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Editor's note.

"WHICH BOOK CHANGED YOUR LIFE?" "What was the novel that changed you or saw you through a crisis?" "What kind of book marks a watershed in a woman's life?" What book "made a crucial difference during some transitional period in your life?" Which book--by a man or a woman--made "a memorable intervention" in your life? In a recent poll sponsored through the Orange Prize in association with BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, these were the questions posed by Lisa Jardine to the English reading public (The Guardian, Monday, September 13, 2004). When the results of the poll were analyzed, a handful of books "stood out as guides to the female perplexed." The conclusion will not come as a surprise to the readers of Persuasions: on December 8, 2004, it was announced that Pride and Prejudice topped the list. Viva Jane Austen!

A poll like this one--which garnered nearly 14,000 votes as well as lengthy, passionate, and genuinely thoughtful commentary--suggests that the more we read, re-read, and discuss Austen's novels, the more we learn about and understand ourselves and our neighbors. We often interpret our own 21st-century predicaments and question our personal and social behaviors through the prism of the Austen oeuvre. The virtues, mistakes, and quotidian choices of characters who were sorting through their fictional problems 200 years ago clearly resonate with us today because Jane Austen etched and filled in universal truths.

The essays in Persuasions offer interpretations that seek to challenge readers' views about truth and fiction. If the BBC Radio 4 poll posed the "which" or the "what" question, the critical analyses in this volume of essays propose a variety of answers to the "why" and the "how" questions. The Conference essays examine "Anne Elliot in the City: Interior and Exterior Worlds"; these pieces probe the novel that has been called the most subtle of Jane Austen's works. The essays range from an assessment of Anne Elliot's isolation and separateness (Pamela Regis's "Her happiness was from within," for example, and Juliette Wells's "In music she had always used to feel alone in the world"), to the public worlds of the spa and the navy. Paula Byrne examines "The unmeaning luxuries of Bath," while Peter Graham poses the question: "Why Lyme Regis?" These are only a few of the lines of inquiry that make re-examination of Persuasion--of each novel--so challenging. It is the asking of questions that brings us to knowledge--about literature, about ourselves, about the world.

The Miscellany offers essays on topics that range from "reticence" to "sibling dynamics" to biographical data on Charles Austen, Jane's "prize-chasing" brother. In the spirit of questioning, James R. Simmons asks, "Did Willoughby Join the Navy?" Daniel Woolf, in "Jane Austen and History Revisited," begins his essay by challenging the reader to think about tire relationship of the author and the events of tire past: "Did Jane Austen have much at all to say about history?" And Edward Neill's "'Little Women?': Karen Joy Fowler's Adventure in Austenland" conflates the past and the present to explore a very contemporary phenomemon: the book club.

Questions and book clubs--we have come full-circle, right back to BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour poll about our favorite books. We read; we are enlightened. We analyze; we discover more questions. The essays offered here in Persuasions continue tire dialogue about reading and meaning in our busy, complicated, angst-filled existences.
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Author:Kaplan, Laurie
Publication:Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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