The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen & David M. Shapard

I have read Persuasion so many times I’ve lost count.
It’s pretty much the same story for all of my Austen’s. 
I reread them for comfort as well as the pure pleasure of spending time with a good friend.
But as with all long-term friendships, a time comes when you realise that maybe you’re starting to take each other for granted. You stop being curious and simply accept their presence in your life. It can take a concerted effort to reinvigorate the relationship, add some pizzazz and spice things up with a new twist!
For Jane and I that time had come. It was time shake things up and delve deeper to learn something new about each other. But how to see something so familiar through fresh eyes? What else could I possibly have to learn about JA that I haven’t already come across in the numerous bio’s and books I’ve read about her over the years?

The only thing I hadn’t tried before was combining the non-fiction with the fiction – reading about the times, the places, the language, the history as they influenced JA in writing a particular story.

 Which is why I have decided to make the next couple of years my Annotated Austen Extravaganza!

I’ve never read any annotated version of anything before, so I approached this first attempt a little cautiously. In case annotation was something that I didn’t like, I decided to start with a well-known, much-loved story. A story that wouldn’t be spoilt for me by any adverse conditions or reactions to a different format.
Just like Captain Wentworth, I was half agony, half hope!

Would all this extra information distract from the reading experience or would it enhance my enjoyment of the story as well as make me admire JA’s abilities to craft a story even more?

To cut a long story short, yes.
Yes, I enjoyed reading the annotated version of Persuasion, but I did have some reservations.

At times it did disrupt the flow of the narrative, and often times I thought this disruption was unnecessary. Since I have read JA so many times, I understand her use of language and the different meanings of certain words between now and then. The definitions therefore annoyed rather than edified.

But I loved the extra background detail about JA’s reading habits, her literary influences and her relationship with Stoicism. I enjoyed having connections made between events in her own life and events within the book. I poured over the old pictures and drawings of dresses, carriages and maps of the local area.

We all know that Persuasion is not without it’s flaws – Shapard discusses these thoughtfully, as one who also loves this work and it’s author as much as we do. His aim is not to tear it down or judge harshly, but to wonder what may have been if JA had had more time to edit and revise Persuasion.

Reading The Annotated Persuasion was a bit like a first date. Awkward at times, but with a lot of good will, intentions and hope. As we relaxed into each other’s company, annotated edition and I got to know each other better,  and it feels like the start of a promising new relationship.


12 thoughts on “The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen & David M. Shapard

  1. I saw this on your list and considered reading it myself but balked at the idea of working too hard for something I feel like I already know, mostly. I would be curious to read the bit about what he thinks Austen would have done with the piece had she had more time.


  2. Most of the notes were quite brief, but he felt that with more time JA would have fleshed out the character of Lady Russell, made Mrs Smith's reveal work better and tidied up the mess that was Mr Eliot and Mrs Clay's dalliance.


  3. I'm now also wishing that I had read an annotated version of Les Mis. Reading a chapter a day would have been a good (manageable) way to also tackle the annotation and it would have helped to fill in a lot of details about what was true or not about Hugo's version of history.


  4. I can highly recommend it.Although I will need to read more annotated versions to see whether it's best for me to read the note as it appears in the text or wait 'til the end of the chapter, then read all the notes in one go.


  5. I'm also reading (very slowly) the Paula Byrne book The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things. It has had lots of amazing info about the life and times of JA as well as various insights into the books, but they're all mixed up together in each chapter, which makes it hard to find again when you just want to check up on one particular novel.


  6. I own all the Shapard annotations but I don't think I've read all of them — I think only P&P and S&S. I did love the background though, I think they are so well researched. I have so many unread books that I feel guilty about rereads and mostly save those for audiobooks when I need something very comforting. I should really just take time and read all of Jane Austen, in order.


  7. I must look around for this. I think annotation works best for books you know well – I think that makes the flow, from text to annotation and back, work most easily. The annotated work I remember best was Huck Finn, but I've read a couple of others.


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