Welcome, once again, to Boozy Books Friday! Now, as you may remember, last week we did a lovely pairing between George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and a delicious, blood-red Malbec. And if you don’t remember, that’s fine; as I understand it, the books are long and the wine is delicious, so if you know nothing…well, you’re in good company. Now, in the interests of not letting the Mountain happen to your head, this week we’re going for something completely different. Something lighter, and with a lot more manners.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone familiar with Jane Austen knows what I’m quoting. Pride and Prejudice is arguably her most famous work, and I don’t know a woman who hasn’t dreamed of a Mr. Darcy at some point in her life. Miss Austen herself described the book as “light, bright, and sparkling,” and it would be fair to say that the wit, humor, and charm so evident in the novel do, indeed, fit that description. The book I’ve chosen today is not, however, light, bright, or sparkling. It is, rather, the book of Miss Austen’s middle age–the last novel she ever completed in her unfairly short life–and, thus, is considered the most mature of all of her novels. Today, your Nerd Cactus literary sommeliers bring to you Persuasion, called by many the thinking reader’s Pride and Prejudice.
Persuasion is the story of love lost and deep regret, and what happens when one’s past comes sweeping in to haunt you once again. Eight years before the novel begins, Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, is persuaded to give up her engagement to young naval officer Frederick Wentworth. Her family, titled and landed, are dissatisfied with her choice because Wentworth, while clever and ambitious, is poor and without any family connections.
The novel details the events of Anne Elliot’s life when Frederick, now a wealthy Captain, returns to the neighborhood, claiming to be looking for a wife and seemingly not ready to forgive Anne for her rejection. Anne, who has never been high-spirited, has lost her bloom in the eight years since giving up her engagement, and is now resigned to a life of loneliness and dissatisfaction. Wentworth’s return only throws her feelings into turmoil, creating a story that, while simple, is full of Austen’s signature wit and irony.
Unlike Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse, Anne is overlooked by her shallow, self-interested family. She does not value rank or social class nearly so much as individual merit. She is highly intelligent, accomplished, and literary; a woman of depth, though not of outward charm or liveliness. As the novel is from her point-of-view, we the reader are treated to her discerning ideas and keen mind. We feel for her as she is resigned to loneliness and unappreciated by everyone around her. We understand her need for intelligent companionship and real, meaningful relationships. We cheer for her as she blossoms once again into a woman who knows her own worth. And when her happy ending finally comes, we are immensely satisfied.
What I really like is that Persuasion is a book of themes hidden within a romance. Jane Austen ridicules hereditary aristocracy, the concept of social class as merit, and the notion of what defines family. She is searing in her mockery and unrelenting in her disdain for what she sees as society’s ills. Persuasion is as intelligent and entertaining as any of Miss Austen’s books, but–being her last–is probably the deepest and most thematic of them all. Best of all, though, is that, just like Mr. Darcy, our hero writes one hell of a letter.
Now, given the combination of wit and depth that Miss Austen gives us, the effervescence of her language mixed with the intelligence and insight of her themes and main character, just any old wine won’t do. It needs to be light, but not without character; deep, but not heavy, and with a flavor that lingers delicately on the tongue just like the story of Anne Elliot. That being said, I’m recommending a Provence Rosé, known for its pale, pink color and aromas of strawberry and rose petal that finishes with an almost salty flavor on the palate. They’re good for anything from a backyard barbecue to the finest Mediterranean cuisine, and if that isn’t the definition of an Austen novel, I don’t know what is.
Well, that’s it for Boozy Books Fridays this week. Tune in next time for your weekly literary pairing!