At the age of nineteen, Anne Elliot became engaged to Frederick Wentworth, a sailor with neither family nor fortune. Her friend Lady Russell was horrified, and persuaded Anne that such a match was beneath a baronet’s daughter. Anne did her duty and broke it off; and the thought that the secret nature of the relationship would prevent any embarrassment consoled her, even if nothing else did. Eight years later she has settled into the quiet life of a spinster; overlooked by her father and her elder sister, and obliged to receive all the complaints of the younger, with Lady Russell remaining her one true friend. Then her father’s extravagant lifestyle catches up with him, and he is forced to let Kellynch Hall and remove with his single daughters to Bath (where even a mere baronet can be of some consequence). As luck would have it, the new tenants are Admiral and Mrs Croft - sister and brother-in-law of the now-Captain Wentworth. And since Anne stays for some time in the area as a guest of her sister Mary and Mary’s in-laws, the Musgroves, it isn’t long before she and her former fiancé meet once more. The past eight years have seen Captain Wentworth make his fortune, but now that he is an eligible suitor for a baronet’s daughter, he concentrates his attentions on the Musgrove sisters Henrietta and Louisa and seems scarcely to notice Anne at all.
She meanwhile attracts the notice of her cousin - and her father’s heir - William Elliot. For years he wanted nothing to do with the family, yet now he is eager for a reconciliation, and perhaps a wedding as well. She puts up with him out of politeness but has no intention of accepting any proposal from him, for she knows that there is only one man she could ever marry. At Uppercross, at Lyme, and at Bath, she watches for any sign that he might still care for her, or at least have forgiven her.
It’s so long since I’ve read this book that, except for a few little bits I remembered of the movie, it was like reading it for the first time. I’m sure I enjoyed it the first time around, and I just adored it the second. Anne is wonderful; I know what it’s like to be forever ignored (though not at home, fortunately) and admired her grace under neglect. And while I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone and then - maybe - get a second chance, I wholeheartedly believed that, yes, that’s exactly what someone in that situation would think and feel. She knows that she has no reason to hope, and she tries not to do so. Yet she can’t help watching him to see if he’s looking at her and listening for any word from him. And who wouldn’t do the same? The side plots always kept me interested - a good thing since Anne and Frederick’s reconciliation naturally takes some time to get going - and were filled with likeable characters, as well as some not so pleasant. The revelation of Mr. Elliot’s motivations in seeking out his uncle left me impressed by how little human nature has changed in the last couple of centuries and hoping that his plans would come to naught. Another thing I liked was that Lady Russell, the instrument of the break-up, was never portrayed as any kind of villain but simply someone who made an error of judgement; an error later rectified when she saw Wentworth’s value, and how her assumptions had misled her.
This being Jane Austen, there was plenty of humour and poking fun at the society of the time. Much of this is directed at Anne’s relatives; her father and elder sister Elizabeth and their determination to maintain the style dictated by the title, Mary and her family using Anne as the recipient of their contradictory grumbles, and the Musgrove sisters developing a sudden passion for all things naval with the arrival of Captain Wentworth. Speaking of whom ... he remained something of a mystery for a lot of the book, as even when he was present his interaction with Anne was minimal. But that was more than compensated for by the letter than he wrote her when he knew she still loved him. *Sigh*....