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The Annotated Persuasion    by Jane Austen & David M. Shapard order for
Annotated Persuasion
by Jane Austen
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2010 (2010)

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Nearly fifty years ago I fell in love with Jane Austen's writing. At that time I read all six of her novels and went on to read as many books about her as I could find in the library. Some were biographies, some works of criticism, and all were devoured by my younger self. I waited twenty years before repeating the process, re-reading the novels, then checking out all the new biographies and critical works that had been written about the inimitable Jane since my first studies. Luckily for me, there was a new edition of her letters which I could also enjoy reading this time around - words that had actually been written by her, other than her novels or juvenilia. Now that time has passed, I'm once again re-reading Austen's novels.

Recently there has been a new interest in Jane Austen. There have been major movies made of all of her novels, including some take-offs, and some written atrocities that loosely mix her novels with zombies and sea monsters. I read one of those and detested it. More happily, though, David M. Shepard, who gave us The Annotated Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago, has now come out with The Annotated Persuasion. There's no problem with understanding Austen's novels. The language sometimes seems a bit stilted to our modern ears, but the stories are timeless, and the endings are always just right. However, the additional information in the annotated versions explains the strange turns of phrase, different meanings of words, or descriptions of places and things that might have left us wondering what exactly was meant.

Persuasion is about Anne Elliot, a young woman of twenty-seven, who had fallen in love with a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, nearly eight years before. After becoming engaged, she had been persuaded to break up with him because he didn't make enough money to support them and she was too young. She is now considered too old to have much chance of marrying. Wentworth reappears in her neighborhood looking for a wife, but not in her direction at all. While he dallies with two attractive young sisters, Anne is told that he said he found her sadly changed and he wouldn't have recognized her. Even though she is still in love with him, she realizes that she has little chance of renewing their attachment. Although the other characters in the story know that he was in the neighborhood earlier, only her father, older sister and the friend who advised her are aware of the brief engagement, so Anne is able to keep her feelings secret and simply observe and suffer.

There is nearly a page of annotation for each page of text, so this rather short novel becomes twice as long. There are repetitions, just in case you missed the first explanation, but these are brief and page numbers are given so you can go back and re-read the first entry if you wish to. There are also illustrations scattered throughout, of the various kinds of conveyances, such as a coach and four or a bath chair, as well as such things as parlors, elegant parties, the Pump Room in Bath, and something I never understood: the Cobb in Lyme. The bibliography in the back of the book is joined by a chronology of the events that take place, and maps of all the various locations of the action.

What a feast for a Jane Austen fan! For those who think they'd like to read something by Jane Austen, but just can't get that excited about her books, maybe because of the language or because there are too many obscure references, this is their chance to become an expert on the author and her times, just by reading one book. I loved The Annotated Persuasion and read it slowly, savoring the story and enjoying the explanations. I highly recommend it for anyone, whether you have loved Jane Austen in the past or shunned her.

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