Captain Wentworth (or in the case of my book, Captain Devereaux). In fact, The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is my highest rated novel – a full five stars. I wish more JAFF readers would expand their horizons a little and give Persuasion stories a chance.
Regina: Despite those who idealize the relationships found in Austen’s novels, especially the one between Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, I am of the opinion that Austen’s works do not provide us with paragons of suitable male and female roles. Therefore, Wentworth is as noble and as flawed as Mr. Darcy, Austen’s most popular hero, but Wentworth also possesses the ill-considered nature of George Wickham. In Persuasion, the codes and values of the Napoleonic era are changing. The novel addresses not only self-realization for women, but also for men. Anne and Wentworth prove to be models of emotional stability. Julia Prewitt Brown in “Jane Austen’s England” says, “Anne and Wentworth inherit the England of Persuasion, if only because they see it, and will experience it, as if really is: fragmented and uncertain. For the first time in Jane Austen, the future is not linked with the land.”
Laura: Why Wentworth? One word: Swashbuckling! (He’s not a pirate, but he’s fought ‘em!) Here is a man in command, a man who has seen battle and has come out victorious. He’s earned his successes, and on the quarterdeck he is unparalleled. In the drawing room, not so much. We loves a capable man who is thrown off his pins socially, for then he is vulnerable …
Susan: There is the ongoing debate as to whether Darcy is arrogant or shy. What you believe about him colors how you read his lines in the novel. In Persuasion, I think Frederick Wentworth is, almost always, speaking tongue-in-cheek. Other than his inability to say what he feels to Anne, he is a straight-forward hero. He doesn’t have land or huge sums of money, but he has a quick wit and a willingness to admit when he messes up. Come for the self-deprecation, and stay for the touching love story.
I want to express my gratitude to the authors on the “Persuasion Panel”. It’s always fun and intriguing to see inside the mind of a writer, and learn what she was thinking about as she entered the world of Austen.
To hear more from these great authors, visit their websites/blogs: