By Courtney Willis
In case you hadn’t noticed, we here at Blithe and Bonny love Jane Austen. I’ve grown up reading her classic novels, and she is one of the first authors who inspired me to start book writing, so I can’t open this Book Nook without giving my homegirl a shout-out.
Jane Austen gets a lot of flack for being outdated, predictable and wordy, or for giving girls unrealistic expectations about romance. While that is a debate for another time, I want to talk about the other things readers can glean from Austen’s timeless pages, and why she’s still amazing.
1. How to manage female friendships
Female friendships are necessary for the foundation of a young girl’s life. They can either make or break her early years, so learning how to maneuver through them is crucial for survival. In Northanger Abby, Katherine slowly learns how to differentiate between those who sincerely want to be her friend, and those who just want to marry her brother under rumor of wealth. In Pride and Prejudice, Jane at first is charmed by Mr. Bingley’s sisters, but later learns that not everyone is as kind as she is. And in Persuasion, Anne is persuaded by a dear friend to make a decision that lost her the love of her life.
Perhaps each is only guilty of being young and inexperienced, but this is precisely why young readers would benefit from reading Austen’s novels. Each of Austen’s characters has strengths and weaknesses, and from them we can see how we should treat other women, and what kind of treatment we should accept from our closest gal pals.
2. How to handle male relationships
Not all male relationships are tied to romance. Some of my longest lasting relationships are from my teenage years and young adulthood, half of which are guys. That can happen for any of us, depending on how we nurture those relationships. And while we might hope for a fumbling Darcy on the other side of the door ready to confess his love, those aren’t the only men we can expect in our lives, ladies, so we need to prepare accordingly.
Can we talk about the awesomeness of Lizzie Bennet? When presented with a persistent guy she was not interested in (enter Mr. Collins), she was not mean or cruel. Though she admitted he was ridiculous and not her type, she was never rude. She accepted when he asked her to dance, held civil conversation with him, and even when he proposed marriage, she calmly yet firmly declined, thanking him for the honor. Talk about grace.
Another of my favorite examples is how Anne Elliot helps Captain Benwick in Persuasion. His fiancé died, which left him in a deep depression. He develops a friendship with Anne over a love of poetry, which helps him not only to heal, but also to open his heart to love again. Now that’s what friends are for, am I right?
3. Wild and outspoken: how far is too far?
Jane Austen herself wrote “Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint!” Let’s admit it, sometimes we can be wild and reckless, or a little too outspoken. Though this may seem fun at the time, it could end up hurting those we love and ruining our best opportunities. Being outspoken can be a great thing; it’s something we love about many of Austen’s characters, but they often end up eating their words, so it’s a trait that requires careful attention.
Marianne Dashwood is the ultimate wild child. Passion is her life’s motto. She goes at everything she loves full speed. She doesn’t care how her words or decisions impact her friends or family, and only has eyes for Willoughby. So when he disappears and she ends up on her death bed, it’s a good thing she has her sensible sister Elinor there to save the day.
Emma thinks she’s always right, but then she insults her kind spinster neighbor for kicks and giggles, just to be seen as “cool” amongst her peers. “Not cool, Emma,” says Mr. Knightley. So we shouldn’t get defensive, thinking correction is always mistreatment. We’re not always right, and sometimes we need a little constructive criticism from courageous friends to get our heads on straight.
So don’t underestimate Jane Austen. Yes, they are go-to, comfort reads for romance, but there is so much more to them than that! There’s a reason so many women find solace in their pages, because there is a lot that is still applicable to our generation. Each of Austen’s heroine’s is amazingly different, so whether it’s to settle high emotions, to teach a lesson, or just to satisfy that romantic craving, there’s a Jane Austen novel out there for almost every kind of woman. Promise.
Have any of Jane Austen’s novels helped you through a hard time or helped you make a better decision? Which novel is your favorite? (Mine is Persuasion!) Sound off in the comments below and let me know!
Until next week, book enthusiasts <3