Have you ever wondered what a pelisse is? Curious about the difference between a rector and a curate? Not sure exactly where Lyme is? And what the heck is a Pump Room? If you’re a Jane Austen fan, I’m sure these questions have floated through your mind every once in a while.
All these questions and more are answered in The Annotated Persuasion, with notes by David M. Shapard. I found the book one day while perusing the stacks at a used bookstore in my area called The Montague Bookmill, along with annotated versions of all of Austen’s other books. I immediately wanted to buy the collection, but since finances dictated that I buy only one, I chose my current favorite, Persuasion (the favorite tends to shift from year to year).
I’ve read Persuasion at least half a dozen times, and the story of Anne Elliot and her regretted decision not to marry Captain Wentworth captivates me every time. The story is still readable and enjoyable even if you don’t know the particulars of the Royal Navy or all the intricate social rules and customs of Regency England. But it does enrich the experience, and perhaps answers questions you’ve always had about Austen’s books and her world, but never bothered to look up or Google. Reading the notes can slow your reading down, but that’s not always a bad thing, and the entries, some of them quite extensive, are on the facing page rather than in the back of the book, which is more convenient.
At the back of the book are maps of England and its counties, and street maps of Lyme and Bath. There’s also a chronology of events, so you’ll know exactly when Anne was in Uppercross, Lyme and Bath, and with whom; as well as the whereabouts and doings of the other characters at various points in the story. Illustrations and artwork fill the pages, bringing to life Anne’s world, showing us the fashions, furniture, buildings, and conveyances of the time. The editor’s explanations of old definitions of familiar words is truly helpful, along with his thought-provoking commentary on the narrative itself.
All of these things make the reading of Persuasion even more enriching; but of course, it’s Austen’s words, the story itself, that makes us come back again and again. As the editor points out, Wentworth’s declaration of love in his letter to Anne at the end of the book is the most passionate, emotional outburst of any of Austen’s heroes, and the reason, at least for me, why it’s so satisfying:
By the way, a pelisse is a woman’s long cloak or outer garment trimmed with fur, with slits for the arms. In case you were wondering.
What about you? Do you love Jane Austen? Don’t know what the fuss is about? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!