Author Juliet Archer has undertaken the daunting task of re-writing Jane Austen’s classic novels with a modern and contemporary twist. Her first novel in the series, The Importance of Being Emma (2008), was warmly embraced. Now, Persuade Me is the second offering in her Darcy & Friends series. Reading Persuade Me was like gazing with admiration at any one of my six grandchildren. There before me are reminders of some of the best-loved features of my own children but lovingly arranged fresh and new. As I began the 341 page odyssey I thought to myself “What can possibly be so entertaining and compelling about a story that you already know the outcome of?”
First, Archer has wisely chosen to drape her updated story on the framework of what this reviewer considers Miss Austen’s greatest love story. The faithfulness and accuracy to which she closely marks her contemporary story line to Jane Austen’s original is quite astonishing.
Second, it is my conviction that a reader who perchance has never read any of Jane Austen’s works would consider Persuade Me as a stand-alone story of remarkable strength, humor, emotion, suspense, and depth-of-feeling. It is also a testament to the author’s writing skill that we read greater insights into the character and feelings of the hero which are somewhat absent in the original.
The Author sets the stage with Dr. Rick Wentworth, (Capt Frederick Wentworth) an eminent marine biologist who has been working in Australia for the past ten years and still struggling to forget his first love: Anna Elliot. He has published a best-selling book on his research and is returning to England for a book-signing tour. It is inevitable that he once again encounters Anna Elliot who is a lecturer in Russian studies at Bath & Western University. She treats her noble heritage with more contempt than pride because it was the threatened reputation of her titled family that forcibly separated the lovers a decade ago. They finally meet again at Uppercross, the home of Rick’s sister, Sophie Croft. Rick tries not to remember but cannot help himself….
Her voice – and the years crumbled away … He was jumping over the rocks to be with her and she was saying ‘Careful, Rick.’ She never shouted, never had to; he always heard her, as if his brain was tuned to a special frequency … Other memories intruded. On the boat, just the two of them. His voice, strangely hesitant: ‘My grandmother used to say – if you can’t be good, be careful.’ And her laugh, soft and seductive, like her skin against his: ‘Well then, we’d better careful, hadn’t we?’ (89)
Anna Elliot (Anne Elliot) is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, the eighth Baronet of Kellynch, and her deceased mother, Princess Irina Grigoryevna Petrova, a descendent of the Russian aristocracy. Her present situation parallels Rick’s in that she is also living in the past with what might have been…
“Somewhere deep down was another Anna, the one she’d been at eighteen during that summer in France. The one Rick Wentworth had coaxed into being, then left to shrivel and die. And she hadn’t really looked at another man since. Oh she’d tried; at Oxford there’d been a few boyfriends, but they simply couldn’t compare. It was like warming yourself on a radiator when you were used to basking in the sun. She’d grown accustomed to it now, this quiet longing for another life.” (34)
Juliet Archer honors the legacy of the original novel by respectfully maintaining what I believe to be the original artistic intent of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. ALL the unforgettable content is gloriously revisited in Persuade Me: The story line with its melancholy mood, sense of longing, and anticipation, the characters, the anecdotes, the locations….EVERYTHING is in there down to the minutest detail! Revisit Kellynch and its environs, Bath, Uppercross, Lyme Regis and the Cobb. Relive the situations: the party at the Musgrove’s, the walk in the country, the nephew firmly attached to Anna’s neck, the accident on the Cobb, the encounter at the theater in Bath, the emotional dialogue between Anna and Ben (Capt Harville) and finally the letter….yes, that wonderfully soul piercing LETTER! Every single one of the people in Persuasion lovingly reappear in Persuade Me: Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth in all of their excessive vanity, Lady Russell, the Crofts, Mrs. Clay, the Musgroves, Mrs. Smith, Benwick, Harville, Lady Dalrymple, the adorable Musgrove nephews, William Elliot, and best of all – Anna & Rick.
Is Persuade Me a “new old story” or an “old new story?” Whatever you consider it, I hope I have “persuaded” you to add this impressive offering to your stack of must-reads.
5 out of 5 Stars
Persuade Me (Darcy & Friends 2), by Juliet Archer
Choc Lit (2011)
Trade paperback (416) pages
Cover image courtesy of Choc Lit ©2011; text Jeffrey Ward © 2011, Austenprose.com