It is no secret that Jane Austen’s novels were influenced by her life, but I believe that as she grew in maturity, Austen’s heroine’s grew with her. I think this is why for so many female readers her characters have different levels of relatability at separate times in their lives.
When I first read Sense and Sensibility at about fifteen, I could feel in convincing detail every single melodramatic emotion that Marianne felt and I wept with her when she wept. I fell a little bit in love with Willoughby, didn’t understand any Colonel Brandon that wasn’t Alan Rickman, and my heart was shattered when she was jilted. I even daydreamed about playing her in a mini-series before they actually released one. I knew I was the only girl who really understood Marianne Dashwood and could portray her with any justice. I was a very intense fifteen year-old.
And on my most recent reading of Emma, I connected with her much more than I had in junior high when I first read it. I know I’ve had my know-it-all moments where I wouldn’t budge and I’ve slipped up and said insensitive things that were meant in jest when I was on a roll exchanging humor with friends. I even understand why Frank Churchill is so irresistible either as a mate or just a friend. Too often I’ve fallen for the flirtatious guy who keeps pushing the joke just a little to close to the edge that you beg through giggles and exhausted tears to stop or at least keep his voice down. I know what it’s like to not know where the line falls between witty exchanges and flirting. I must admit that I have also daydreamed about playing Emma.
I love Persuasion’s story and I love the characters, but I can’t say that I entirely relate to Anne Elliot. I can fully understand her journey as I would like to consider myself an empathetic, imaginative person, but aside from her patience and endurance which I know all too well, I have never experienced a long-term separation like the one she had from Captain Wentworth If anything, I recognize qualities in her that I have seen in relatives that lost or were separated from a loved-one or sacrificed their own feelings for those of another. And I have certainly heard from others that they connect especially with Anne. I have not yet fantasized about playing her in any theatrical format.
Persuasion, like most of Austen’s novels, I think could only have been written from the first hand experience of a woman who had endured much and grown abundantly in wisdom. It follows a trend, I believe, of a woman who expressed her deepest passions and heartbreaks, as well as her silliest mistakes in pages that created an emotional depth that could not have been achieved purely from fantasy.