Norah Woodsey.

Anne Elliot's feelings are timeless

Every fictional story is a mosaic assembled from the author’s experiences. Moments they lived through, stories handed down to them from distant times and places. For an author, life is material for building a fictional world, one that must be believed as it entertains. I chose to set my fourth book, “The States,” in two places I know well – Manhattan and the Galway Gaeltacht. A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” “The States” tells of Tildy Sullivan, the middle daughter to the CEO of a cosmetics empire. She is trapped between her obligation to her vain, careless family in New York and a life (and a love) she left behind in Galway. A dream experiment allows her to experience her life as it is by day and what it could be at night, without sacrifice. Or, so it seems. 

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Of all my stories, “The States” has the most moments directly copied from my life, even though I have little in common with the protagonist. I am an Irish American from south Brooklyn, not elite Manhattan, the daughter of a locksmith, not a wealthy scion. I have no lost loves in Galway or anywhere else, no memories of long, careless summers spent on Irish beaches with cousins. Not only am I not a data scientist, I have dyscalculia and struggle to read a clock, let alone analyze tables of numbers.

However, much of the longing Tildy feels for Ireland is as I experienced it, particularly throughout my childhood and on my first visit, a solo trip during college. From the first moment, I felt both out of place and accepted by passersby. I often went days without speaking more than a few words to anyone, and when I did, my American accent seemed like an unpleasant surprise. I stood in stiff, cold winds on treeless hills, I walked along the beaches every morning after breakfast, and leaned over the railing of the Wolfe Tone Bridge and marveled at the power of the Corrib. It was fun to set my own schedule, but it also highlighted that the social connections of my grandmother’s time there were long gone. On my last night, I sat alone in a pub near a group of friends just off work. I listened alone as they teased each other around a sticky, well-loved table. I smiled to myself at how much they cared for each other. On that trip, I observed things I had always hoped would happen to me, but never did. 

That is the feeling Anne Elliot expresses throughout “Persuasion” – a want without desire to take from others. She yearns to belong without causing any displacement. Many of the elements of “Persuasion” do not translate to modern society, like the financial and legal control men held over their female relatives. However, Anne’s feelings are timeless. She is a good person who is paralyzed by her insecurity. She has mixed up loyalties, and needs a second chance to make things right. Though I changed the setting and characters, the heart of the protagonist remains the same. She can change, if she believes she deserves more. 

Norah Woodsey is the author of “The States,” “The Control Problem,” “Lifeless” and the novella “When the Wave Collapses.” Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., she currently lives in California with her husband, children and their dog Saoirse. You can learn more about her at her website here.