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

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

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.” (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.” (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 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

We received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Globe Pequot Press © 2012; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2012,

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

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  1. An interesting idea. If I were having a cup of tea with Jane, I think I’d ask her which of the portraits of her that we always see is her favourite. My guess is that, being a reserved, retiring sort of character she probably wasn’t too keen on any of them.


  2. My 12 year old granddaughter and I are becoming kindred spirits. (any girl who would tackle the complexities of Sense and Sensibility I have high hopes for!) I wonder if this book would be a little too academic for her. I would love to instill an early understanding and appreciation of Jane Austen in her and wonder if this might make an appropriate Christmas gift…


    1. How wonderful that she would read S&S! I don’t know if the book would be too academic for her, but I think some of the themes may be above her. I’d recommend waiting until 15 or so, I think…


  3. I’ve just downloaded the kindle version and am browsing it now, so far- excellent! My first thought was, my daughters HAVE to read this, after looking it over however I think the best approach is going to be for me to read it, select parts and have discussions with them about it. I’m definitely going to buy copies for them though when they are older and ready to study it on their own.
    Thank you Lori for taking the time to put such a marvelous work together!!


      1. I’m quite sure it will! I just picked up my 14 year old from school and I told her about it and she’s excited as well. From what I’ve read so far I believe it will be a wealth of knowledge!


  4. My copy arrived last week, and I was sorry to reach the end last evening!
    This book will make a wonderful high school graduation gift, and a valuable insight into matters of the heart, before the recipient embarks on the next chapter of her life!


  5. Times passes, and we all change. But some things are never change. That, I believe, is one reason why Jane Austen still speaks to us today. I “discovered” her and her 6 novels 5 years ago, after retiring from 20 years of teaching! Finally, I have had time to read! I just can’t get enough of Austen and her perspectives on life, I borrowed A Walk with June Austen from our church library, but then just had to purchase my own copy. Loved it!


    1. I agree Anna. Jane spoke to the nature of humans, a basic nature that never changes; this is why her tales are timeless. I find myself now not only addicted to Jane Austen’s original work but to good fan fiction as well. It’s the new “love of my life!”


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