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.
GT: How did the living arrangements of Jane Austen’s day help her characters to be more considerate of others’ needs, and how does our financial independence harm this development today?
EK: That whole financial independence issue is just so interesting in Jane Austen. People think about Jane Austen’s books as being all about some class of superior rich people who are very different from us today.But really, Jane Austen could not afford to have her own bedroom. She shared with her sister all her life. Which is hard, but the fact is, if you have to live with your family if you can’t afford to get your own apartment right out of college, then you pick up some relationship skills that I think are a little bit harder for us today. Today we talk about “working on our relationships” and getting along with a guy, a boyfriend, a husband, seems to us to be really a hard thing. Whereas to Jane Austen, that relationship seemed easier than a lot of others — than the relationship with your parents you’re still living with. And I think she would have been delighted that more people can afford — especially women — to be financially independent. She thought financial independence was fantastic, but she also noticed that it spoiled people. In her books, it’s more the heroes, the guys back then, who are more likely to be financially independent. But she talked about how Willoughby, say, in Sense and Sensibility, was spoiled by early independence, so I think modern folks need to really look out for — maybe some of the problems in our relationships are — we’ve gotten a little spoiled and we’re not used to ever yielding and accommodating to other people.
GT: Why does Jane Austen condemn marrying without love?
EK: She thinks it’s wrong. She thinks it’s morally wrong to marry without love. She calls it “duping somebody,” because he wouldn’t want to marry you if he didn’t think you had feelings for him, right, because that’s just not honest.
But then she also talks about what the likely sad results are going to be. This is in these fantastic letters that Jane Austen actually wrote. She had a correspondence with her niece when her niece was going through the courtship phase of life.So you can not only get the novels and I draw not only on the novels in the Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, but also on these actual letters on advice about whether to marry a guy that Jane Austen wrote. And what she tells her niece is, on the one hand, the guy her niece may want to marry is just perfect in a lot of ways: He’s friends with her family, he’d be a good match, but the niece just can’t get enthusiastic about him or seemed to sort of like him, but now that he likes her she doesn’t like him as much. Jane Austen is saying you just better not get engaged to him without being in love with him because you don’t want the terrible thing that’s likely to happen, which is you’re bound to one guy and then sooner or later someone’s going to come along that you really can like and really can fall for and how awful to be bound to one person and in love with another person.