Jane Austen offers wise advice for modern life

Looking for love, happiness, success, comfort and friendship?—then Jane Austen’s Tips for Success has you covered. Colleen Sattler has gathered in one volume a raft of wonderful quotes about life from Austen’s 19th century novels. The tips are timeless, she says in this Q&A, and showcase Austen’s sharp wit and reassuring wisdom. The quotes drip from the lips of Austen’s much-enjoyed characters, including Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility), Emma Woodhouse (Emma) and Anne Elliot (Persuasion)—so they’re bound to spark memories and bring pleasure …

Why in 2017 should people turn to the drawing rooms of Regency England for wise advice?

Although Jane Austen’s novels are set in another era, their universal themes of happiness, friendship, love, marriage and money are timeless. Jane Austen was a great observer of human nature and human relationships and these haven’t changed much throughout the centuries. Most people still worry about finding love and making a good marriage. Many people still discuss property values and judge others on money and social status; and we all know people who are dishonest, cheat their relatives of an inheritance and otherwise act in very silly ways.

It is also the language, which Jane Austen uses to deliver her advice, that hooks us in. She doesn’t moralise or preach in her novels. She expresses her advice in a reassuring, sisterly voice and then often warns us in a viciously funny way.

What type of advice does Jane Austen give for success in love?

Jane Austen doesn’t advocate blind and unrealistic love driven solely by sexual attraction. She believes love should be based on mutual respect and friendship. In Pride and Prejudice in relation to Elizabeth’s growing love for Darcy, Austen writes, ‘Gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection …’ In Persuasion, Anne Elliot says something similar when she argues with her sister that Mrs Clay is not too ugly for their father to marry. Anne advises, ‘There is hardly any personal defect … that an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to.’ Emma Woodhouse would agree as she realises, ‘There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart …’

In addition, Jane Austen gives good advice about staying clear of men who do not want to commit. In Mansfield Park Fanny Price says, ‘I cannot think well of a man who sports with any woman’s feelings.’

In Austen’s world, money and social status matter greatly. In her novels what are her tips for success in this area?

During Austen’s time, a woman had to find a man with a sizable income to keep from becoming destitute or relying on the grudging kindness of relatives. However, although the main female protagonists in Austen’s novels eventually marry well-off men for love, Austen warns that money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness. In Sense and Sensibility, the impulsive Marianne says, ‘What have wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?’ A little later she states, ‘Money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it.’

Austen also cautions about spending unnecessarily on clothes and fripperies. For those who are ‘born to shop’, in Northanger Abbey she warns, ‘It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of a man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire …’

What’s Elizabeth Bennet’s (Pride and Prejudice) best tip for success?

Towards the end of Pride and Prejudice when Darcy and Elizabeth finally get together, Darcy berates himself for having written such a mean spirited letter to Elizabeth. But Elizabeth doesn’t want to rehash the past. She replies, ‘You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.’

We can all learn from Elizabeth’s philosophy—beating ourselves up over the past does nothing to improve the present. Elizabeth confirms this, as she says ‘You must not be too severe on yourself’ to Mr Bennett when he blames himself for Lydia living in sin with the feckless Mr Wickham.

What’s Anne Elliott’s (Persuasion) best tip for success?

In Persuasion Anne Elliott mistakenly passes up the opportunity to marry Captain Wentworth, the man she is crazy about. But like any successful 21st century single woman, Anne leads an active social life as well as enjoying her own company. When talking with her cousin Mr Elliott, Anne explains why she doesn’t seek company merely for the sake of it: ‘My idea of good company … is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation.’

What’s Emma Woodhouse’s (Emma) best tip for success?

When Emma is not plotting to matchmake her friends and acquaintances, she is quite the party animal. She says, ‘I would much rather have been merry than wise.’

And although Emma seems to deliberately overlook the hunky Mr Knightly, she is clear about what she wants, ‘I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other … ‘

What’s your favourite tip for success from Austen and why? 

Probably my favourite tip is from Sense and Sensibility where Mrs Dashwood comforts poor Edward Ferrars who is depressed about his future. Mrs Dashwood tries to cheer him up by saying, ‘Know your own happiness.  You want nothing but patience—or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.’

This is excellent advice for all of us. Another person’s happiness may be completely different from our personal type of happiness. Emma Woodhouse understands this, when in Emma she chides her overly anxious father, ‘One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.’

Another tip that I particularly like is: ‘If everybody was to drink their bottle a day, there would not be half the disorders in the world as there are now.’ It’s probably the only memorable thing that the boorish John Thorpe has to say in Northanger Abbey. This tip gives us perfect justification for reaching for another delicious bottle of pinot noir.

Where can people find the book?

Jane Austen’s Tips for Success
by Colleen Sattler
New Holland Publishers, $19.99

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