16 December is the anniversary of Jane Austen’s birthday. She was born 16 December 1775 and died 18 July 1817.
I have always loved Jane Austen. I even chose to write about her many, many years ago at university. But why do we love her stories? Why are they timeless?
Many would argue that Jane Austen is simply historical chick lit and they wouldn’t be wrong. But chick lit gets a bad rap most of the time. It
is not all fluff and nonsense, and like writers in any genre, some authors are better than others. Jane Austen is a master of this one.
Austen creates believable, flawed characters who are easy to relate to and she puts them in difficult situations. Times have changed but human nature has not. We’ve all behaved badly, meddled when we should not have, and judged others without the facts. Her characters show us how to learn and grow from this. And most importantly, we all want to love and be loved – just like the characters in her six novels.
Here are six universal lessons Jane taught us from each of her novels.
Emma: Learn to listen and pay attention to everyday matters. The most important things in our lives are the little moments – the conversations, the shared laughter, friendships, and confidences. Emma has to learn that everyone matters, that she is not more important than anyone else, and that moments with her family and friends are precious. She has to learn to stop interfering. Emma does not listen to Harriet Smith who loves Robert Martin. She tries to part them, but luckily they get together in the end.
- Northanger Abbey: Keep a sense of wonder alive. Life is an adventure. Be curious. The young heroine, Catherine is just learning about herself, her world, and the people she wants in it. She has to learn to be open to change and growth. If we don’t, we assume things based on what we have been taught rather than what really is in front of our eyes.
Pride and Prejudice: Learn from mistakes. First impressions can be misleading as Elizabeth and Darcy have to find out in the novel. Sometimes we have to go through moments of heartbreak and humiliation before we learn our lesson. Elizabeth has to learn that Wickham is a cad. We also have to be prepared to admit when we are wrong and to apologise if necessary. We should not be afraid to show how we feel. Jane almost loses Bingley by being so reserved. Elizabeth almost loses Darcy because her feelings have been hurt.
- Mansfield Park: Money is not everything. We have to understand the difference between being entertained and being happy. Maria Bertram marries Mr Rushworth because of his fortune, and because she just got snubbed by Henry Crawford. Her story does not end well, but our stories are what make us human. Listening to someone’s stories and bearing witness is the highest way of acknowledging our humanity. Poor, quiet, heroine, Fanny Price has to learn that we don’t always get what we want.
- Persuasion: Be honest. Think for yourself. Unconditional friendship serves no one. Anne Elliot breaks off her engagement with Frederic Wentworth on the advice of her friend, Lady Russel, which results in years of heartache. Anne learns about the values of community and friendship, which are harder to find and hold on to as we age.
Sense and Sensibility: True love takes time. Sisters, Elinor and Marianne, both fall in love with men they can’t have. To love someone we have to like their characters as well as their looks. Marianne Dashwood finds this out when she learns the truth about Willoughby and gets to know Colonel Brandon. Healthy conflicts keep relationships sound. Marrying someone who helps us to grow is the truest way of knowing and loving ourselves.
I think these universal truths are part of reason why Jane Austen is as popular now as she ever was.
If you enjoyed this post, read How did Jane Austen learn to write?
If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course.
If you enjoyed this, you will love: