The Powers of Persuasion

I’m blessed with a clever daughter who obtained a degree in English literature and recommends a book or two for me to read every year. She’s very keen on fantasy and, over the past couple of years alone, has pointed me to books like: Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind, Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, Chamber’s The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale and Novik’s Uprooted. All wonderful in their own different ways and I recommend any of them.

It’s only when we get to some of the classics that our thoughts veer off in sharp contrast. Perhaps the most notable is my very great fondness for Jane Austen. According to her, Ms. Austen fails to deliver anything but females in the pursuit of fulfillment through marriage and a preachy sort of moralism that makes her want to put these books down and weep for womankind.

It’s not that I don’t get her point. On the objections of preachy moralism, all of Austen’s books reflect this to some degree, despite the fact that some of her heroines flout a number of deeply entrenched societal norms. Northanger Abbey perhaps best illustrates my daughter’s point. Supposedly a satire on the Victorian gothic novel, I confess it’s the only one of Austen’s published books that I read only once. I thought the subtle wit and penetrating insights into society that make Austen’s other books masterpieces were buried in the Abbey without even a ghostly rattling of chains.

And it’s not that my amazing daughter doesn’t get my point. To the degree that any modern person can, we agree that books ought to be read within the context of the world in which they were written. England in the Napoleonic wars was a far different place than the here and now. Married women of the time were legally the property of their husbands and society made life very difficult for single women of limited means and even worse for those with none.

However, it’s not like we’ll ever convince each or even want to. Would anyone ever get me to enjoy Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote, a book I found rather tedious, even if I could appreciate the satire? One might remember Ms. Austen’s character Anne Elliot, a person much more amenable to persuasion when younger and, on the topic of Jane Austen’s books, my lovely daughter was not much persuadable when younger either. As the French say; chacun a son gout (each to one’s own taste).

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