Finding Happiness, Austen Style, with Emma, our favorite matchmaker

Does the following sound familiar to you?

You’ve found the perfect certain someone for your friend, neighbor, colleague, or other unsuspecting acquaintance. There’s just one small problem: Said friend has told you that no way, no how is he/she interested in that perfect certain someone. And yet, you know better–just as you always do. Just as Emma, the eponymous heroine of Austen’s novel, always did.


Hold on a minute. Did Jane Austen write two versions of Emma? Or could it be that you, like Emma, are turning into the queen of know-it-all? Heaven forbid. After all, look what happened to Emma. She very nearly totally screwed up her life. But never fear. We’ve got a little game for you to play. It’s called “Emma, Reformed Matchmaker.” All you need to do is follow the rules:
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Austen: Keeping it real for 200 years

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.

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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.
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Finding Happiness, Austen Style: Read It Out, Act It Out, Dance It Out

Welcome to the first of a multi-part series of posts on how to lift yourself out of the blues, Austen style.

Perhaps it’s just that kind of day. Or year. Bottom line: you feel like crap. Friends, there is a cure to what ails you, and her name is Austen. Her magic comes in many forms, and this series of posts will illuminate, in no particular order, what you can do, with almost no effort, to feel light and bright and fabulous!

Today we’re feeling the fairy dust from Northanger Abbey.

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What? You’ve heard it’s frivolous? Not as polished as Austen’s later works? Balderdash. But wait—didn’t its original publisher accept it and then couldn’t be bothered to publish it? Just means that dude was an idiot. And anyhow, you’re too wise to waste time caring about what other people think. Because if you did care, you wouldn’t be dressing in Regency-era costumes (or wondering what it would be like to do it). You wouldn’t be going to (or imagining) fun things like the Jane Austen Festival in Bath or your local ECD get-togethers (not OCD, ECD, and that stands for English Country Dance). And you definitely wouldn’t be saving up for (or wondering what it would be like to go to) ComicCon. I could do a whole series of posts on the cross-pollination between Austen fans and sci-fi fans, but I digress…
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A gift of love: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

If you’ve ever thought that love passed you by, or you’re just feeling blue, do something nice for yourself: read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. In the Austenian tradition of “three or four families in a country village,” author Helen Simonson takes a keen-eyed look at the flaws and glories of human nature and the never-ending quest for love.

Major Pettigrew is a relic of polite gentility in a brash world, a lonely widower getting by with what passes for friendships in his little Sussex village. He takes comfort in his books and his garden and his memories, and now and again indulges in the vain hope that his clueless London-banker son will someday grow a conscience. The rest of life is just, well, as Miss Austen put it, “a quick succession of busy nothings.” And then, a simple act of kindness from Mrs. Ali, proprietress of the village convenience store, changes his life forever.

I won’t say more, except to encourage all who have ever wished for a second chance at life to run out and buy this triumphant, life-affirming novel. It is one that I know I will re-read many times. (BTW right now the Kindle edition is only $1.99)

And happy Valentine’s Day.

Thinking Ahead: Sing Street is my Valentine’s Day movie pick

Whether you’re going it alone this V-Day, cozying up with a friend, or have a significant other, consider setting the perfect mood with Sing Street. This wonderful film set in 1985 Ireland is a touching, funny, and utterly romantic coming-of-age story that’s all about the transformational power of music and having the courage to follow your heart in life and in art, whether that means telling the girl/boy of your dreams he/she is everything to you or standing up to the bullies of the world. I absolutely loved it. So fight the power, find your voice, tell fear to take a hike, and enjoy!!

The performances are stellar, and so is the music.

What I’m Reading: On Writing by Stephen King

I loved every page of this book, which I listened to on audiobook. Stephen King generously (those darn adverbs!) shares his insights about and faith in the magic of storytelling, the nuts and bolts of the writer’s toolbox, his own creative process, and the life events that shaped the writer he is today. He does all of this with the combination of compassion, encouragement, and straight dealing from the b.s.-free zone that I adore about this master wordsmith. A thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating read, with excellent narration by the author himself

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Contribute your story: The Dear Jane Project

Calling all Austen Addicts: Gabrielle of a new blog called the Dear Jane Project wants to publish your personal stories of what Austen means to you and how her works have touched your life. Simply submit your story in the form of a letter to Jane Austen at dearjaneproject@gmail.com, and Gabrielle will post them on the blog.

Photo by Cathryn Lavery

Here’s what Gabrielle says about her vision for the Dear Jane Project: “Hopefully, this project will allow fans from around the world to share their stories, and create a community…Each one of us has a story, and my goal is for us all to be able to share them. I think it is a great way to commemorate the life of Jane Austen as we approach the 200th anniversary of her death. What would you write to Jane?”

Surviving the Dreaded 14th: 14 ways to survive Valentine’s Day

Has a holiday ever caused so much unhappiness? I’m not talking about how it was when we were kids. Then it was all about giving everyone in class a paper valentine and those little heart candies. Though kids could get mean about that too if left to their own devices, like leaving out the kids nobody talked to.

As adults, we’re supposed to be more equipped to deal with that stuff, but it takes a stalwart sort to withstand the collective anxiety in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, let alone the day itself.

If you’re not in a relationship, the ads for jewels and bouquets and V-Day menus seem to be mocking your lack of a BF. if you’re in a relationship, it’s sadly easy to get caught up in expectations, and there’s nothing less romantic than thinking, ‘what’s he going to get me, and it had better not be cheap or unromantic.’ Or ‘Is he going to take me out, and somewhere good for a change?’ or even worse, ‘Is he finally going to propose?’

It’s enough to make you want to go underground till February 15.

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But don’t despair: you can get through it. Not by hiding and pretending there’s no such thing as the dreaded V-Day. But by embracing the true message behind the holiday and making Feb. 14 your own, empowering, feel-good holiday, regardless of your relationship status.

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What I’m Reading: Everything by Gayle Forman

Having raced through Gayle Forman’s profoundly moving If I Stay, I immediately devoured the second book in the series, Where She Went. And that was it: I was hooked. My binge continued with Just One Day, Just One Year, and Just One Night, and finished (for now) with her courageous I Was Here.

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There’s a lot that I love about these novels: They are packed with wisdom without a hint of preachiness. They are brimming with love without a drop of sentimentality. And they are refreshingly unpredictable. Instead of relying on those familiar devices one often sees in stories about love–the meet-cute, the hate-at-first-sight that turns into uncontrollable attraction, Forman gives us the messiness of real life, which rarely turns out the way we think it will. (more…)