Insights to an Introspective and Introverted Heroine
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
A new tradition of mine (that began last year) is to spend part of my holiday break reading an annotated edition of a Jane Austen novel (a terrific notion, wouldn’t you agree?) This year, I was in the mood for Persuasion, and the popular vote was for me to read and review The Annotated Persuasion by David Shapard (my first Shapard!)
Just like with my review of Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition, I am focusing my review on the annotations, observations, and interpretations made by David Shapard (rather than Jane Austen’s brilliance). Here are some of the insights and understandings I learned while reading David Shapard’s annotations:
- More About Jane Austen’s Time and World: In this edition, Mr. Shapard gives a very thorough and complete explanation to every aspect of Jane Austen’s time and world that may seem foreign to contemporary readers. Having been immersed in Jane Austen’s world for awhile now, there were a lot of elements I didn’t need explained. 😉 However, naval positions and fortunes, social rankings and title, fortunes and retrenching – these are all aspects of Jane Austen’s world that weren’t quite as clear to me before reading Mr. Shapard’s annotations. Thanks to his explanations, I can fully appreciate the significance of Wentworth being promoted to captain and understand (as much as one can understand!) Sir Walter’s elevated view of his own social importance. In addition, I’ve always felt it was unlikely that moving to rented apartments in fashionable Camden Place was helping the Elliots lower their expenses – they moved to a city, they have to pay rent, how is this helping?!? I now know the answer. 😉
- Persuasion Isn’t Flawless: *gasp* How blasphemous, I know! In all honesty, I don’t know if I could ever look at Jane Austen’s work and find fault on my own – to me, she is a literary genius. But Mr. Shapard, it seems has no issues with being objective and unprejudiced. He points out some errors with missing words and even some timeline inconsistencies. He also makes mention of how, since this novel was published posthumously, that some aspects of the story probably would have been revised if Jane Austen had the chance to “alter and improve” this manuscript at length. I never realized it before, but Mr. Shapard is right – a lot of the characters such as Sir Walter, Mrs. Clay, and Lady Russell are underdeveloped, and the Mrs. Smith/Mr. Elliot subplot does have some implausibility in it.
- Anne Elliot Is Absolutely Not Inactive: This might have been inadvertent on Mr. Shapard’s part because in his introduction he states that Anne Elliot is “passive” and how her actions are limited to watching, waiting, reflecting, and controlling “her feelings as best she can.” I went into the story coming from that perspective, but what I saw, through Mr. Shapard’s annotations is that Anne does so much more than be passive – she is stimulated by and reacts to everything around her. I think Anne is active – maybe not active like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, but active internally. She does not do nothing. She works out her feelings and emotions, she thinks things through and strives to comprehend, she regulates and tempers her own inclinations. I don’t think of Anne as passive at all, I think she is a textbook introvert. And I think Jane Austen has a wonderful understanding of how people who are more introverted think and feel.
My one quibble for Mr. Shapard’s annotations was his repetitive reference to previous notes. I was not a fan of how frequently a note stated “see p. #, note #.” While I understand it is helpful to see how notes related to each other, I never felt the need or desire to flip back to notes I previously read.
- Comparing Harvard University Press and David Shapard Editions:
Two points in favor of the Shapard editions is the handheld size of the book (easy to read in any position) and how the annotations were always on the right side of the page, in a very accessible and orderly system. I also appreciated the chronology included in the back of the book that displayed the timeline for all the characters and events in the story. However, while this edition does have relevant and edifying illustrations, it is lacking the glossy pages and colored images that make the Harvard University Press editions so visually appealing and elegant.
David Shapard’s The Annotated Persuasion is a wonderfully comprehensive and illuminating tome that will bring lovers of Persuasion not only hours of entertainment, but a wealth of new understanding and appreciation for this beloved novel by Jane Austen.