Need advice on friends, fuckbois or travel arrangements? I’ve got your girl – she died 200 years ago and she’s called Jane Austen. It shouldn’t be surprising that an old bird – she’d be 242 this year – has something to say about love and relationships, but it’s striking how incredibly relevant her advice is for women living in 2K17.
And it’s funny advice, too. Not funny in the way that, say, Shakespeare is supposed to be funny. Forgive me for being a moron, but you don’t have to translate the ‘joke’ into regular English and then work out why it’s supposed to be funny. Jane would never, ever do that to you. There are straight gags, there for your amusement.
Austen’s work is often marginalised as chocolate-boxy society fluff. Seen as a bit… frilly. But I note with interest that categorisation is normally done by men who pretend to have read Infinite Jest. I guarantee you there’s more fluff in the bro canon than there is in anything written by Austen. She is vital and energetic and essential – she will make you examine everything you experience in depth. She reminds you that you’re one dot in a constellation of experiences, and that your flaws and idiosyncrasies often just make you more interesting.
Here’s Jane Austen’s no-bollocks guide to modern life:
Matchmaking is a waste of time
In Emma (which you may know better as Clueless) the title character, Emma (or, if you prefer, Cher) tries to make her friend Harriet (or, if you prefer, Tai) fall in love with intensely cringe Mr. Elton instead of charming gentleman farmer Mr. Martin. It all goes horribly wrong as Mr. Elton has the major hots for Emma/Cher and not Harriet/Tai. Guess what? Harriet ends up with Mr. Martin anyway. Advice: just do you.
Strive to be an independent woman
Or as independent as possible, considering Austen was writing at a time when it was impossible for women to own property. Austen advises you to guard your cash with your life but not to do anything purely for money. Emma refuses Mr. Elton’s deeply embarrassing overtures of love, concluding that he’s only after her because of her fortune. On the other hand, Pride and Prejudice ’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet refuses Mr. Collins even though marrying him would mean financial security for her increasingly broke family. If you sense material goods are at the core of something that’s supposed to be more profound, then walk away and, if you’re an Austen heroine, go and do some tapestry or take a stomp around the grounds of a stately home.
But if you’re swayed by money, well, you’re only human
Kind and spirited Elizabeth Bennet was not even remotely interested in marrying Mr. Darcy because he’s a) snotty and b) indifferent but, after seeing his massive house and lake, well… the idea of becoming Mrs. Snotty doesn’t seem that bad.
Try not to be too judgey of your mates
Elizabeth is horrified when her best friend Charlotte marries oily clergyman Mr. Collins and is pretty condemning of her friend’s choice. Charlotte says: “When you have had time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home.” So Elizabeth has to suck it up, even though going to see her best friend involves having to hear a vicar go on and on about the shelves or whatever.
Looks are valuable currency if you want to bag a man
Same shit, different century – men will often go for beauty over brains. Emma defends her pretty-but-dull friend Harriet, arguing that until men “do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet has a certainty of being admired and sought after.” Basically, don’t expect too much of men, and don’t belittle someone for 'only' being pretty – if you’re being practical you’ll acknowledge it’s useful. People are nothing if not predictable, and you can predict they’ll be shallow.
Avoid fuckbois like the plague
If he seems too good to be true, he is. Rakish Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility is thrilling at first – he rescues Marianne when she twists her ankle and makes wild love to her. Sadly this was when ‘making love’ meant writing a letter or taking a lock of hair, so it’s not quite as interesting as you might hope. Despite all the love-making, he vanishes, and it turns out he’s done some actual love-making and knocked up a 15-year-old girl only to abandon her. Marianne ends up dodging a bullet by finding all this out before she’s in too deep.
If you can avoid getting in a car with a creepy man then for god’s sake, do
At the end of a party, Emma ends up accidentally getting into a carriage on her own with Mr. Elton, who is pissed and comes on to her in a wildly inappropriate way. A situation many of us will understand – the wrong Uber with the wrong person. Of course, riding with someone who makes you shudder with disgust is occasionally unavoidable – once when I was travelling for work, I had to get in the back of a minivan with a cameraman who kept stroking my thigh. However, if you have any control over the situation, then exercise it. Jane would only want the best for you.
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