NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. It’s the first Tuesday of May, and that means it’s time to welcome book reviewer Emily Whitten for our Classic Book of the Month. Thanks for joining us, Emily!
EMILY WHITTEN, REVIEWER: Glad to be here, Mary!
REICHARD: What have you been reading lately?
WHITTEN: Well, a year or so ago I picked up a compilation of Jane Austen novels…back when we could actually go to used book stores.
REICHARD : Ah yes, I remember the good old days of leisurely browsing in brick and mortar stores.
WHITTEN: Ha. If I had to choose only one Austen book to take to a desert island, it would be Pride and Prejudice. If you haven’t read Austen before, that’s the place to start, and it’s a book you can reread many times without it losing its appeal. Besides the lovely romance, it’s just so funny!
For our classic book recommendation today, though, I thought we could step off the beaten path a little and talk about Austen’s shortest book, Persuasion. It’s actually her last finished novel before her death in 1818.
I’d like to play part of a free audio version I found on the BBC Sounds website. In this clip, we meet Captain Wentworth, the love interest. Next comes Anne, the sensible heroine, and finally, well-meaning Lady Russell who stands in their way. Let’s listen:
AUDIO: Jane Austen Persuasion Episode 2: Captain Wentworth had no fortune. But he would soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted. Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, must have been enough for Anne. But Lady Russell deprecated the connection in every light. Such opposition was more than Anne could combat.”
Mary, I enjoyed this audiobook version for a number of reasons, including the price-tag (zero dollars) and the music, which we heard at the beginning of our interview. Unfortunately, this version can be hard to find online, so I’ll link to it in the transcript at worldandeverything.org as well as in my Twitter feed today, @emilyawhitten.
REICHARD: That’s helpful. Emily, I know that Austin’s novels are full of memorable characters. Tell us about Anne and Captain Wentworth.
WHITTEN: Sure. Anne is the second daughter of a cash poor baronet. Years before, when Anne first met Wentworth, he didn’t have much to recommend him except his good looks and fine character. In other words, he didn’t have the prestige and money to impress Anne’s father, or her mentor, Lady Russell. But as the novel opens, Wentworth comes home from a successful career at sea. He’s a captain now. He’s earned quite a bit of money. When he bumps into Anne seaside, even after all these years their romance starts to simmer again.
REICHARD: Oh, good. Sounds like the kind of story with a happy ending?
WHITTEN: I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say the book follows the pattern of a traditional comedy. It ends happily but has many ups and downs before the resolution.
Austen wrote as a Christian author. In Persuasion, as in her other books, deep, lasting happiness can’t come apart from virtue. Author Joy Clarkson talked about that use of virtue in a recent Speaking with Joy podcast. The episode is titled Jane Austen the Moral Philosopher:
AUDIO: Jane Austen the Moral Philosopher: She is all about how virtue is in large part, it’s about living well and with integrity with the life you’ve been given. How do I act with character to the people and circumstances in which I am? And the relationships and domesticity is kind of the theater for that virtue taking place.
I like the way Clarkson describes Austen’s stories as “domestic theater for virtue.”
REICHARD: Oh, I do too!
WHITTEN: Austen writes within a very limited world of drawing rooms and balls and gardens. But somehow she manages to capture the full range of human emotions and temptations, and she shows us the impact of our moral choices.
In a lecture for BeThinking.org titled “Jane Austen—Great Christian Novelist,” Covenant Seminary professor Jerram Barrs talks about the role of redemption.
AUDIO: Jane Austen – Great Christian Novelist: One of the other things which I think is fascinating is that in several of the books, characters have experiences of profound and permanent transformation. Experiences which read like accounts of conversion or deep repentance. This happens when they see their own blindness, their own moral failure, their own lack of self-knowledge.
Austen was the daughter of an Anglican minister. If you’d like to know more about how her writing reflects a Christian worldview, check out Karen Swallow Prior’s lovely new version of Sense and Sensibility. It’s by B&H Books. She includes a lot of great background to Austen’s work in her introduction.
REICHARD: Very good.
WHITTEN: A final note, Mary. Because Persuasion is so short, it’s not as developed as others of Austen’s stories. That means the characters feel a bit thin at times, and she ties up a lot of loose ends a little too quickly. That said, she’s very much at the top of her craft in terms of witty observations and satirical humor. So, there’s plenty to enjoy here even beyond the romance!
REICHARD: Sounds like this is a lot more than chick lit as some might expect! Thanks for this recommendation, Emily. You’ve persuaded me to give it a try!
WHITTEN: You’re very welcome, Mary. Happy reading!
REICHARD: For May, Emily recommended Persuasion by Jane Austen. She also mentioned Karen Swallow Prior’s edition of Sense and Sensibility by B&H Books. You can find a link to the audiobook version she mentioned in today’s transcript at worldandeverything.org. Just search for Classic Book of the Month.