In her book, The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, Elizabeth Kantor asks the question, “Just what is it about Jane Austen that has us coming back year after year, decade after decade, making her by far the most famous female writer of her time. Why DO we read Jane Austen?” It’s more than just wanting a good read or to be part of a perfect world, set apart in time. She theorizes that “We wish we could be Jane Austen heroines in our own lives, dealing with everything—especially men—with the sophistication and competence we admire in characters like Elizabeth Bennet. Women see something in Jane Austen that’s missing from modern relationships, and we can’t help wondering if there might be some way to have what we see there—without going back to empire waistlines, horse-drawn carriages, and the bad old days before the Married Women’s Property Act.”
“I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness”
My mother’s favorite axiom is, “Your attitude is your choice”. After researching all of Jane’s work, using not only her six published novels, but also the fragments, Juvenilia and surviving letters, Kantor has come to a similar conclusion. Your happiness—or lack thereof, is the result of your own choices in life. Sure, we can be dealt situations less than idyllic—not everyone can be born a gentleman’s daughter in Hertfordshire, but the first question she would have us ask of ourselves is whether or not we are acting in the pursuit of long term happiness. Not the “of course I want to be happy” kind of happiness, but the “Will this choice (boyfriend, relationship, marriage) contribute to long term, lasting happiness?” Here, she contrasts the life styles of Lydia Bennet, who lives for the thrill of the moment, and Elizabeth, who weighs her choices in light of the effect they will have on her future. By consciously choosing happiness (over immediate gratification, or even instant security—think Charlotte Lucas) Kantor proposes that we have made the first step in shedding modern cynicism about happiness in general and in taking control of our future.
This may free you to release a long over relationship, or begin a new one. It will certainly cause you to begin being responsible for your own choices, looking ahead at the consequences of each one and choosing whether or not they are in line with future you want for yourself.
“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. — “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! — I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity, in useless or blameable distrust. — How humiliating is this discovery! — Yet, how just a humiliation! –I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”
-Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Each one of Austen’s heroines reached a crisis point in which she was unsure of her own actions or behavior, and each one had to evaluate whether or not she would continue the path she was on or choose to turn back and change her way of dealing with life. For some, this meant metamorphical thinking, for others, like Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood, it reaffirmed the correctness of their original behavior. By choosing to change or stay the course, each one of us becomes responsible for our own, ultimate happiness in life.
Kantor’s book is divided into sixteen easy to read chapters (I devoured it in one sitting!) with titles including In Love, Look for Happiness, Work on All your Relationships, Jane Austen’s Skeleton Keys to a Man’s Potential, The Real, Original “Rules”, and Arrange Your Own Marriage—In the Most Pleasant Manner Possible. Each chapter pulls scenarios from not only the Austen canon, but also from pop culture, news headlines and even Kantor’s own relationship history, and ends with three bulleted sections: “Adopt and Austen Attitude” (take a minute for Jane Austen-style “serious reflection”) “What would Jane Do?” and “If We Really Want to Bring Back Jane Austen…” Also sprinkled among the pages are “Tips just for Janeites”; catchy summaries of each section, like “Drama is not the same thing as Love”. Additional essays, such as “Choose Your Entertainment Carefully—And Notice What It’s Doing to You” and “A Jane Austen Heroine in the Twenty-First Century” can be found augmenting select chapters. An impressive Appendix, exhaustive Chapter Notes and Index finish my edition of this book.
Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change, since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.
–Pride and Prejudice
All in all, I didn’t know what to expect when I opened this book, so I was delighted to find it a well-researched, entertaining read that still packed a punch. Kantor’s top advice to women might be summarized by saying, “Grow up! Take responsibility for your own happiness. Work on all your relationships. Don’t sit around waiting for “Mr. Darcy” to sweep you off your feet—be worth sweeping for! Don’t sell yourself cheaply.” This book is aimed at single women desiring long term/marriage relationships. It realizes however, that that may not be the outcome for each reader. Does that mean that you have no chance at “Happily Ever After”? Absolutely not.
Jane Austen, as far as we can tell, lived life by the same code of conduct she instilled in each of her heroines. She may not have been as instantly eloquent as Elizabeth Bennet or as supremely self-controlled as Elinor Dashwood, but neither was she willing to settle for less that complete happiness in marriage. Did she then live an unfulfilled and dull life? Of course not. After all, happiness is a choice.
I think my mother would approve.
Elizabeth Kantor is author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature and an editor for Regnery Publishing. An avid Jane Austen fan, she is happily married and lives with her husband and son in Maryland, USA.
- RRP: £16.99
- Hardcover: 304 pages (also available for the Kindle)
- Publisher: Regnery Publishing (19 April 2012)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 1596987847
- ISBN-13: 978-1596987845
Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories. Her book, Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, is available from the Jane Austen Centre Giftshop. Visit Austentation for a large range of custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and Jane Austen related items.