I don’t know how to review this book. In 200 years since its publication, everything that could be said about it has been said. I can only give you my impressions.
I’m not sure if I liked or disliked it. I enjoyed reading it and I wanted to know how the story ended, but the quality of writing was terrible. Of course, 200 years ago, they didn’t write as we do now, but still, many passages were so convoluted and lasted for so long, I had to unravel the meaning from the verbosity. It’s particularly true of Anne’s inner monologues. When Austen wrote the actions or the dialogues, she was mostly matter of fact, so the narrative flowed. But when Anne had a moment of reflection, the sentences became endless and twisted with an unnecessary build-up of clauses.
The characters were interesting though, if a bit exaggerated, especially the bad guys, so I was (and still am) plagued questions.
Was Anne’s father as enamored with his own appearance and social standing as his monologues and dialogues suggested? Or was it a caricature? Did such purely narcissistic people even exist? Do they exist now? Perhaps they’re camouflaging better?
Was Anne herself, our protagonist, as good and kind and self-effacing, as the writer portrays her? As bland? Or was it perhaps a mockery of all the helpless women of England who had no choice but to be obedient and accepting, no matter what their fate dished them?
Were the naval officers, who constitute a good portion of the male population in the novel, as soft-spoken and good-mannered as they appeared in the story?
On the last point, I am in disagreement with Austen. The naval officers of this story, including Anne’s love interest, Captain Wentworth, made their fortunes during the Napoleonic wars, as privateers. Translation: crown-sponsored pirates. They killed without compunction to get rich. They commanded ruthless and often desperate crews. Could they be as soulful and gentle as Austen describes? I don’t think so. Gentle and considerate men didn’t captain naval ships and survive. They couldn’t. The profession demanded an iron will and unflagging determination of an alpha male. The author probably indulged in wishful thinking, but why did she make her hero a naval officer in the first place? She could have made him instead an Oxford scholar or a clergyman if she wanted kind and gentle.
I don’t have answers to my own questions, but on the whole, I consider this book one of the best examples of British writing from its era. It can’t be compared to modern writing, of course, but I guess, modern writers had to study someone else first, to learn how to write. Austen’s novels would be among the best lessons available to them.