Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Jane Austen Guide: Part 2

I've read more of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After and found some beautiful things to share. I've learned that Jane Austen heroines exercise a virtue that we have completely forgotten about today--that we no longer have a word for. This virtue is "candour," and it means something entirely different today than it did to Jane Austen. Today, being candid means being forthright, truthful, and honest. But in Austen's day, and for Austen's heroines,"candid" described the listener, not the teller. To be candid meant "judging other people and their stories with sympathy, openness and generosity." It was the opposite of "small-minded suspicion."

Wow. I wish the meaning had never changed. It's a lovely thing to be and Kantor explains why it was such an important virtue for Austen's heroines. Because of their candour, their respect for men, their ability and desire not to judge critically but with sympathy, Austen heroines inspire the same kind of respect from men in return. And I think that "inspire" is the perfect word here--we, as women, can inspire men to respect us by treating them sympathetically, giving them the benefit of the doubt (as opposed to nagging them, or demanding what we want from them, or manipulating them).

So where does this candour come from? Jane Austen describes it as "self-knowledge." The respect these women show their men comes from the understanding that they themselves have flaws, too. (For an example of a character with candour read Persuasion and pay close attention to Anne Elliot). Austen's heroines regularly engage in serious reflection on their own characters, their own actions, their own words.

Kantor warns us that the opposite of behaving with candour toward men is involving ourselves in the kind of behind-their-backs griping among girlfriends that has become all too common in today's world. Cynicism and anti-men attitudes can blind us from really seeing a man for who he is, as a fellow human being with flaws and imperfections. Austen heroines certainly do not operate under illusion--they are realistic and grounded and very good at interpreting a man's character--but they are never cynical either.

By refraining from cynicism and engaging in candour, Austen's women are able to see men clearly and inspire the good ones to respect and, eventually, love them.

Kantor writes this advice at the end of the chapter:

If we really want to bring back Jane Austen, we'll disband the sisterhood of snark and give other women mutual support in seeing men clearly, judging them wisely, and loving them honestly. We'll expect more from men. And our respect for them will nourish their respect for us, putting us on the road to Jane Austen heroine-level dignity.


  1. Well written and full of wisdom!

  2. Now I'm inspired to read Kantor's book! Sounds like a good read. Your writing is lovely and I totally agree with you that if we respect men and understand that they have flaws, just as we do, that we can inspire more respect in return. Early on in my marriage I decided not to gripe about my husband to my girlfriends. And children. It's important for children and other family members to hear your honestly building people up, rather than tearing them down with negative words. I think you're right that a lot of it is attitude and the more we as women can engage in serious reflection of our own words, actions and choices the more we can bring about a home of respect and kindness.

    1. Thanks Sarah! I wish I could take more credit for it--Kantor has some brilliant ideas! You should definitely read the book.

  3. I've always hated that behind-their-backs griping that women do about men! Every time I hear it, I wonder how those women would feel if their men were gathered together talking behind their backs about THEM! There is not a human being alive, man or woman, who's perfect, so I don't see why some women think it's okay to man-bash. And some of the things women complain about--the way men don't always see the hidden undercurrents going on about them, for instance, and take things at face value most of the time--are the very things that make men complementary companions for the more emotional fairer sex. We shouldn't want men to be like us! They're supposed to be different, and we should celebrate our differences rather than constantly complain about them.

    Wow, I didn't mean to go on and on there...but this post really resonated with me. I love the way men are--God must have known this when he gave me five sons!--and I assume they love the way we women are, too!

    It's no wonder I admire the works of Jane Austen so much. Sometimes I wish we were living by the same code as her nineteenth century heroines!

    1. This is a very sweet comment, I loved reading it! You have definitely been blessed with wonderful sons :)

      And I agree with everything in your first paragraph too. Something I didn't write but really believe is that talking behind a husband's back is simply bad for the relationship! I believe that to protect one's marriage it's important to keep disagreements and the other person's flaws in the relationship itself.

      I love the way men are too! I've been so blessed to have good men in my life...not just Steve but also my father and my two brothers (no sisters, although now I have three amazing sister-in-laws!)

    2. Your second paragraph in the comment above is right on the money, and I totally agree.


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