Jane Austen's Guide to Happily Ever After
Beliefnet blogger Gayle Trotter caught up with author Elizabeth Kantor on her new book highlighting lessons of love by the timeless Jane Austen.
Gayle Trotter: This is Gayle Trotter, and today I’m speaking with Elizabeth Kantor, author of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Kantor: Gayle, thank you so much for having me.
GT: What can Jane Austen teach us about love? Did she marry and live happily ever after?
EK: She didn’t marry. I think you can make a case for happily ever after in her case, but she did, we have to admit, miss out on the thrilling high point of life that she gets just perfectly right there at the end of Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth and Darcy. I think in terms of her understanding of happily ever after you have to say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you’re a woman who’s ever been deeply, intensely in love and you read those novels, you see she knew exactly what she was talking about.
GT: How do Jane Austen’s heroines differ on their general outlook on men compared with today’s women and our culture’s common portrayal of men.
EK: Jane Austen was very careful — and her heroines were like this too — were very careful not to be cynics about guys. Jane Austen was well aware of men’s limitations and their foibles. She’s funny about it in her novels, but if her heroines start to get that, like paint them all with a broad brush, all men are jerks — as Elizabeth Bennet says at some point, “What are men to rocks and mountains?” — that kind of man-bashing attitude, then in Elizabeth Bennet’s case, a wise aunt will say, You know, you’re sounding a little bit bitter there. Jane Austen really understands that it’s part of female dignity to respect male dignity. If you want guys to respect you, you have to stay away from that attitude that all men are just jerks.
GT: And why is male attention the ultimate intoxicant and how do Jane Austen’s women react to male attention?
EK: Yes, Jane Austen is just so smart about relationship dynamics and everything. You know how we have this vague cultural memory that back in Victorian times women had to dress modestly so as not to entice men with their physical allurements. In Jane Austen’s day, men were not supposed to pay women attention in a careless, immodest way. They weren’t supposed to be seductive with their attention and their approach to women. Because just like a guy gets his head turned if he sees a girl in a bikini, then often women get our heads turned if a guy pays a lot of attention to us. There’s a chapter in the Jane Austen Guide called “The Real Original Rules: Not for Manipulating Men, but for Helping Women Keep their Freedom” in respect to men. A lot of women, I think, can learn from Jane Austen, essentially relationship rules; rules for keeping enough distance between you and the guy that you can get to know him without losing your perspective on him.