Happy May Day everyone! Please join us today in welcoming author Lori Smith on the launch of her blog tour in celebration of the publication of The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, released today by Globe Pequot Press. Lori has generously shared with us some insights on her inspiration for writing her second Jane Austen-inspired book and offered a giveaway to three lucky readers.
I’m thrilled I was able to write The Jane Austen Guide to Life, but I can’t fully take credit for the idea. A while back, an email unexpectedly popped up from an editor I hadn’t heard from in a while, one I’d always wanted to work with. She’d been thinking, she said, about a book that would combine a light biography of Jane Austen with practical “life lessons” for the modern reader, drawn from Austen’s life as well as her books. I thought for about fifteen seconds and concluded, “Yes! That book should be written!” And that was the beginning.
As normal as it seems to me to take advice from Austen—I’ve loved her writing for years, even followed her life through England for my last project, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith (2007), —I thought it might seem strange to some. After all, Austen was a 19th-century spinster. She wasn’t terribly concerned about fashion, knew nothing about platform heels, and, if she’d had the chance, she very well might have married a first cousin (as was common practice back then). So what could she possibly teach our modern selves?
In some ways, Austen was more modern than we might think. She embraced the 21st-century idea of making your dreams a reality. After all, in her day, a lady should not have written fiction. Not only was writing un-ladylike, but novels were frivolous and of questionable value. But Austen had to tell her stories—she had to write—so, acceptable or not, that’s what she did.
In other ways, Austen challenges us, her own good sense in contrast to current cultural extremes. Many of us strive for our fifteen minutes of fame, while Austen didn’t even want her name to appear on her books. As a nation, we’re saddled with pervasive credit card debt; Austen lived within a tight and carefully kept budget. She would encourage us to cherish our true friends rather than focusing on building extensive and ephemeral social networks. And Jane Austen never had sex—so what would she say about a culture that has a word specifically to describe meaningless sexual encounters. (Hookup, anyone?)
Strangely enough, Austen—whom we associate with happily-ever-after—never married, and can teach us something about being contentedly, joyfully single. She would be glad that singleness has become a more viable option for women. At a deeper level, Austen worked from a strong moral foundation and believed that virtue could lead to happiness. We may be tempted to reverse that equation, to believe that whatever makes us happy is by definition virtuous. Would that horrify her? I think so.
This project was a gift to me in many ways. It landed in my lap when I was largely unable to work because of chronic Lyme disease—a battle I’ve been fighting for years. It gave me the chance, on my good days, to escape my world of sickness and re-enter Austen’s world. (Austen herself was familiar with chronic illness, and can teach us about enduring difficult things.) Of all of Austen’s lessons, I most needed to be reminded that love isn’t something to fall into thoughtlessly—that it involves the mind as much as the heart. That was a gift, too. Then there was just the sheer joy of re-reading Austen again, remembering her genius.
I hope the book will give you insights into Austen’s personal story, and that you’ll find it both fun and sensible. I hope it’s a light read that will also be thought-provoking, prompting the kind of self-knowledge and self-examination Austen would champion.
Whenever I study Austen’s life, I come away thinking that I’d like to be more like her—her spirit, her zest for the world, the laughter and joy that imbued her life, her sharp perception and strong moral awareness. Her love of family and her love for God. I think this 19th-century spinster still has so much to teach us.
As a child, Lori Smith’s mother had to pay her to read books. So it’s a bit ironic that she now gets paid to write them. Lori feels connections to Austen on many levels—as a writer, a single woman, an Anglican, and as someone struggling with a mysterious chronic illness. For her last book, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith, Lori spent a month in England tracing Austen’s life and works. Readers voted to give that book the Jane Austen Regency World Award for best nonfiction.
Her writing has also appeared in Washington Post Book World, Publishers Weekly, Beliefnet.com, Skirt!, and Today’s Christian Woman. Lori lives in Northern Virginia with her sweet but stubborn English lab, Bess. Visit Lori at her blogs: Writer Lori Smith and Austen Quotes; on Facebook: as Writer Lori Smith; and follow her on Twitter as @writerlorismith.
Grand Giveaway of The Jane Austen Guide to Life
Enter a chance to win one of three copies available of The Jane Austen Guide to Life, by Lori Smith by leaving a comment stating which of Austen’s characters made a good life coach, or what intrigues you about reading this new Jane Austen-inspired self-help guide by 11:59 PT, Wednesday, May 09, 2012. Winner announced on Thursday, May 10, 2012. Shipment to US addresses only. Good luck!
Many thanks to author Lori Smith for her delightful guest blog and to her publisher Globe Pequot Press for the generous giveaways. We must wag our own flag a bit here and reveal that we had the opportunity to be one of the first to read The Jane Austen Guide to Life and contributed a blurb on the back cover in its praise:
Jane Austen has been my life coach since I first discovered Pride and Prejudice thirty years ago. After reading Lori Smith’s lovely The Jane Austen Guide to Life, I now understand why. Part Austen biography, how-to-guide, and all heart, this engaging book will sensibly explain the mysteries of relationships, life and love that Jane Austen so excelled in on the page and in her own life. – Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose.com
The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, by Lori Smith
Globe Pequot Press (2012)
Hardcover (224) pages
© 2007 – 2012 Lori Smith, Austenprose