This past summer I read Regina Jeffers’s Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion from Wentworth’s perspective. Originally published as Wayward Love: Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Story in 2009, this novel is a welcome addition to the ever-increasing number of Jane Austen rewrites, continuations, and adaptations.

I’ve written before about how much I like Jeffers’s previous novels, Vampire Darcy’s Desire and Darcy’s Passions. Since Persuasion is my favorite of Austen’s novels, I was eager to see what Jeffers would do with it. She does not disappoint.

Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion begins shortly after Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot’s marriage. Napoleon has escaped from Elba, and Wentworth has been called back into service to captain a ship. Anne is with him on board when her husband is wounded during an attack on a French frigate. As she nurses him back to health, he recalls their original courtship and then their reunion eight years later. Through his flashbacks, we see the events of Austen’s novel from his point of view.

Two things immediately appeal to me about this narrative method. First, I like that Jeffers constantly moves back and forth between the past and the present. This back and forth tends to build suspense as we aren’t sure of the outcome of Wentworth’s wound. And even if we assume that Jeffers isn’t going to kill off our hero, we still don’t know where this plot will take us. I like that a lot — it makes for a much more interesting read than a straight up rewrite of Austen’s tale. Jeffers then takes the story a step further by moving beyond the war, letting us know what happens to Anne and Frederick afterward.

Second, I like that Jeffers is able to blend the past of Austen’s story — Wentworth’s return to Uppercross, his reunion with Anne and flirtation with Louisa Musgrove, the latter’s injury and subsequent recovery, and the romantic climax in Bath — with the present of her original tale so seamlessly. She certainly captures the spirit and feel of Austen’s world, which is what I admire most about the best of the Austen rewrites.

Unlike Pride and Prejudice, which poses the challenge of having to make sense of Darcy’s inconsistent behavior toward Elizabeth, the challenge of retelling Persusion (to my mind at least) is to keep Wentworth as perfect as he is in Austen’s original. While he’s obviously either a bit daft or kind of a prick for either actually liking or pretending to like Louisa when he comes back into Anne’s life, his behavior makes psychological sense, and so I can’t hold it against him — he was the first protagonist of a novel that I was conscious of being in love with as a gay teenager. Jeffers does a great job of continuing Wentworth’s likability by foregrounding his psyche. Take, for example, this paragraph, which describes his mental state after seeing Anne again after their eight-year estrangement:

He walked silently beside Charles Musgrove, lost in his thoughts. He replayed the scene–her eyes half met his; a bow, a curtsy passed; he talked to Mary, said all that was right; said something to the Misses Musgrove–the room seemed full, full of people and voices–but a few minutes ended it. “It is over! It is over!” he repeated to himself again and again in nervous agitation. “The worst is over!” He had seen her. They had met. They were once more in the same room! Eight years, almost eight years had passed, since they gave up on love. How absurd to be resuming the agitation which such an interval had banished into distance and indistinctness! What might not eight years do? Events of every description, changes, alienations, removals–all, all must be comprised in it; and oblivion of the past–how natural, how certain too! It included nearly one-quarter of his life.

This paragraph represents everything I like about this novel. It feels genuine, in the sense that Austen’s Wentworth could have thought these thoughts. It also seems realistic apart from Austen: any man could think these thoughts. It also takes up and develops the themes of Austen’s original: time, age, change, and whether love can endure such separation. And it’s also really well written: I like Jeffers’s use of long and short sentences throughout this paragraph.

While I really enjoyed this novel, I do have one complaint: it’s a little too long. I would have liked for it to end with Chapter 22 and then for Jeffers to have written an entirely new book that starts with the plot lines of Chapter 23 and following. So, fundamentally, my complaint is that I want another novel about Anne and Wentworth from Jeffers!

But apart from that one “problem,” I enjoyed this novel a lot and highly recommend it. In fact, to prepare to write this post, I reread the entire novel today — I’m feeling a bit under the weather and just wanted to lie in bed and read a good book, which is exactly what I did.

Advertisements