Persuasion is the last novel fully completed by Jane Austen. It was published at the end of 1817, six months after her death.
The story concerns Anne Elliot, a young Englishwoman of 27 years, whose family is moving to lower expenses and get out of debt, at the same time as the wars come to an end, putting sailors on shore. They rent their home to an Admiral and his wife. The wife’s brother, Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth, had been engaged to Anne in 1806, and now they meet again, both single and unattached, after no contact in more than seven years. This sets the scene for many humorous encounters as well as a second, well-considered chance at love and marriage for Anne Elliot in her second "bloom".
The novel was well-received by the small world who could afford books in the early 19th century. Greater fame came later in the century, continued in the 20th century, and through to the 21st century. Over that time, scholarly debate on this novel and all Austen's books proceeded apace, which debate continues as to the best aspects of this novel. One major point made by Virginia Woolf and picked up by Stuart Tave, echoing one of the good conversations in the novel, is that the most famous women characters in fiction were written by men, until Jane Austen came along. Anne Elliot is noteworthy among Jane Austen's heroines for being 27 years old, not 19 or 20 years old in that first bloom of youth, and having a second chance at a happy marriage. As Persuasion is Austen's last completed novel, it is accepted as her most maturely written novel showing a refinement of literary conception indicative of a woman approaching forty years of age. Unlike Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, the novel Persuasion was not rewritten from earlier drafts of novels which Austen had originally started before 1800. Her literary technique of the use of free indirect discourse in narrative was by 1816 fully developed and in full evidence when this novel was written. The first edition of the novel was co-published with the previously unpublished novel written during her younger years in 1803 and titled Northanger Abbey; later editions of the two were published as separate novels.
Stevenson has read all of Austen's novels for audiobook, in abridged or unabridged versions, and her experience shows in this delightful production. Though dominated by the intelligent, sweet voice of Anne Elliot the least favored but most worthy of three daughters in a family with an old name but declining fortunes Stevenson provides other characters with memorable voices as well. She reads Anne's haughty father's lines with a mixture of stuffiness and bluster, and Anne's sisters are portrayed with a hilariously flighty, breathy register that makes Austen's contempt for them palpable. Anne's voice is mostly measured and reasonable an expression of her strong mind and spirit but Stevenson imbues her speech with wonderful shades of passion as Anne is reacquainted with Capt. Wentworth, whom she has continued to love despite being forced, years before, to reject him over status issues. Listening to Stevenson, as Anne, describe a sudden encounter with Wentworth, one hardly needs Austen's description of how Anne grows faint Stevenson's perfectly judged and deeply felt reading has already shown that she must have. Even those who have read Austen's novels will find themselves loving this book all over again with Stevenson's evocative rendition ringing richly in their ears.