Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion: Jane Austen’s Classic Retold through His Eyes, by Regina Jeffers. Published in 2010. Kindle edition.
A few years ago a bibliophile blog friend recommended that I check out this book, but I forgot about it until recently when I had occasion to re-read the post where she made the recommendation. As I was on the lookout for a light summer read, I decided to give it a look.
Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion is exactly as its title describes: a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion from the perspective of the Captain Frederick Wentworth, the man whom Austen’s heroine Ann Elliot eventually weds eight years after they first fell in love and were separated by Anne’s family.
I went into this book with measured, but hopeful expectations. Captain Wentworth is, after all, one of my favorite of Austen’s lead male characters and I was curious to see what this shift of focus from Anne to the captain might look like.
There were parts of the book that were very believable and engaging, though I suspect the best parts were those the author lifted out of Persuasion for the purpose of keeping the stories parallel. The tone, timing, and value systems of the two books simply didn’t line up at other points. As I considered the reasons for that, I concluded that Jeffers simply couldn’t resist imputing postmodern values and sensibilities onto Austen’s characters.
While Jane Austen was certainly sometimes romantic in her delivery, her male characters were rarely as openly rapturous as Jeffers paints them. Austen also had a hearty respect for English social stations and respectability. Her characters did as well, as even her books’ most mismatched pairings were presented as reasonable concessions due to extreme circumstances. The only notable detour that Austen took from this principle was in the case of Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It is also the most unrealistic pairings of all Austen’s books, in my opinion.
In this retelling, the author seemed to trounce all over these social status realities by having Frederick and Anne disdain these traditions in a way that Austen never would have had them do. She respected the limitations and boundaries of English society even when they seemed in some way oppressive to her characters.
I was pleasantly surprised that this author refrained from graphic sexuality in the book. Since Anne and Frederick were married, I expected her to take licenses that were unwarranted. She didn’t go quite that far, but the book was still far more sensual than anything Jane Austen would have written. This is not Austen’s book of course, but these are Austen’s characters, and given the author’s clear efforts to make the language somewhat similar -with mixed success- I thought she should have also done the same with regard to the sensuality.
The next fiction book in my queue is in fact, Persuasion. I haven’t read it in a few years and an honest comparison demands that I refresh my memory of it mainly because of the way Wentworth is presented here. He is sentimental, sappy and not a little bit petty. None of these traits are present in our original introduction to Captain Wentworth. Granted, given that this story is told from his perspective and in the aftermath of the deep pain Anne caused him in Persuasion, it possible that I am miffed at having my image of him shattered by Jeffers’ attempt to lay bare the depth of his love for Anne and extent of his pain at being kept from marrying her and the 8 years they were separated.
The ending chapters were quite bizarre and unnecessary. It was almost as if Jeffers suddenly decided to start writing another book: Frederick the Spy. I am still not quite sure what to make of it. Nevertheless, I wasn’t bored, and it was an easy read. Not high praise, but enough to keep it out my “below average” grading.
3 out of 5 stars.