What I Learned From Jane Austen

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in Pride and Prejudice

“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” ~ Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.” ~ Jane Austen

Barry and I were binge watching Sanditon last week and it occurred to me that Jane Austen always includes vital life lessons in her books.

Sanditon, as you may or may not know is a series on PBS, in the U.S., that is based on the unfinished final novel of Jane Austen (1775 – 1817). It was created by oft-time adapter of Austen’s work, Andrew Davies. The first season aired in early 2020. Then it was canceled in the U.K. for some reason, which caused a huge outcry by the fans in both the U.K. and U.S. It was a long battle, however, they were finally heard and the series was brought back, to finish off the three season plot/character arc that Davies had originally planned. Barry and I just finished watching season two.

After I watch or read anything, I ruminate about the story and while I was doing that with Sanditon, it occurred to me that Austen was a master of including very useful life lessons in her novels. She was a radical. I think that because of a wonderful, scholarly book I read about her a few years ago called Jane Austen: the Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly. I hope, if you’re an Austen fan, you’ll read the book.

But without further ado, here are some things I’ve learned from Jane Austen.

  1. Beware of the person who tells you, in confidence, salacious and/or deleterious  details about the character of someone else. They are most surely telling you this to gain some advantage. Almost all of Austen’s works have characters who do this. If you’ve read the novels and/or seen the movies/mini-series, think: Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. In Sanditon it is Col. Lennox but there are characters like this is almost all of the books.
  2. First impressions are often wrong. It takes time and effort to get a glimpse of a person’s true character. There are so many instances in the novels of characters forming an opinion, an attachment, or even a strong dislike, for characters they meet; only to learn later that their first impression was completely wrong. That’s actually part of the fun of reading Austen’s books, discovering the true nature of the various characters she has created.
  3. Allow people an opportunity to explain themselves. If you do, you might learn something vital about them. Everyone, whether it’s in fictional stories or real life, has demons. When we allow another person to share those with us, we honor them and allow ourselves to find some common ground with them. That’s a theme throughout all of Austen’s novels.
  4. Never take advice concerning your most important life decisions. Your heart should be your only guide. In almost every novel, except perhaps Lady Susan, Austen’s last completed one, the protagonist gets unwanted advice from more than one source. These bits of advice cause no end of problems given the fact that the protagonist knows her own mind. Though in Persuasion, Anne gives into the outside pressure at first. Thankfully everything works out for her in that novel in the end.
  5. If you wait for it, love always arrives. Many of the characters in Austen’s novels hold out for true and lasting love, even if they think they will never get it. In the end, their determination not to settle serves them well.

There are more lessons, I suppose, but you’ll have to read the books to unearth them.

In all of Austen’s novels, the protagonists are women. All, except Lady Susan, are honorable women who want to live meaningful lives in a world dominated by men. For the most part they are intelligent, caring, courageous, and indefatigable. The men they love, honor who they are and form lasting and satisfying partnerships with them. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Jane Austen’s books are still so popular today. She gives her female characters a voice and paved the way for modern women to speak up as well.

I don’t like giving advice, but if you haven’t read Jane Austen’s work, I highly recommend reading at least one of her books. I didn’t discover her work until the late 1990s, and I’m so glad I finally sat down and read the entire collection. It takes a little while to get used to the language, but once you’ve crossed that bridge, the stories and characters almost feel modern. Their world is lots less complicated, on the one hand, but on the other they are faced with familial and societal expectations just like we are. And they struggle to find as much freedom as they can given their circumstances.

It’s almost summer. I may have other book recommendations for you. I love reading at any time of the year, but when you’re a teacher, summer is the best time for reading.

Thanks for reading my musings. Have a lovely week ahead. I hope things are going well in your world.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2022

I’m so passionate about stories that I created the Story-Power podcast and Patreon communities so I’d have an excuse to talk story with other story lovers. If you’re passionate about stories too, and want to talk about what you’ve learned from your favorites, come join me at patreon.com/StoryPower.

If you are a podcaster, or have a message or fantastic product you want to share with the world, I encourage you to check out PodMatch. Use the affiliate link and tell them, Lucinda sent you. Then contact me so we can set up a chat.

Published by lucindasagemidgorden

I grew up in the West, the descendant of people traveling by wagon train to a new life. Some of their determination and wanderlust became a part of me. I imagine them sitting around the campfire telling stories, which is why I became first a theatre artist, then a teacher and now a writer. They are all ways of telling stories.

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