In The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After
, Elizabeth Kantor asks in a section about “Taking Relationships Seriously”: Can we have Jane Austen-style elegance, dignity, and happy love only with no cost to modern freedom and equality? The answer is an unqualified yes if, like Austen’s heroines, we approach romance with a rational balance to sex and love and work hard on all our relationships, not just the romantic ones. The Guide
is filled with clear-eyed information and advice gleaned from Jane Austen’s novels. Sprinkled throughout the book are selected tips for Janeites. They include:
- Don’t wait to pursue happiness in love until “some time or other” in the future.
- If you think about “settling” — think again.
- The very highest standards for yourself are perfectly compatible with the highest degree of respect and compassion for other people — in fact, they tend to go together.
- In Jane Austen (and in life), when it comes to human beings, past performance is an excellent predictor of future results.
- You are the only person you have a right to control.
There are many more kernels of truth in The Guide. Case studies of major male characters, like John Willoughby, examine their commitment phobias, and close scrutiny of Jane’s clear-eyed heroines reveals how they get love exactly right. The pursuit of rational and permanent happiness is what sets Jane Austen heroines apart. Regard the conversation in Pride and Prejudice between Elizabeth Bennet and her sister Jane about Mr. Bingley’s sisters:
Jane: “You persist, then, in supposing his sisters influence him?”
Elizabeth: “Yes, in conjunction with his friend.”
“I cannot believe it. Why should they try to influence him? They can only wish his happiness; and if he is attached to me, no other woman can secure it.”
“Your first position is false. They may wish many things besides his happiness; they may wish his increase of wealth and consequence; they may wish him to marry a girl who has all the importance of money, great connections and pride.”
With this example, the author points out that Jane Austen’s heroines don’t get an automatic win in love. They have to negotiate their way through competing desires to earn their happiness. Austen creates heroines who are able to do this, but she also shows us women who fail. These women don’t find happiness, for they were looking for love in all the wrong places and for other qualities besides those that would make them happy in love. Thinking about young and impulsive Lydia Bennet, the reader instantly recognizes that she stands no chance of finding happiness with Mr. Wickham after the excitement of their marriage dies down and their money runs out.
Jane Austen’s heroines don’t settle, like Charlotte Lucas did with Mr. Collins. Fanny Price, who many readers find boring, remains steadfast in her convictions about Mr. Crawford, despite a great deal of pressure from family and friends. Cynical Mary Crawford was in the market for a man with status and money, which is why she first set her sights on Tom Bertram. When Tom leaves with his father for the West Indies, Mary falls for his younger brother Edmund’s charm and sincerity, but the worldly Mary remains blind to the values that Edmund truly cares about, and she is even flippant in her observations about his desires to become a clergyman. While Edmund was willing to overlook many of her faults, in the end their values were too different for their relationship to work. As Elizabeth Kantor observes:
Jane Austen didn’t think we could make it all better by becoming cynics about love – by trying to isolate sex with all its complications from our serious hopes for our lives because we’ve given up on the bliss love promises. She wouldn’t see the point of trying to limit romance to a recreation, instead of a chance for ‘permanent happiness.’
This book is packed with similar discussions that had me thinking about Jane Austen’s novels in a new light. The chapter titles are very descriptive: “He Had No Intentions at All: How to Recognize Men Who Are ‘Just Not That into You’” or “Don’t Fall for a False Idea of Love.” At the end of each chapter you will find a series of callouts: “Adopt an Austen Attitude;” What Would Jane Do?” and “If we REALLY Want to Bring Back Jane Austen …
If you are tempted to pick up a copy of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After one thing is for certain – you will gain a new perspective on how to approach modern romance from the advice from one of the world’s most famous regency spinsters. I give the book 4 1/2 out of five regency teacups. For a sneak peek, go to Amazon and read the introduction.
About the author: Elizabeth Kantor is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature and an editor for Regnery Publishing. She earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.A. in philosophy from the Catholic University of America. She is an avid Jane Austen fan.
Order the book at Amazon.
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Regnery Publishing (April 2, 2012)