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5 Lessons I Learned from Jane Austen

Inspirational ideas for success from one of the world’s favorite authors—by her biggest fan

Beth Pattillo

I fell in love with Jane Austen more than 25 years ago when I was a college student spending a semester in London.  

Loaded down with inexpensive Penguin Classic paperbacks, I worked my way through all of Austen’s novels while huddled beneath a down duvet, the radiator blasting away against a remarkably chilly British winter.  While the snow fell outside, I fell in love with Lizzie, Emma, Elinor and Marianne, and all the rest of Austen’s heroines–not to mention her heroes.

In the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to make several return visits to England, and each time I’ve been able to connect with Jane Austen in new ways.  These trips led to my trio of Austen-related novels, each centering around a group called the Formidables—a secret society that protects precious Austen artifacts.  

Although the Formidables are a product of my imagination, my devotion to Jane Austen and her work is very real.  Here are some of the many lessons I’ve learned from her over the years.

1. Keep your sense of humor.
Jane’s writing—both her novels and her personal letters—reflect her life-long appreciation of irony. Despite poverty, family squabbles, frustration with publishers and all the obstacles she faced, Jane never lost her ability to laugh at herself (first) and at others (in an understanding way).

2. Measure a man by his actions, not his words.
She showed us in Pride and Prejudice that Darcy was really a good egg and in Sense and Sensibility that Willoughby could talk the talk but he couldn’t walk the walk.

3. A real writer can work anywhere.
If you visit the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton, England, where she lived the last decade or so of her life, you can see the tiny table by the dining room window where she wrote some of the greatest novels of English literature.  I have a table like that in my house, and it has a plant on it. So much for complaining that my office is too messy for me to work in!

4. A true heroine admits her mistakes.
From Marianne to Elizabeth to Emma, Austen’s female heroines admit when they’re wrong and learn from it. Fortunately for them, their mistakes can be rectified and they find their happy endings.

5. “Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on…”
Austen’s advice to a young novelist still holds true today. Novels about families, community, relationships and romance are still as popular today as they were 200 years ago!

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