The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love, by Sinead Murphy – A Review

The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy 2014 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

When author Sinead Murphy chose to title her guide to modern dating The Jane Austen Rules it was guaranteed to generate a certain amount of controversy. In the mid-1990s, a dating guide titled The Rules became famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for imparting to women “a myriad of tricks and schemes” (14) for finding Mr. Right.

Does Murphy seek to replace one set of arbitrary opinions with another, using Jane Austen’s name as a marketing ploy? Happily Ms. Murphy has not taken this approach. Rather than a narrowly focused “how-to” for dating, she takes readers through the novels of Jane Austen, examining the women and men Austen created and the way their character informs their actions, whether in the pursuit of love or in making other important life decisions.

As such this is not really a dating guide at all; its scope is much wider. In the introduction titled “The Real Thing” Murphy proposes that modern dating guides have a Regency ancestor in the conduct book, full of dos and don’ts for women wishing to succeed in society:

…the Regency conduct book tended to judge a woman by how she conducts herself–that is, by how she acts, by how she seems. The novel, by contrast, was concerned with what women are really like, admitting—perhaps for the very first time—that women too have a fulsome interior life, with thoughts and feelings that are as crucial to get right as the actions that follow from them…And Jane Austen was at the forefront of it all, presenting to the Regency world a host of real women—so determined to do so, indeed, that she invented her very own narrative style, which gives the reader almost unrestricted access to the internal life of her female characters. (4)

Readers unfamiliar with The Rules may be puzzled or offended by Murphy’s manner of presenting her “Classic Guide to Modern Love.” However, those willing to take it in a playful spirit similar to Austen’s own treatment of “horrid novels” in Northanger Abbey will enjoy the humor the author uses to support her argument: that Jane Austen’s rules are the kind worth following.

For example, where The Rules advises women to keep quiet to allow their dates to drive the conversation, The Jane Austen Rules counters with “Don’t Just Sit There, Say Something!” Of course, we think of Elizabeth Bennet here, verbally sparring with Mr. Darcy on any number of occasions, and Murphy includes several examples from Pride and Prejudice. But she does not stop there. While a conduct book or dating guide might say otherwise, all women are not required to act in a particular way. Murphy offers the example of a very different Austen heroine:

Consider Persuasion’s Anne Elliot: though perfectly good humoured, she is, on the whole, a serious person, even a grave person, for whom the sparkling repartee of an Elizabeth Bennet would be utterly out of character. Nevertheless, Anne Elliot is not silent, waiting patiently in the passenger seat while Captain Wentworth carries the day with his gregarious personality. (75)

Anne may often operate on the sidelines, but she does and says a great many things in the course of the story. Wentworth praises her capability when Louisa Musgrove is injured in Lyme. Overhearing her conversation with his friend Captain Harville, he writes, “You pierce my soul.” What finally recommends Anne to Wentworth is her demonstrated character, not her ability to make coy remarks or flatter his ego, as Louisa Musgrove does.

Other Jane Austen rules include “Be a Woman, Not a Girl,” “Find a Man, Not a Guy,” (this chapter is especially painful for Frank Churchill fans) “Listen to What They Say,” “Be Quite Independent,” “Prove It,” and “Have Great Expectations.” In the final chapter “Reader, Marry Him!” Murphy presents a take on the institution of marriage that may surprise some readers and also addresses Austen’s personal choice not to marry. Each chapter includes a black and white Victorian-era illustration from an Austen novel that ties in with the chapter’s subject and adds just the right touch of visual interest to the text. Whether readers ultimately agree with Murphy or not, she presents thought-provoking viewpoints on women’s lives today, including but not limited to building healthy relationships.

For me, the only strike against The Jane Austen Rules was its excessive use of non-standard punctuation and the overuse of exclamation marks. Editing these minor flaws would place this book firmly in five-star territory. Ms. Murphy has done an excellent job of blending light-hearted charm with reflections on the serious business of love and life.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love, by Sinead Murphy
Melville House (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (144) pages
ISBN: 978-1612193823

Additional Reviews

Cover image courtesy of Melville House © 2014; text Tracy Hickman © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen’s Most Eligible Bachelor, by Fitzwilliam Darcy & Emily Brand

Mr. Darcy's Guide to Courtship 2013 From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder

In the modern era, more than 200 years since Jane Austen’s time, there is still a strong and robust following and appreciation of her works. Most notably, there is a nod to her forward-thinking views about women and how they should behave and act, which were at odds with the conventional wisdom of the time. What if we stood this entire paradigm on its head and acted as though these conventions were true? What would men of this era have to say about women, and more importantly how would they rationalize these opinions? We must look no further than Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship by Emily Brand, which offers up a very tongue-in-cheek view on this very subject.

Written from the point of view of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy himself, Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship is a work loosely based on Regency-era advice publications, which instructed readers on how to behave and the socially acceptable guidelines to which men and women should adhere. Of course, it speaks volumes on how men perceived women in that time period, and it still remains relevant today as we see the implications of these points of view on how men act in present day. Additionally, the reader is treated to sections written by other characters, such as Mr. Collins and Wickham, as well as Darcy’s own personal correspondence with other characters.

First off, this book is downright hysterical. Of course, I kind of saw this coming, as the back cover of the book states, “For two hundred years, the mere mention of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has caused hearts to flutter and bosoms to heave. The feeling has not been reciprocal.”  I was already laughing at that, and thus knew I was in for a fun time. I especially enjoyed a piece in the work entitled “Complementing With Delicacy, W. Collins” which, according to Darcy, is a list of “ludicrous examples” of complements put forth by Mr. Collins. The one that really got me was “Your noble forehead is like a rock of alabaster.” Swoon! Unfortunately Collins ended up crossing that one out, but he leaves in many other excellent examples of how to give the most hysterical compliments ever. I also enjoyed Darcy’s “Dear Abby” type section, where other literary characters wrote to him for advice. The things that Darcy would come up with are both exactly what I imagine he would say; just as condescending as ever. Emily Brand does a wonderful job in taking the spirit of Darcy’s character and infusing it into her own pen, as her words seem to flow effortlessly out of his consciousness. This is definitely a fun and quick read that will keep you laughing for a while. I heartily recommend it.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Mr. Darcy’s Guide to Courtship: The Secrets of Seduction from Jane Austen’s Most Eligible Bachelor, by Fitzwilliam Darcy & Emily Brand
Old House (2013)
Trade paperback (192) pages
ISBN: 978-1908402592

Cover image courtesy Old House © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2013, Austenprose.com

Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life Dilemmas, by Rebecca Smith – A Review

Miss Jane Austens Guide to Modern Lifes Dilemmas, by Rebecca Smith (2012)I am late out of the gate in reviewing this book. It’s been sitting here on my desk for months. Released on 25 October 2012, it has not garnered much attention and I don’t know why. Honestly, I am a bit burned out on Jane Austen advice books after two great submissions arrived earlier this year: The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After and The Jane Austen Guide to Life. We also missed reviewing Finding Mister Darcy: Jane Austen’s Rules for Love, by Diane Clark which arrived on 31 Aug 2012. And, gentle readers, there are more Jane Austen advice books in the queue: Jane Austen’s Guide to Thrift: An Independent Woman’s Advice on Living within One’s Means, by Kathleen Anderson and Susan Jones will arrive on 3 April 2013. It’s a focused topic and quite amazing to see so many competing with each other.

Regardless of past releases, or future, this clever tome deserves your attention. First off, the cover will make you smile: the vintage image of a Regency-era lady holding an iPad is very apropos and the subtitle will pique your interest: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and what to wear) from the Great Novelist Herself. At 27 words, this book might have the longest title I have ever seen. Let’s hope that it is more succinct with the text!

Happily it is broken down into six chapters: Love & Relationships; Friends & Family; Fashion & Style; Home & Garden; and Leisure & Travel. This is a good start—and I must state right up front that the writer Rebecca Smith brings an air of authority and distinctive pedigree to the subject and that few can boast: she is the great grandniece of Jane Austen, four times removed. She was also the first official writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, England with previously published books: The Bluebird Café, Happy Birthday and All That, and A Bit of Earth. Brava Ms. Smith!

So, enough set up, let’s get down to facts. My first impressions of Miss Jane Austen’s Guide is that it is intriguing eye candy; a thorough exploration interspersed with vintage images and text boxes of tidbits. It is set up as a Q&A: Ms. Smith presents questions of modern topics and Jane Austen answers directly from her novels and letters, or more precisely, Ms. Smith selects quotes and brief excerpts from Jane Austen’s prose and correspondence. It is quite a clever premise. Who better to answer your questions on life’s mysteries than the renown authoress whose astute skills of characterization and social machinations are unsurpassed? Here are a few examples of the questions presented: What Should I Be Looking for In a Man?, How Can I Make My Friend Stop the Baby Talk?, How do I Out a Cheating Spouse?, To Tattoo or not to Tattoo?, How Can  I Delete a Contact on Facebook without Causing Offense?, What Can I Do to Control My Shopping Binges?, and, many, many more. In addition to using Jane Austen’s text in reply, Smith offers pithy supporting text in her own words illustrated with a vintage images:

What Should My Book Club Read?

Q. One thing you never seem to find the time for these days is reading. As you were a bookworm when you were younger. You have decided to start a club in order to get back to basics and take some time to improve your mind. But your group is made up of some very different people with very different tastes. So how do you choose which kind of books to read?

A. “I have received a very civil note from Mrs. Martin, requesting my name as a subscriber to her library … As an inducement to subscribe, Mrs. Martin tells me that her collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of literature, &c. She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great novel-readers and not ashamed of being so …” — Letter to Cassandra, Steventon, 18 December 1798

Smith then elaborates on Austen’s view of reading, especially the not so well-thought of fiction of her day and how it influenced Austen’s own writing, and then offers her own advice:

“Your club’s first choice is important. You could start with Northanger Abbey. It is certainly not desultory, and is a novel about novels, so should get you talking about reading and please everybody you’d like to keep as a member of your book club.” p. 213

I am always a bit leery of advice books; even though I am the first person of my acquaintance that should heed their wisdom. Like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, I find Lady Catherine’s arrogant pontificating tiresome and not always spot on. Not so here. The one thing that saved me from total ignominy in reading this book was the arrangement of Miss Jane Austen’s Guide in an encapsulated manner. One can pick it up, open it to any page, and then just read one question and answer a day—almost like a daily devotional with Austen as your adviser. Taken in smaller doses, I found it amusing and enlightening.

So, gentle readers, as I present my last book review of the year, take Miss Jane Austen’s advice from this clever book and look life in the face and laugh …

I am glad you are so well yourself, and wish everybody else were equally so. I will not say that your mulberry-trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”—Letter to Cassandra, Chawton, 31 May 1811

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions About Life, Love, Happiness (and What to Wear) from the Great Jane Austen Herself, by Rebecca Smith
Tarcher (2012)
Trade paperback (224) pages
ISBN: 978-0399160615

© 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, by Lori Smith – A Review

The Jane Austen Guide to Life, by Lori Smith (2012)If you could be swept back in time two hundred years ago to have a cup of tea with Jane Austen, what would you ask her? Any question. No bars held. If I had the courage, I might ask her how did she become so wise in the ways of human nature and love? Or, did she intend to craft stories to entertain, or to enlighten?

Since time-travel has yet to be invented, we can only surmise how Austen would have replied. Yet, for centuries she has been speaking to readers in an intimate way without many of us realizing it. In The Jane Austen Guide to Life, author Lori Smith decodes Austen’s philosophy on life and love by combing through her novels and personal correspondence for lessons relevant for the modern woman. Is Jane Austen the relationship coach that we should all be learning from? Smith thinks so and has carefully selected key topics that we can contemplate and learn from such as: Living Your Dreams; Pursuing Passion; Marrying Well; Cherishing Family and Friends; Enduring the Hardest Things; and the final chapter Austen’s Ethos. You might say this is a self-help book applying the principals and morals that Austen used in writing her fictional characters translated into the nonfiction world. In the introduction, Smith sums it up very nicely…

“This book mines Jane’s life and her stories for the lessons she would teach us if she could. Thankfully, through her writing, she can and does speak today.” p. xi

I never feel more like Lydia Bennet when someone recommends a self-help book to me. Remember in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Collins reads from Fordyce’s Sermons and she gaped in horror? I can totally relate. I deplore being preached to and am quite the skeptic. Even though I opened this book with grave trepidation, I was soon won over by the author’s knowledge of Jane Austen and her upbeat, approachable style. Each chapter is well researched offering topics and examples from the novels that modern readers can relate to. My favorite chapter was the last: Austen’s Ethos.

“As I’ve written about Austen, several themes continue to come back to me. They’ve surfaced throughout the book, but, at the risk of redundancy, may bear repeating, because in so many ways I think they capture her heart. They were lessons her heroines knew, or came to know through the course of the stories, and may in fact be the central, overarching lessons that she would want to pass on to us today. They’re also lessons that, because of two centuries that separate us from Austen, we may be less likely to take away from her light stories.” p. 197

I will leave you dangling in suspense with that tempting nugget of knowledge yet to be revealed. After reading The Jane Austen Guide to Life I understand more fully why I have been so attracted to Austen’s writing since first reading Pride and Prejudice over thirty years ago. I had the privilege of reading an early advance copy and wholeheartedly can attest that this engaging book, part biography and part self-help guide, it is all heart. Janeites will embrace its common sense and insights into their favorite author, and everyone else should buy it for their daughters and best friends.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, by Lori Smith
Globe Pequot Press (2012)
Hardcover (224) pages
ISBN: 978-0762773817

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor – A Review

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor (2012)How many Wickhams, Willoughbys or Mr. Collins’ have you met before a Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightley, or (miracle of miracles) Mr. Darcy landed on your doorstep? For the benefit of those who may not know who those gentlemen are, they are male characters in Jane Austen novels. They teach her heroines important life lessons about romance and love, and if one is paying attention, one can glean more than just the experience of reading a masterpiece of literature. Not only is Jane Austen a brilliant writer, she is a great life coach too.

We have long harbored the belief that everything you need to know about life and love is right there among the pages of Austen’s six major works. So does author Elizabeth Kantor. Her new relationship book, The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, will explain it all in an insightful and entertaining way. Even this grizzled Janeite learned more than a thing or two.

The book is broken down into sixteen lively chapters, like: What Do Women Really Want from Jane Austen?; Don’t be a Tragic Heroine; Jane Austen’s Skeleton Keys to a Man’s Potential;  or Arrange Your Own Marriage in the Most Pleasant Manner Possible. There’s even a fifteen page appendix questioning if Jane Austen novels are just entertainment or did she really intended to give us relationship advice – and eighty-four pages of numbered notes citing every source used on every page. Yes, gentle readers. Kantor has researched the heck out of this subject and it shows.

There is just so much to delight in this book that one barely knows where to begin praising it. Besides the friendly and accessible voice by its benevolent authoress, we just love the helpful format. Kantor has a lot to say in each of the chapters, but the density is broken up with insightful “Tips for Janeites” text boxes, subheadings categorizing subjects within the chapters, and a chapter summary at the end featuring three highlights: Adopt a Jane Austen Attitude; What Would Jane Austen Do?; and If We Really Want to Bring Back Jane Austen. In between there is a wealth of relationship knowledge, helpful advice, and a whole lot of fun. Connecting Jane Austen’s characters, plots and shrewd observations of human nature is just what our often befuddled twenty-first century relationship sensibilities need. Our favorite part was chapter twelve: “He Had No Intensions At All” How to Recognize Men Who Are “Just Not That into You.” Wow! We wish we had this book in our teens. *queue to every mom, aunt, or friend to buy The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After for a loved one*

We had the honor of being one of the first to read an advanced copy and were immediately smitten. It was no hardship to offer this blurb for the back of the book:

“Influenced by the master of love and romance, Elizabeth Kantor’s wise, witty, and insightful book should be added to Mr. Darcy’s reading list for any truly accomplished woman. It will transform you into the heroine of your own life.”

Now…off to re-read the important bits, again.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, by Elizabeth Kantor
Regnery Publishing (2012)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-1596987845
NOOK: ISBN: 9781596983182
Kindle: ASIN: B007NJPVOG

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose