8 Ways to Live Like Jane Austen
Are you a Jane Austen fan? Have you ever been faced by a difficult decision — when you had to make a choice and desperately wanted to do the right thing, but weren’t sure which alternative was best? The next time that happens, make it easy on yourself.
Just ask: What Would Jane Do?
One reason Jane Austen’s six novels are so beloved and still resonate with readers today is that she was an astute observer of human nature. Through her witty and clever storylines and recognizable characters, she teaches us important lessons about how to be the best people we can be. Her advice is thoughtful, wise, and timeless.
By studying the choices Jane Austen’s characters make, as well as the choices Jane Austen made in her own life, we can find a guide to help us navigate our own troubled waters. The next time you’re in a quandary or just need a few sensible and uplifting thoughts to get you through the day, ponder these tips from Jane Austen:
1. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS
“You must be the best judge of your own happiness.” —
We only get one life. Are you sharing your awesomeness with the world? Jane Austen’s real-life choices remind us how important it is to follow your bliss — to put in the effort and go after what you want.
Jane Austen lived at a time when few women were authors, and most novels were Gothic tales about damsels in distress featuring violent or mysterious events and gloomy castles. I love Gothic suspense novels! But in Austen’s era, the genre was usually heavy on fantasy and light on characterization.
Jane Austen ignored convention and wrote what she wanted to write. She forged a new path and gave us the realistic novel that we enjoy today: stories about familiar people who encountered the same social, emotional, and economical problems as her readers.
You can learn more about Jane Austen’s journey to become a published author in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. It took guts and a huge investment of Jane Austen’s time to write her novels, but they sold well and made the authoress happy and proud.
What do you dream about doing? There’s no time like the present. Do it!
2. LISTEN TO YOUR INNER GUIDE
“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” —Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
How often do we give in to pressure from family and friends to do something we don’t want to do, because they think it is in our best interests?
In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, despite intense coercion from everyone she knew to marry Henry Crawford, Fanny Price refused, because she knew they weren’t right for each other. In Austen’s Persuasion, Anne Elliot was persuaded by a family friend to end her engagement to Frederick Wentworth. In time, Anne deeply regrets that decision and wishes she had listened to her heart instead.
Learn from Fanny’s and Anne’s examples. When you’re faced by a dilemma, it can be helpful to get counsel from those you love, but don’t rely entirely on their advice. Regard it as an opportunity to help you think through the problem before making your own choice. Only you know what is right for you.
3. NEVER GIVE UP
“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience—or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.” —Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Have you been working hard at something, yet your goal remains out of reach? Are you thinking of giving up? Don’t!
In The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Rebecca Stanhope and her father lose their home and livelihood and are forced to embark on a perilous journey, but Rebecca never loses hope; when the going gets tough, she keeps on going.
Jane Austen’s first manuscript (the future Pride and Prejudice) was returned and rejected by a publisher who didn’t even open the envelope. Undaunted, she wrote two more novels. When she sold the future Northanger Abbey for £10 (the equivalent of about $1,122 today), it lay on a shelf unpublished for over a decade.
Austen found it difficult to write for many years after her father’s death, but once she and her mother and sister were settled at Chawton Cottage in 1809, she returned to writing with a vengeance, and wrote or rewrote six novels in the next seven years.
Jane Austen had to pay out of her own pocket to publish Sense and Sensibility, but publishers paid her for all the books that followed. Jane Austen knew what she wanted, and she never gave up. Neither should we.
4. GIVE PEOPLE A SECOND CHANCE
“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. In declaring myself thus I’m fully aware that I will be going expressly against the wishes of my family, my friends, and, I hardly need add, my own better judgement.” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice 1995, A&E/BBC
In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet dislikes Mr. Darcy at first and refuses his arrogant and insensitive proposal. (The second sentence in the above quote is from the A&E/BBC mini-series, but it accurately expresses Jane Austen’s intention for Mr. Darcy’s dialog, which Austen relates in prose.)
Elizabeth is drawn to the more overt charms of the wicked Mr. Wickham. Over the course of the novel, however, Elizabeth realizes that her “first impressions” (the novel’s original title) of both gentlemen were wrong, and Darcy recognizes that he messed up big-time. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy both grow and change. They give each other a second chance, and Austen grants them a happy ending.
In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth thinks he has gotten over Anne, but when they meet again, he realizes that she’s still the only woman in the world for him. The entire novel is about their second chance at love.
It’s an important reminder of the importance of giving people—and things—a second chance!
5. CHOOSE YOUR SPOUSE WISELY
“I would rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like.” —Jane Austen, The Watsons
Austen believed that we must not only like, but love, respect, and esteem the partner we marry, for only then can we find true happiness. She also realized that this was a high bar to set, and not everyone could do it. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas married the odious Mr. Collins to gain a home, financial security, and social standing, and seemed perfectly content with her choice. Austen used Charlotte’s story to exemplify the dilemma of unmarried women in her era.
Many men were trapped in the same situation, and Austen knew it—they required a wealthy wife to provide a comfortable lifestyle and/or to save their estate from creditors. In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby is portrayed as a cad for marrying for money; and yet in real life, when Jane’s first crush, Tom Lefroy, was obliged to marry an heiress to take care of his family, Austen understood his reasons.
Jane Austen’s mettle was tested when, at age 27, she received an offer of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, a wealthy family friend. She famously accepted him, only to recant the next morning. Had she married Harris, Jane Austen might have had children, and she and her parents and sister would have been comfortably well-off for life. But Austen turned down his proposal because she didn’t love him. Did she also worry that by marrying, she wouldn’t have been able or allowed to write? We’ll never know; but her decision to stay true to herself changed literary history.
6. LAUGH AT LIFE — AND YOURSELF
“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen had a gift for finding the humor in everything. In her novels and her letters, we are treated to a joie de vivre that leaps off the page. While visiting in Kent, she wrote to her sister, “Pray remember me to everybody who does not enquire after me.” Referring to a man who’d been suggested as a possible suitor, Jane joked, “I will marry Mr. Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or my own.”
Austen found pleasure in small things. Describing “exquisite weather” during a visit to London, she wrote, “I enjoy it all over me, from top to toe, from right to left, longitudinally, perpendicularly, diagonally;—and I cannot but selfishly hope we are to have it last till Christmas.” She could laugh at the minor annoyances of life as well. Referring to a leak in their house at Southampton, Jane wrote, “Could my ideas flow as fast as the rain in the storecloset, it would be charming.”
Austen’s novels focus on serious themes, yet she infused them with humor, giving us such amusing characters as Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Miss Bates, Isabella Thorpe, and Mr. Woodhouse. She reminds us that although life may at times be difficult, tedious, or painful, we shouldn’t focus on the bad, or become apathetic or bored. Look for the bright side, Jane is telling us. Remember to laugh.
7. BE SELF-AWARE
“I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! … Till this moment I never knew myself.” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
The turning point of Pride and Prejudice is when Elizabeth Bennet reads Mr. Darcy’s letter and realizes that she has entirely misjudged him. In Persuasion, it is only when Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth each recognize where they went wrong, and can admit to their true feelings for each other, that they are able to forge a new path forward together. It is only when Emma Woodhouse in Emma recognizes her faults and missteps that she understands the depth of her own affections.
In Jane Austen’s First Love, which is inspired by a true story, Jane falls in love with the charismatic Edward Taylor over one magical and unforgettable summer, only to discover and accept some important truths about herself and her abilities as a matchmaker.
The lesson Jane Austen teaches us in her novels is clear: learn to distinguish truth from falsehood. Understand your motives. Find your weaknesses. Above all, own up to your mistakes and correct them. Only then can you earn your own happy ending.
8. READ, READ, READ!
“A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself.” —Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra attended school briefly as children, but they primarily educated themselves by devouring the books in their father’s extensive library. The entire Austen family was fond of reading, an inclination which Jane expresses with enthusiasm in her novels.
Catherine Moreland proclaims in Northanger Abbey, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline remarks, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” (She may only be saying it to impress Mr. Darcy, but Jane Austen’s sentiment rings true.)
Another favorite, also from Northanger Abbey: “It is only a novel… or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”
When we lose ourselves in a book, the world is at our fingertips. Books transport us to new times and places, introduce us to extraordinary people, and expand our horizons with a wealth of knowledge. Treat yourself to a quiet moment with a book. It just might change you forever.
(An earlier version of this blog post appeared in Bustle magazine.)
THREE JANE AUSTEN NOVELS FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE!
Ever wish Jane Austen had written a 7th novel? Your wish has come true!
“This richly imagined Jane Austen ‘road novel’ is such a page turner … A standout addition to the archive of Austen homages.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“A literary feast for Anglophiles …[with] an Austen-worthy ending.” —Publishers Weekly
Meet the gentleman said to be the one true love of Jane Austen’s life:
(International and USA Today bestseller, Regency World Magazine Best New Fiction)
“Deserves front-runner status in the field of Austen fan-fiction and film.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Tantalizing, tender, and true to the Austen mythos.” —Library Journal, starred review, Editor’s Pick
Jane Austen falls in love with a charismatic teen over one mad, matchmaking summer:
(Library Journal Editor’s Pick; 5 Best of the Year Lists)
“This masterwork feels like a real memoir.” —Historical Novel Society
“A quite delightful romance … and a funny, eventful and entertaining comedy.” —Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine
What other lessons have Jane Austen’s life and work taught us? If you have a moment to comment, I’d love to hear from you.
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