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5 Lessons From the Great Jane Austen

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“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” —Jane Austen

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. Though this book is super old, and Austen passed away in 1817, her works are all around us today. Think of all the films based on her books that have come out in the last ten years. Some are direct adaptations of the book (the wonderful BBC miniseries “Pride and Prejudice” which gave the world Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and the Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility) and some are updated romantic comedies like Bridget Jones’ Diary (which again gave us Colin Firth as Mark Darcy), Clueless, and Bride and Prejudice.

Countless biographies and films about her popularity and impact on modern women have also become a trend. What Would Jane Austen Do? and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict are just some of the books that have been written about time traveling back to Austen’s time of dowries and blouses for men. The film The Jane Austen Book Club is also a great example of the popularity of her works. Heck, this summer Keri Russell will star as a woman, named Jane, who is such an Austenphile that she goes to a camp devoted to living in the style of an Austen book. It is appropriately titled Austenland. Watch the clip below where Jane gets in trouble because her cell phone is discovered. What an atrocity!

Her books and films are so beloved because Jane Austen writes about human nature. She just does it better than the rest of us could.

1. Turn your hobby into your career

As a young girl, Jane Austen wrote stories and plays for her family for entertainment. She presented a different and very honest kind of voice during a time when more books were coming out, but they were of lesser quality. Austen was clearly giving the world some quality work (I mean, does quality work get turned into a modern day rom-com?).

2. Do give people a second chance

“The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which tuned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend” —Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, arguably her most popular book, has been made into various films and has been read and celebrated all over the world. Perhaps it is because so many of us can relate to getting one impression of a person and then finding them to be completely different. P&P is all about learning to forgive people for their first impressions, negative as they may be, and give them a second chance. Because when you do that in an Austen novel, you get to live in a giant English estate with servants. Watch this clip below of the great BBC version of Pride and Prejudice in which Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy spar about the fact that they both are stubborn:

3. Do not let your emotions overrun your life

Austen often wrote about very emotional and romantic characters that were swept away by their passions (AKA Marianne in Sense and Sensibility), but her favorite characters were the morally ground ones. Things didn’t turn out so bad for Marianne or Elinor in that novel, but the lesson is that together those sisters had the perfect balance, but as two people they were outliers. Marianne was so whimsical while Elinor was practically a shut-in who denied herself of a lot of happiness. Check out this clip of Marianne so saddened after losing her love that she is literally in a state of disarray:

4. Do remember that wit and smarts (and playing the piano) will make you the hit of the party

Jane Austen was as witty as they come. The way she used language was remarkable. Language was so rich and full back then because that was really all they had. But the point is, it was her intelligence and creativity that has made Austen a legend. She said what everyone was thinking and wanted to say, but she said it beautifully. I also liked that she showed that back then practicing piano really paid off at parties. Check out Emma, one of Austen’s smartest characters (though a bit full of herself), impressing everyone at a party:

5. Be glad you are a woman today, and not when Austen was

Yes, the dresses were beautiful, but if you weren’t rich, life was pretty tough. With characters like Elizabeth Bennett and Elinor Dashwood we saw the frustrations they had with knowing their only option for a prosperous future was to marry well (and the dancing was pretty weak). They weren’t even given the option of working. Austen was extraordinary. Though the film Becoming Jane is not a completely accurate biography of young Austen’s life, this clip in which her mother tells her marriage, and not necessarily a romantic one, is her only chance at a good life is a very powerful one:

Have you read any Jane Austen books? What have they taught you? Tell us in the comments!

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