From 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 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
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.”