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.
Welcome to the Persuasion Happiness Program. Persuasion, like all of Jane Austen’s novels, is more than a book: it’s a roadmap to happiness. Here are lots of ways to lift yourself up with Persuasion!
1.Read Persuasion, and discover that there is always a second chance at happiness. Heroine Anne Elliot goes from lonely resignation to triumphant empowerment. It’s impossible to turn the last page without feeling a little spark inside that says, “that could be me.” Yes, it could, and it will!
2.Read Persuasion, and renew (or form) your faith in men. If you’ve ever wished and hoped that men could be as loyal and as romantic as women, Persuasion will grant your wish. Persuasion has what is perhaps the most romantic declaration of love in all of English literature. But don’t just wish and hope: Believe. Which leads us to:
3. Read Persuasion, and learn that faith in the good is rewarded. Always. As the heroine, Anne Elliot, says to a male friend, “I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman.”
4. Read Persuasion, and develop discernment. Anne Elliot was persuaded at the tender age of 19 to give up her engagement to the man she truly loved; she spent the next eight years regretting it. Not only did she learn to trust her intuition about love, she also learned to rely on her own inner voice at other critical moments. Observe her closely, and follow her example.
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.
After all, this summer will mark the 200th anniversary of the great author’s death, and thus the perfect time to celebrate her life. Here’s an idea that sounds to us like Jane Austen heaven: 200 Years of Persuasion: The Jane Austen Summer Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, from June 15-18, 2017. You don’t have to be a scholar or even a student in order to attend; all are welcome. According to the program’s site, it is open to “anyone with a passion for all things Austen.”
Every year, The Jane Austen Summer Program at UNC Chapel Hill focuses on one of the author’s works. This year, it explores Austen’s last finished novel, Persuasion (which happens to be my personal favorite, though I can discuss the various merits of each of the author’s precious novels with fellow enthusiasts for hours, months, and years and never get bored).
Here is one of my favorite testimonials from past participants of The Jane Austen Summer Program: “All the professors I met were so friendly and welcoming, so I never felt intimidated talking with such impressive scholars. It was a totally comfortable environment for all!” Read some more of the glowing testimonials yourself, and you’ll be filling out that registration form before you can say “You pierce my soul.”