Zoë Heller's Bookshelf
By Jane Austen
I worship all of Austen's novels, but if I have to choose one over the others, I plump for the autumnal pleasures of Persuasion. Anne Elliot, the principal marriage-seeker in this story, is an older, more disappointed heroine than we are used to encountering in Austen. When the novel begins, she is 27 and understood to be past her prime. (And we think we live in a youth-obsessed culture.) Years ago Anne was engaged to a naval officer called Wentworth but, on the bad advice of a friend, broke it off. Now the prospect of a spinster life spent depending on the kindness of snobbish, insufferable relatives is beckoning. This is the last work Austen completed before her death in 1817, and it is rather more tender and melancholy in tone than the novels that preceded it. I read it once or twice a year, whenever I feel in need of a good cry.