Jane Austen: Modern Lessons from a Classic Lady

For many of, Jane Austen is synonymous with sweeping romances and, of course, "Pride and Prejudice." However, those of us who know Jane a little better know that there's plenty besides romance going on in her novels. In addition to her ability to spin a love story that can make you sigh every time you remember it, she also explores issues of class and how social structures work, intimate relationships, and money, just to name a few. These novels have stood the test of time for a reason and, besides their romantic plots, I think part of the reason is that they teach a few lessons that are still readily applicable to collegiate lives over 200 years later. But don't worry, there are no spoilers!

 

Lesson 1: Don't let your imagination run away with you.

In one of Austen's early novels, "Northanger Abbey," our naive heroine, Catherine Moreland, has a tendency to let her imagination run away with her in the search for a little excitement. Needless to say, this gets Catherine into plenty of trouble, makes her look ridiculous on multiple occasions and makes her insensitive to a friend's feelings. Dealing with boredom can be difficult, but don't try to cure it by stirring up drama. At best, you'll come off looking silly, at worst you'll have a huge mess on your hands.

 

Lesson 2: Find a balance between listening to your head and your heart.

In "Sense and Sensibility," we follow two sisters, the level-headed Elinor and her spirited sister Marianne. Both sisters are wrapped up in love affairs, but neither one is really ideal. Elinor is only thinking about the practical parts of what makes a good marriage, like financial security, while Marianne is only concerned with passion and having someone who shares all her interests and strong feelings. Neither sister benefitted from her idea of what was required for a good marriage because neither knew how to balance logic and feeling. Now, I don't expect you to go around weighing out all your decisions with a perfect balance of logic and feeling, but don't let yourself get caught up in extreme ways of thinking because they'll only lead to disappointment.

 

Lesson 3: Never trust a military officer.

That title was just to make sure you're still paying attention, there's nothing inherently untrustworthy about military officers. However, when an officer shows up in an Austen novel, there's about a 98 percent chance that that guy is trouble. The moral of this recurring theme doesn't necessarily mean that you should actually never trust an officer, but you should learn to recognize things that are harmful to you, whether it be a certain type of guy, a toxic friendship, or a tendency to party too hard. Once something proves itself harmful to you, don't let it repeatedly adversely affect your life. Learn to recognize the bad and then stay away from it.

 

Lesson 4: Don’t overestimate yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, at HC Alabama, we want all our colleagues to feel confident, just not so confident that they think their intellect and judgment is unfailing because that’s what puts the "pride" in "Pride and Prejudice." Sure, plenty of girls want to end up like our heroine Lizzie Bennet, but we don’t want to be the prideful Lizzie Bennet in the middle of the story who, at times, seems arrogant and makes huge misjudgments of others’ character despite her belief that she was a top-notch judge. Lizzie Bennett is a testament to knowing your strengths and weaknesses and having a good sense of self overall.

 

Lesson 5: The ability to read people is a necessity.

Reading people is a theme that comes up time and time again in Austen’s novels. There are a few things to remember when trying to read others. Firstly, not everyone thinks the same way or has the same motivations as you. For example, you might be nice because you're simply a nice person, but someone else might just be nice as a way of getting what they want from others. That's not to say you should be totally cynical about people, but keep in mind that not everyone is like you.  

There's plenty more to be learned from Jane Austen so, in true reading rainbow fashion, don't take my word for it. See for yourselves!