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I became acquainted with Lori Smith when she wrote her first book, A Walk With Jane Austen. Our association has continued with her new book, The Jane Austen Guide to Life. (Read my review here.) Please welcome Lori as I talk to her about her most recent writing experience. I hope to meet her, as well as many other Janeites, at the JASNA meeting in New York this fall:

Hi Lori! What were your reasons for writing this book as your follow up to A Walk With Jane Austen?

You know, I didn’t expect to write another Jane Austen book, so this book, which was actually my editor’s idea initially, came as a great gift and a surprise. It covers some of the same material as A Walk with Jane, but from a completely different viewpoint. While A Walk with Jane was so deeply personal and so much about my journey, this book steps back and looks at how Austen would advise women today if she could. I took everything we know about her life and all the wonderful stories she gave us, and tried to ferret out how she might guide us today.

Why will people regard the advice on romance and life from a 19th c. country spinster?

For those already members of the cult of Austen, this isn’t a tough sell, but I’m sure it will be for some. I mean, really, a woman who lived two hundred years ago, who wouldn’t understand modern dating, tweeting, texting—can she really have helpful advice?

But the thing is, we adore Austen for her lovely stories. She understood people, what motivated them, their faults and foibles. As one reviewer commented on Sense and Sensibility, she had “a great deal of good sense.” Her good sense is so welcome today, and still so useful. The issues she dealt with—fame, money, heartbreak—are the same ones we face today. I think she can help us bring back some of the graciousness of the time she lived in, help us imbue our own lives with grace and good sense.

What about today’s society would scandalize Jane Austen the most?

I’m sure it would be sex. There was plenty of raunchy behavior in Austen’s era, but it wasn’t on display the way it is now, in movies, TV shows, magazines. And it’s become so very casual. I don’t think she would know what to make of that.

What changes would she like most?

Well, she wrote in one letter about not knowing what to do about a new gown, and said “I wish such things were to be bought ready made.” (In Austen’s day, you had to buy fabric and then work with a dress-maker.) So I think she would love how easy and affordable fashion has become. (Not that she cared overly much about fashion.)

But I think she would be happiest that singleness has become a viable option for women, that women can work and earn their own keep and don’t have to be dependent on family or have to marry to survive. I think that would thrill her. She herself never married, and even with the income from her writing, was financially dependent upon her brothers.

On a personal level what advice from Jane meant most to you, and why?

This time around I really appreciated her perspective on the need to be thoughtful about romance—two concepts that don’t always go together in our world. And as someone who has lived with chronic Lyme disease for more than a decade, her own journey through a lengthy and mysterious disease touched me.

But every time I come back to Austen, more than anything else, I’m astounded by her joy. She celebrated the world, relished in it, brought so much energy to it. She laughed as much as possible, I’m sure, but her joy was deep as well, loved a quiet evening by the fire or sitting and watching the flow of the tide. If I could take one thing from Austen, it would be that joy and effervescence.

Bio:

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.

Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVYt-QOJWO8
Blogs: http://www.writerlorismith.com, http://www.austenquotes.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/writerlorismith
Twitter: @writerlorismith

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The contest is open until May 15th. You have two chances of winning this book by leaving a comment. Click on image to enter.

Nearly 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is more popular than ever with publishers and readers. Many of her fans are attracted to her era, which they identify as one filled with grace, gentility, and good manners. In The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, author Lori Smith examines Jane Austen’s novels, letters, and life for insights that can help guide today’s woman through life’s passages. There is much good material to digest.

The most important thing is family. Jane was blessed with a large, supportive tribe. They encouraged her talents, reveling in her tales, giving her time to write, and enjoying her books as she was writing them. With much love and support she was able to pursue and develop her talent in an age when such a career was not easily open to women. When she began to write as a girl, Jane had no idea that she would ever make money from her talent, much less find the time to pursue her career.  Some lessons to extract from her persistence in writing are: Do what you would be willing to be poor for; temper your expectations; and share your gifts with the world.  Lucky for us Jane never gave up and weathered the dry giving for posterity six incomparable novels.

Lori Smith’s Guide moves from the essential to the romantic. Let me explain. It is hard to find true love if you don’t know what you want. So, Jane’s advice via Lori is: Be accepting of yourself. Be self-aware. And be sensible. If you’re never satisfied with yourself, then you can’t please others. It’s an axiom that Jane and her heroines followed:

Not only do Austen’s characters find love, they find themselves, and they improve themselves. They see their faults in ways they haven’t before. They realize what kinds of things they are capable of — and that at times they are capable of doing things badly — and this awareness spurs them to change.

Regarding romance, once a woman is open to changing her mind, she is receptive to so many possibilities – of the fact that she was wrong, of opening her eyes to others, of finding the right man. In Jane Austen’s era, a sense of community and belonging helped to guide a woman in the right direction. Jane’s characters (and the author herself) lived in a small, connected society, where friends and relatives knew many details about each other. This situation no longer exists for many of us today:

I think [Jane’s] greatest advice to us would be to keep our eyes open and watch carefully, to not commit too quickly before we really understand a guy’s character.

Spoken like our wise mothers. The Guide continues to cover such topics as saving and spending, gratitude and enduring hardships. In the end, Jane shows us to live life to the fullest and to enjoy every moment. She was capable of making fun of herself and laugh even when things were not going her way.

Even the smaller things, that for most of us would only annoy us and lead to complaint, Jane approached with humor. She told Cassandra, “I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”

In the end, no one can live our lives but ourselves. We can only follow our inner guide and the principles we have chosen to live by.

Lori Smith’s  The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman continues to inform us about our lives through the lessons that Jane Austen and her characters can teach us. Like her first book. A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori’s clear writing style is a delight to read. One can almost hear Jane speaking through her words. This book is a wonderful gift for mother’s day, for mothers to give to their daughters, and for men to understand the mind of a fine woman. It is also delightfully illustrated.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 regency tea cups.

Book Giveaway: To enter the book giveaway, click on this link. Contest is open until May 15th. Sadly, only those living in the US and Canada are eligible. Please leave a way to contact you in your comment.

Order the book in both hard cover and eBook format:

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: skirt! (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762773812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762773817

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