Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Jane Austen Guide: Part 1

I've been reading a book that I had a feeling I would enjoy before I even began. It's called The Jane Austen Guide To Happily Ever After and I knew I would like it for the simple reason that Jane Austen's love stories are, to me, the most beautiful and romantic love stories ever written. When I was reading my first Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, when I was about 15, I remember re-reading whole passages over and over. I remember being astounded by the way the love seemed to be overflowing, jumping off the pages at me. Elizabeth Kantor, the author of The Jane Austen Guide, describes it this way:

[Jane Austen has] drawn the most perfect pictures of exactly what it's like for a woman to be deeply in love with a man; to hope with every fiber of her being that he loves her, but fear he doesn't; and to come through the ordeal to love's ineffable delights. Jane Austen somehow manages to describe the's as if she could compound endorphins out of ink and paper.

Exactly. Who better to learn from than Jane Austen?

I'm only two chapters into the book, and I thought I might wait to finish it before blogging about it. But I'm discovering that it's so rich and so full of wisdom and I am thinking now that blogging every few chapters is a better idea. And I also happen to think this book is wonderful both for women who are already happily married or in a healthy relationship, as well as for those women who are seeking a new direction in their love lives. In other words, all of us women can learn from Elizabeth Bennet and Elinor Dashwood and their "insights, habits of mind, intelligence, and choices."

And we can also learn what not to do from characters like Lydia Bennet. In chapter one, one thing Kantor writes about is how difficult it is to break habits in love. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth was so concerned that her little sister Lydia was proving herself to be a relentless flirt and falling for men who weren't really serious about her. She knew that unless Lydia could see the problem in her behavior and put herself on a different path, this could become a lifelong tendency with unhappy consequences.

Today, women are waiting much longer to settle down and they are waiting much longer to even begin looking for the right man. Marriages are taking place later and later in women's lives. Because of this, Kantor says that forming Lydia-like habits during the single years is even more dangerous for modern women. Those habits could become stuck after so many years, making it very difficult later on to make real love the aim.

Kantor writes that the Austen heroines who actively seek out permanent happiness and who want love and marriage to fit together, "applying all the intelligence and honesty they can muster to that vital question," are the ones who in the end are fulfilled. She says that it's not enough, for them or us, just to hope or plan for happiness and love in the vague and distant future, but it is something that must be aimed for, pursued seriously, puzzled over, and prioritized.

In chapter two, Kantor moves on to a lesson from Sense and Sensibility. When I read this novel, I thought that Austen's juxtaposition of Marianne and Elinor's characters was really brilliant. Both sisters are in love with a man who turns out to be unavailable to them, and they don't find out until after they've fallen head over heels in love. Marianne is inconsolable--she doesn't eat, she loses weight, she is anti-social, and eventually becomes so sick that her family is worried she'll die. She places a heavy burden on everyone around her, especially those who love her most.

Elinor, on the other hand, is also experiencing the deep pain of unrequited love, but, amazingly, she does not tell anyone. She has the strength to be able to console her younger sister and offer her hope while she herself is heartbroken.

The difference is that Marianne is a capital-R Romantic while Elinor is a lowercase-r romantic. Austen's heroines that are like Elinor "don't wallow in heartbreak. Their struggle to get a firm grip on themselves, and on reality, gives them extraordinary dignity. It makes them less miserable--but not any less in love." This extraordinary dignity is something that sets Austen's women apart, and it certainly inspires me to do better.

Both of these lessons are powerful, I think. I find it fascinating to study these well-loved stories with hopes of becoming more like the heroines we adore.

More on this soon!


  1. One of my most favorite books of all time is Pride and Prejudice! I can't even count how many times I've read it. And I keep a copy of two books about Jane Austen on my writing desk, for inspiration: Becoming Jane Austen, and Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record. She's my hero.

    Great post!

    1. I'll have to check out those books...they do sound inspiring! I've never been one to re-read books but I've been thinking that I will read Pride and Prejudice again after I finish the "Happy Ever After" guide. Then I'll be thoroughly steeped in Jane Austen!

  2. I am having a hard time thinking of something witty to add... it's just too well written :(

  3. Thanks so much for the book recommendation, I've been looking for a new book and this sounds like the perfect selection!

    Thank you for stopping by my blog and for commenting!


    Leopard and Lillies

    1. Hi Amy! Yes, you should definitely check it out, it's great.

      Thanks for stopping by! I've been enjoying your blog!

  4. I love Jane Austen. Although, I probably should read some more of her stuff...

    1. Hi Amy! I know, Jane Austen is just the best. I think I've read all but one of her should definitely read some Austen as you prepare for your wedding...really get you in the spirit!

  5. definitely went through a phase where i loved reading jane austen :D i should check this one out


    1. You should! Thanks for stopping by, Jessica :)


Your comments bring me joy! I do my best to respond to each one either on the blog or via email (if your email is linked to your comment). Thank you for visiting Something Ivory.

Designed by Jackie's Design Studio