I am a fan of Women’s Fiction. This isn’t always the most popular thing to admit in certain circles. Women’s fiction gets a bad rap. It is derided as chick lit and is often seen as being less important than “serious fiction” because it deals primarily with women’s issues and lives. Novelist Loretta Chase says in Sarah Wendell’s wonderful book Everything I know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels that Romances are one of the few genres in which the woman really matters. The hero might drive the story but he’s focused completely on the heroine. My groaning bookshelves will attest to the fact that I have read more books than I can accurately count, many of them deeply serious weighty tomes about social problems, politics and history. A girl cannot live by facts alone though. Some days call for something that can transport me out of my own head and into a different place for a few hours. The best authors, Jenny Crusie, Mary Kay Andrews, Katie Fforde, Trisha Ashley (to name a few of my favorites), create worlds that are distinctly their own with characters that are real, flawed and relatable, who struggle and ultimately triumph. They are actively participating in their lives and not waiting for rescue. Yes, there’s usually romance and a satisfyingly happy ending, but the fun comes from seeing how they get there.
Jane Austen gets credit for inventing the genre and why not? Her themes of love, money (or the lack thereof), snobbery, and crazy families still resonate with us two hundred years later. My personal favorite of all her novels is Persuasion. At the start of the story Anne Elliot has already loved, lost and come to deeply regret it. Eight years previously she fell in love and became engaged to the penniless Fredrick Wentworth, but was persuaded by her snobbish titled father and her deceased mother’s dearest friend, Lady Russell to break off the engagement. Now due to the profligate ways of Anne’s father and older sister Elizabeth the family finds itself in dire financial straits. In an effort to retrench the Elliots decide to rent out their palatial home to Admiral Croft and his wife. Mrs. Croft just so happens to be Fredrick Wentworth’s sister. Fredrick is now Captain Wentworth a wealthy naval officer of “consequence”. The stage is set for Anne and Captain Wentworth to be thrown together and complications ensue. This being Jane Austen those complications include Entailments, shifty romantic rivals and of course, a big ole crisis or two.
Anne is not the flashiest of Austen’s heroines, but I think she may be the smartest. Quiet, deliberate and keenly observant Anne goes mostly unnoticed by her family who value beauty and sociability above more useful traits. She is constantly dismissed by them, …Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister: her word had no weight; her convenience was always to give way;-she was only Anne. And yet whenever there is a crisis Anne is the one to whom they turn.
Besides the most mature and thoughtful heroine the book contains what my friend Melissa Fox says is one of the best love letters ever written. After two hundred or so pages of complications, mistaken impressions and missed opportunities Capitan Wentworth, unable to restrain himself any longer, writes to Anne, …You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own, than 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…For you alone I think and plan. I’m not sure what woman or man could resist such a letter.
Persuasion is a wonderful read for a long winter’s afternoon. There are two wonderful recent film adaptations, as well, guaranteed to spark a few hours of debate over who made the best Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot. The 1995 version has Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth, and Amanda Root as Anne Elliot, while the 2008 version has Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. There’s also a 1971 version with Ann Fairbank and Bryan Marshall but I haven’t gotten around to watching that one yet.
On to out playlist…
Fingernail Moon – Annie Lennox – The sense of yearning that runs throughout the story is the same feeling I got from this song.
Lucky Escape –Anthony Boutté A period appropriate piece that according to the album title (The Jane Austen Songbook: Jane Austen’s Favorite Vocal Music) was one of her favorites. And it’s about a sailor too!
Too Good for the Average Man – Mark Nadler – Snobs! Snobs! Snobs! Austen’s work is full of them, and here’s their anthem .
Sometimes a Day Goes By – Josh Young – There are several musical adaptations of Austen Novels. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibilty,Emma, and even Persuasion have all been musicalized. What I can’t find are recordings of the tunes so instead I’m adding one from Kander & Ebb’s Woman of the Year. I think it would be a perfect song for Captain Wentworth.
The Irishman – Anthony Boutté- Another reputed favorite of Ms. Austen
Song for a Siren – The Jane Austen Argument – One of the best parts of doing these playlists is that I always discover something new, a group, a tune, a lyric. I am thrilled to add this Aussie group to my collection.
To Make You Feel My Love – Adele – Quite possibly my favorite Dylan lyric ever, it puts me in mind of Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne.