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 is from what is perhaps the greatest Austen adaptation of all, Sense and Sensibility, with screenplay by Emma Thompson (her book that includes the screenplay and her diaries is a must-read), direction by the brilliant Ang Lee, and stellar acting by Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and many more.
May fortune smile upon you as it did upon Edward and Elinor.
In honor of Austen in (mostly) August, one lucky winner will win Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries plus signed copies of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. Giveaway ends Sept. 10 at 11:59PM EST. Head over to The Book Rat to enter this giveaway.
Every year, Austen in August has an irresistible array of fun activities and an opportunity to connect with fellow book lovers, some of whom are longtime readers of Austen, some of whom have never read Austen and are curious to try. You can join read-along discussions of this year’s featured work, Sense and Sensibility, decide if Jane Austen’s world was really as attractive as you may have imagined, discuss your favorite film and TV adaptations, rank your most beloved and most hated Austen characters, participate in Twitter parties, enter giveaways, and much more.
And if you’ve ever wished your favorite Austen characters could say something like this:
then check out my guest post, Sense and Sensibility: Throwing Shade Edition.