Jane Austen: a model of perseverance

Beyond the love and romance, the novels of Jane Austen has a layer of steel and resilience that may inspire us in uncertain times.

Jane Austen's own life was a lesson of perseverance: She published six novels in seven years and died at the age of 41. When she was 25, her rector father retired. Austen, her parents and her sister spent the next eight years travelling between small properties in Bath, relatives' homes and seaside resorts. Much of this life is reflected in her heroines.

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What Jane Austen can teach us about resilience

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  • Displacement. In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters and their mother are stripped of their inheritance and must leave their family home.
  • Feeling trapped by familial friction, and walking to feel liberated. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett strives for freedom by walking about the countryside to get peace away from her family life.
  • Imperfect families. Austen pioneered the way she showed families as flawed. Before that, parents were shown as perfect and harmonious.

Austen's heroines are often required to persevere. Elinor Dashwood wrongly believes Edward Ferrars has married another. "I will be calm, I will be mistress of myself" is inspiring a strength of character.

The emotional growth of Austen's characters is another facet that can inspire us at a time of uncertainty. Many of her characters acquire a growth mindset - thinking that life should be lived by adapting to challenges and learning from your mistakes.

  • Jane Austen's writing was prescribed to WWI soldiers suffering from severe shell shock. Rudyard Kipling's 1924 The Janeites celebrates this wartime association. It is about a group of soldiers who bond through their love of Austen.
  • Even the author of Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne, bonded with fellow soldiers over his love for Austen.
  • Winston Churchill was consoled during illness when his daughter read Pride and Prejudice to him.
  • During the present-day lockdown, many enjoyed the richness of Austen's novels.

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