On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, what better way is there to honor this extraordinary author than to give thanks for what she has left us? For me, her work is a timeless guide to living life in the no-BS zone, wrapped in an infinitely re-readable set of six novels.
If I could assign a motto, a credo to the the Austen canon, I would say it could be summed up in this one line from Pride and Prejudice: “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.” The fact that Mr. Darcy delivers this line while in the midst of a serious marriage-proposal fail makes it even more resonant: Darcy may be honest, but the brutality of his honesty indicates that he’s hiding behind his angry pride. He’s yet to unmask that part of his own disguise, but being an Austen hero, we know that he will.
That’s the genius of Austen, who calls out her characters on their disguises and their dishonesty. Which leads them to their moment of revelation, their grand character arc, and their ultimate reward–love and happiness.
Along the way, Austen makes us laugh, which makes the hard truths easier to bear. And thus we can begin to see ourselves in it all.
That’s Austen: keeping us real and calling us out. She’s been doing it for 200 years. And that’s no small feat for someone who lived in a society in which polite demurrals, refusals, and denials were a socially mandated matter of form.
Here are 10 gems of Austen wisdom to help you reach your own character arc.
1. A real friend is the one with the guts to tell you the ugly truth.
In Emma, Mr. Knightley was the only person with the courage to tell Emma that her treatment of Mrs. Bates was cruel. Emma was shocked and chastened. And set about making amends. Which also put her on the road to realizing that Knightley’s bossiness was maybe just a little bit attractive; no scratch that, super hot.
A wonderfully insightful piece on Austen’s heroines and whether they would measure up to what constituted an “ideal woman” in Regency England,
by Jenni Waugh of The Jane Austen Centre:
I recently replied to an email enquiry from a student who was looking for an opinion on the question “To what extent does Jane Austen present her heroines as ideal women within their social contexts?” My reply ended up being fairly lengthy and is below. Let me know what you think!
Personally, I’d say that very few, if any, of her heroines are presented as ideal women within their social contexts. They all have their own unique flaws.
Elizabeth Bennet is outspoken and opinionated; just think of her responses to Lady Catherine’s enquires about her age, and her dismissal of Mr Collins, and then later of Mr Darcy. Were Lizzy an ideal woman in society she would have accepted Collins in order to secure her family’s home as per her mother’s wishes, or Darcy when he asked her in order to secure an even better future for herself and her family.
This luxurious new edition of EMMA features a series of pieces by Austen scholar and professor Juliette Wells, who informs us in her introduction that this is “a reader’s edition, not a scholarly one.” With the needs and wishes of her students in mind, Dr. Wells has included in this edition an abundance of extras that make EMMA’s world and its language as accessible as possible. There are tips for first-time readers of Austen, a series of short pieces that illuminate aspects of everyday life that Austen’s contemporaries would have taken for granted but which often elude today’s readers, a glossary of words that are now either obsolete or have evolved in meaning, plus maps, illustrations, and more.
EMMA is a novel that, like all of Jane Austen’s major works, I have read at least twenty times. A great part of Austen’s genius is that there is always something new to be discovered in her novels, no matter how many times one reads them. Now, thanks to this lovely new edition, there is even more. For there is enough substance in this annotated edition to enlighten and entertain not only novice readers, but Austen devotees.
As an object of beauty, this book deserves high marks as well, with its eye-catching graphics that express both contemporary relevance and period authenticity, its textured, matte apricot-colored background, and its deckle-edged pages that remind us of the days when books had uncut pages to be opened by their first readers.
A conversation with JULIETTE WELLS, Editor and Introducer of EMMA: 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition
Click here to read more…