Since AudioGals’ inception in 2012 we’ve been dedicated to bringing you our opinions on the best (and sometimes the worst!) new and recent releases of romance audiobooks. But being as we’re still a toddler, there are lots of other, older goodies out there that we haven’t managed to cover – yet – often titles that were released way before we showed up. But what about the REALLY old romances? The ones that we might not think of as romances now, but which undoubtedly are, and which, in many cases, have provided the inspiration for so many of the stories and tropes that we love today. Adversarial Romance? Elizabeth and Darcy. Friends-to-lovers? Emma and Knightley. Second Chance Romance? Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. Master/Governess? Jane and Rochester. These are books that continue to inspire and inform readers and writers today, and are books I love, so I thought it was time to share some of that with AudioGals readers.
Before I got into reading and listening to romances in a big way, my preferences tended towards Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction and Literary Classics. In fact, Literary Classics formed the major portion of my reading diet and I used to love combing the second-hand bookshops in London for the less well-known titles by famous and not-so-famous authors. In terms of listening, the Classics fan is often confronted with an embarrassment of riches as there are usually quite a lot of recordings available of the principal works. Looking through Audible.com, I find twenty-odd versions of Pride and Prejudice (having weeded out all the spin-offs and zombiefied versions!) by narrators such as Emilia Fox, Kate Reading, Alison Larkin, Lindsay Duncan and Rosalyn Landor. Searching for Jane Eyre throws up thirteen versions, read by, among others, Juliet Stevenson, Susan Erickson and Amanda Root; and David Copperfield nine, with narrators such as Simon Vance, Nicholas Boulton and Richard Armitage.
(Those lists don’t include the unabridged versions, by the way).
If you’ve got a favourite narrator, the choice can be an easy one. Given that I’m someone who pretty much ALWAYS looks at the narrator’s name before the author’s, I will look for a performance by one of my “laundry list” narrators before looking elsewhere. But if you aren’t familiar with any of the narrators on offer, then it can be a bit hit-and-miss.
Amid my normal romance listening for review here at AudioGals, I occasionally get time to sneak in a few of my favourite classics, so over the next few weeks I’m going to share my thoughts on some of those I’ve listened to recently, (and would recommend) just in case you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the water and aren’t sure which version to choose.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Narrated by Michael Page
At first glance, it might seem a bit odd to have a male narrator performing a Jane Austen book, but having listened to Michael Page in a number of other audiobooks, I had no hesitation in selecting his version of the book from all those available. (A recording by Rosalyn Landor has been released since I originally wrote this piece, and needless to say, I will be adding that to my library as well!) His cut-crystal tones are perfect for Austen’s scalpel-sharp observational prose in this story of lovers reunited after years apart. Anne Elliot is the middle (of three) daughter of Sir Walter, a baronet who is so full of his own self-importance that the word “snob” doesn’t even begin to describe him. Her eldest sister, Elizabeth, is still unmarried and is as much of a snob as her father, and her younger sister, Mary, is married to Charles Musgrove and is settled at Uppercross with her husband and young children. Eight years previously, Anne had met and fallen in love with Frederick Wentworth, a worthy but poor young naval officer; but was persuaded, by her father and Lady Russell – an old family friend and the closest thing Anne had to a mother after the death of her own – to refuse his proposal of marriage. Terribly hurt at Anne’s rejection and at the fact that she was so easily swayed by her relatives, Wentworth left, and Anne has seen and heard nothing of him since. He has now returned to England following the end of the Napoleonic wars a distinguished Captain – and an extremely wealthy one at that.
Wentworth and Anne are put back into each other’s way when his sister’s husband, Admiral Croft, rents Kellynch Hall (the Elliot’s home) for the summer. The Elliots are all to remove to Bath in order to conserve funds, but when Mary, as she so often does, complains of her health, the plans are changed, and Sir Walter and Elizabeth go to Bath while Anne goes to stay with Mary and her family. Word reaches them that Captain Wentworth is staying at Kellynch with his sister, and Anne hopes that perhaps they may meet as friends.
Their first meeting after eight years, however, is a disappointment on Anne’s part. Even though she tells herself that the cool cordiality with which she and Wentworth meet again is exactly as it should be, she cannot help but feel downcast by his manner. In fact, he seems more interested in one of Musgrove’s sisters than in Anne, and she resigns herself to the fact that she has lost his love forever.
A few more twists and turns of the plot sees Anne being courted by her cousin, who will inherit the baronetcy upon the death of Sir Walter – and who turns out to be a rather nasty piece of work, wanting to marry Anne only because he wishes to secure the Elliot title and fortune. Captain Wentworth, whose manner towards Anne has been gradually becoming warmer, is terribly jealous of Mr Elliot, and pens her a love letter which is one of my favourite declarations of love ever written – and of course, all ends happily, with the lovers back where they belong – together.
Persuasion is Jane Austen’s last completed work, and as someone who enjoys second chance romances, I’m a big fan. It was written in a hurry shortly before her death, and is the only one of her books to feature a heroine who is (in terms of the mores of the time) past the bloom of youth (Anne is twenty-seven) and a hero who is not landed gentry, but a self-made man. The author’s depictions of Sir Walter and Elizabeth are positively scathing, although couched, naturally, in that wonderful veneer of politeness that she uses so effectively to veil her most cutting barbs, and it’s in the delivery of these that Michael Page particularly excels. His portrayal of Sir Walter is perfect, his speech constantly given a bored drawl that captures the essence of the man – selfish, self-important and irresponsible. His pacing is excellent as are his interpretations of the numerous secondary characters in the book, both male and female, all of whom are successfully characterised and differentiated. Mr Page does a good job of keeping his portrayals of Anne and Wentworth distinct from all of them, although if I have a criticism of the audio overall, it’s that his vocalisation of Wentworth is a little overly bright to start with. But I especially enjoyed his portrayal of Anne; her good sense and kindness come through in his performance, as does her appreciation of the ridiculous and her ability to see the faults in those she loves even as she accepts them. It’s an excellent performance of one of my favourite novels, and one I’m happy to recommend.
Publisher: The Classic Collection - Brilliance Audio