For Austen in August I've beginning with Persuasion, the last novel Jane Austen completed, published in December 1817, though the title page says 1818 (I've noticed some of Hans Christian Andersen's title pages are dated the year following the publication - I'm not sure why this is). It's one I find most interesting - two of my favourite Austens are Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813) in which the subject is young women on the threshold of marriage. In Persuasion that threshold has passed; the panic of imagined spinsterhood in other novels is a very real threat and possibility in Persuasion, indeed one unmarried woman (aged twenty-nine) talks of approaching "the years of danger". The main characters are women in their late twenties, older than, for example, Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood. But this is just one element to love in Persuasion.
In it Austen tells the story of Anne Elliot, twenty-seven years old (age matters very much in Persuasion) and unmarried, who, eight years previously broke her engagement to Frederick Wentworth on the advice of her close friend Lady Russell. Poor Anne spends the next eight years regretting it, but, as Persuasion starts these eight years later, Frederick Wentworth comes back into her life. He, once poor and with apparently with no real prospects, has spent his time at sea involved in the Napoleonic Wars, and has returned financially secure, wealthy even, and is looking to marry. He has not, however, forgiven Anne for breaking their engagement.
Meanwhile Anne, her father Sir Walter, and sister Elizabeth (her younger sister Mary is already married) are forced to move from their family home Kellynch Hall (Somerset) and rent it out, and for the rather vain Sir Walter, obsessed by his peerage (indeed the novel opens with Sir Walter looking himself up in the Baronetage of England), this is a truly awful state of affairs. So, he and Elizabeth move to Bath and Anne goes to stay with Mary at Uppercross Hall. By coincidence, it is Frederick Wentworth's sister Sophia and her husband the Admiral Croft who rent Kellynch Hall, which brings Frederick back to Somerset and to Anne's life. Understandably, as I've said, he finds himself unable to forgive her and it seems as though he will marry Anne's sister-in-law Louisa Musgrove. But of course, as with the best of novels, there are many twists, turns, and shocks. The ending is of no surprise, but the journey is full of them!
It is a great novel, not a favourite, but I think the most intriguing. Anne Elliot is a fine Austen heroine - kind, intelligent, sensible, and witty, though clearly rather depressed, and Captain Wentworth is almost like a Mr. Darcy figure, aloof (for good reason), and forced to overcome his pride and shame (at being jilted as he was), though Mr. Darcy is from what I suppose we would call "old money", like Sir Walter who wasted his. Wentworth however is "new money"; hard work, good sense, and a bit of good luck has brought him his fortune. What I loved, as I've already said, is seeing life and society of women regarded as past their marriageable age. It's a very sad novel in that respect, especially knowing as we do Jane Austen herself regretted rejecting a suitor in her youth. Anne is an inspiration in this sense - she loves Wentworth, she never stopped loving him, and she copes admirably with her loss, the shock of his reappearance, and the sadness of believing he loves another, all on top of having to leave her family home and live with her rather tiresome sister. Persuasion is a very impressive book.
Finally, some illustrations - I love these very much - these are by C. E. Brock for the 1909 edition published by J. M. Dent. He illustrated all of the Jane Austen novels and I'm excited to see the others.