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.