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
© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose