She may have been from another century but there are still a lot of lessons we can learn from Jane Austen. I love her novels and I find that they're books you can come back to over and over again and still enjoy them. After all, didn't Italo Calvino say that 'a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say'? With that thought in mind, I wanted to write a post on the lessons we can learn from Jane Austen and her books today, and why you shouldn't be put off by the 'classic' label if you haven't yet read them, because they're romantic, funny and surprisingly easy reading.
1. The Importance of Having an Open Mind
The most important of the lessons we can learn from Jane Austen. Fanny Price (Mansfield Park) is criticised for being the worst of Austen's heroines, but I actually rather like her. Everything she does throughout the book is influenced by the fact that she's an outsider - her social standing is lower than the others around her and she is judged for it. Don't let yourself be like that. Approach everyone and everything with an open, fair mind.
2. Don't Believe Everything You Hear
Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) makes a big mistake when she chooses to believe George Wickham about Darcy, at the cost of her sister's reputation and almost her own happiness. When someone tells you something about another person, take it with a pinch of salt. Find out for yourself before you decide it's true.
3. True Friends Will Be Honest with You
Do you want friends who'll be afraid to tell you when you're acting like a primadonna, or do you want friends who'll be honest with you? In Emma, it was Mr Knightley who proved himself a true friend to Emma by telling her she was wrong. Part of supporting your friends is helping to steer them in the right direction - if you have someone that does that for you, then you should hold on to them.
4. Don't Rely on First Impressions
George Wickham, Mr Willoughby (Sense and Sensibility) - the men that appeared dashing and honourable at the beginning of the book often ended up with the worst of intentions by the end of it. And who knew that that the cold, stuck-up Mr Darcy who refused to dance at the beginning of the book would end up as its hero? Austen's books teach us that we shouldn't judge people on our first impressions of them - we need to take the time to get to know them.
5. Don't Judge Someone on Their Social Standing
Jane lived and wrote in a world where your social standing often determined the entire course of your life. She used her writing to poke fun at the strict social rituals that dictated her life, and social snobbery is a theme that runs throughout her novels. Things are very different now but we still tend to judge people on how much money they have, the way they speak, where they're from. Austen's novels underline how ridiculous this is - your wealth doesn't define who you are, so don't define others by theirs.
6. Nice Guys Don't Finish Last
The whole nice guys always finish last thing? What a load of tosh. If you're finishing last, it's probably because you're doing something wrong. What better novel to illustrate this than Sense and Sensibility? Yes, so Marianne did fall for Willoughby first, but Colonel Brandon ends up getting his girl. Nice guys might have a slower start but they'll finish first in the end.
7. Don't Settle
If Pride and Prejudice gave us anything - besides an everlasting love for the dashing Mr Darcy - it taught us that you should never settle. Elizabeth Bennet, living in a society where marriage was really the only option for women, turned down the horrifying Mr Collins, even though she knew it might mean that she would remain alone. Obviously, she didn't - but we know that it's better to be alone than with someone you don't love.
Jane Austen's work may seem outdated to some now but as you can see, we can still learn a lot from her - and that's why her novels still resonate today. What's your favourite classic novel?