It is a truth universally acknowledged—that a young woman looking for wisdom on how to live life can gain a surprising amount of wisdom from looking at the characters in Jane Austen’s six novels and at the novelist’s life. That, at least, is the premise of a new book by Lori Smith, The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman.
Although Austen lived in relative obscurity and died at an early age (41), although she lived 200 years ago, one of the reasons for her enduring popularity is the believability of her characters. We recognize Emma’s sharp tongue, Lydia Bennett’s flightiness (honestly, nowadays she’d probably have her own reality-TV show!), Elizabeth’s wittiness, Elinor Dashwood’s constancy and selflessness. It’s apparent through the novels which characters are to be admired and emulated, and which are not. Modern women can learn a lot from Jane Austen.
In The Jane Austen Guide to Life, Smith obligingly lays it out for us. She mines Austen’s life, letters and books to give us gems such as:
- Living Your Dreams
- Becoming a Woman of Substance
- Finding a Good Man
- Recovering from a Broken Heart
- Seeking Fame and Success
- Venturing Solo
- Finding Joy and Laughter
Smith points out that Austen was just like us in many ways. She pursued her dream of writing novels even though it certainly wouldn’t have been expected of a young woman in her time and place, and it was only through the perseverance and support of her family that she was ever published in the first place. Yet throughout her novels, her moral compass and sense of virtue shine forth. “She cared about virtue without being tedious about it. She laughed at the world not because she was careless…but the laughter made everything easier,” comments Smith (197-198)
I have to admit that one of the reasons I give Austen novels to my daughter is because I want her to grow up like one of the characters Austen admired. I want her to be steady, witty, thoughtful, selfless, content, to marry well or not at all (that is, to marry a man of character, in spite of whatever wealth he may or may not have), to not chase fame or success for their own sake. This message stands out from a lot of other influences she has in her life—from school, from friends, from books that present as desirable an infatuation that takes a girl away from friends and family to a secretive family in the woods who could kill her (and no, I’m not a fan of Twilight, especially for teenage girls, although we have read and discussed them). The Jane Austen Guide to Life takes these life lessons and presents them to us in a very accessible way. It’s a lovely book, and it would be a great present for the young woman in your life.
I’m very pleased to tell you that one of you can win a copy! Simply leave a comment below to enter—and tell me, which Austen novel or character is your favorite? Mine is, hands down, Elizabeth Bennett, and I think she is going to be the most popular. Let’s see! The winner of the book will be announced 8/7.
Elizabeth rereads Pride and Prejudice every year or two and never fails to enjoy it. Learn more at her blog Planet Nomad.
Elizabeth B., for sure, but you are so right about Lydia.
I am definitely a fan of Austen–especially how her heroes and heroines are real and fallible people. But her ridiculous supporting casts–you are totally right about Lydia having a reality TV show!
I’ll have to pick E. Bennett, too!
Melissa Mc says
Anne Elliott. She was more mature, already suffered heartbreak, and still persevered with her life. Then Capt. Wentworth came along (again).
But Eliz Bennett rocks too!
Julia Reffner says
I definitely like Elizabeth Bennett best, but Elinor Dashwood is a favorite, too.
How can you not love Elizabeth Bennett…but I also love her dad!
You won! Please reply with your shipping address.
Mary Preston says
I’d have to choose Col Brandon. Such an honorable Gentleman.
I liked Anne Elliott – I wondered how much more despair she was hiding.
Barbara H. says
I’d love to win this. My favorite Austen heroine is Elinor Dashwood, hero: Mr. Knightly.; novel: Persuasion.
Amy B. says
I love Jane Austen, so I would love to win this! I think Elizabeth Bennet is probably my favorite heroine, though I think Emma narrowly beats out Pride & Prejudice for my favorite novel. Mr. Knightley my favorite hero. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.
Jennifer \\ Blogful of Books says
This sounds like a great book!
My favorite Austen character is Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey. 🙂
Joyness Sparkles says
OH my goodness! I am so glad that you posted this, Austenites, unite! 🙂
I dearly love all of Jane Austens Characters, I love them each for who they were written to be, I love the heros, the villians, all of it! If I must choose, I think Elinor is my favorite with Elizabeth and Anne tying for second and Emma in third.
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightly are my favorite Austen men and Caroline B. and Lady Susan are my favorite nasty, undermining women.
Has anyone read, “Sandition,” by Jane Austen and ‘Another Lady?” That is also quite excellent. My favorite Austen “sequels” so far are by Elizabeth Aston. Do you all have any to recommend?
Thank you SO much for this post and giveaway!
I adore Lizzy, and would love to have been just like her, but in my maturity I have come to love and cherish Anne Elliot. Quiet strength. So glad she got her man in the end.
Alison S. says
Elizabeth Bennett. I always loved watching her in the old b&w version of P&P. And now I need to go rewatch it. 🙂
Gigi Ann says
My favorite character of Austen’s is “Emma” I fell in love with her and her ways of meddling in the lives of others, she always meant well, however, she had to suffer through a series of misunderstandings before she learns to stop meddling.
Anna (Diary of an Eccentric) says
This sounds like a charming book. I love Austen, and I can’t wait to share her novels — not just the movie versions — with my daughter.
My favorite Austen novel is Persuasion because I love the more mature love story, but my favorite heroine is Elizabeth Bennet because she turns down not one but two proposals because she doesn’t love the men in question — especially knowing that her family needs her and her sisters to marry well.
Elizabeth Bennet is my favourite character, no question about it. On the other hand, it’s Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice vying for the top spot as favourite novel. Can’t really decide who is the winner.
Mine is Mr. Darcy and Pride and Prejudice.
I love Elizabeth Bennett, her wit is wonderful. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of Austen’s works.
Connie E. Sokol says
My enduring favorite is Elizabeth Bennet (and I believe it’s spelled with one “t”), mainly because she is so real for any century. She is to be admired for her savvy, her somewhat jaded look at what she knows to be a constricted life but to gently and lovingly find the humor in the foibles of it and the people around her. And her ability to observe, to learn, and ultimately to be humble and grow from what she sees and experiences is what makes her personality timeless. She could be any woman, in any age, and more importantly a woman we’d like to be.
Patricia finnegan says
My favorite is tied between persuasion and pride and prejudice
I could say Lizzy Bennet, because she’s the first Austen heroine I read…and like her, I like to make witty comments, but I can end like an Emma. Wish I could be as mature as Elinor or Anne 😉
May I please split my vote between Elizabeth
Bennet and Anne Elliot…? They are both
personal heroines of mine.
Hailey L. says
I love the novel Emma. I just read it for the first time at 27 years old 🙂