National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Jane Austen Revisited

BY Amy Smith

January 15-21, 2006 Issue | Posted 1/16/06 at 11:00 AM

 

My copy of Pride and Prejudice is dog-eared and marked up. And I’ve spent many hours watching the A&E cable version of Jane Austen’s classic novel, with Colin Firth as the quintessential Mr. Darcy. Now my beloved novel is a major motion picture starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet.

And lately I realize that , regardless of the dramatic presentation, the themes of Pride and Prejudice and Austen’s other novels still resonate with truths well worth considering today.

Christian women in the 21st century can find a lot to reflect upon in Austen’s 19th-century novels, from overcoming personal flaws and struggles to what to look for in a potential husband. Who among us hasn’t prejudged others like Lizzy Bennet?

Another Austen title also strikes a chord: Both sense and sensibility dwell within me, I must admit. Then there are days when I’m either blind to what’s right in front of me or I’m trying to control everything, instead of letting go and letting God, just like Emma Woodhouse. But in the end, Austen’s heroines strive to better themselves and those around them — just what Catholic women are called to do.

Pope John Paul II spoke of this call in his 1995 Letter to Women:

“Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic. … For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfill their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them.”

Austen’s novels show women embracing their vocation amidst all of life’s trials and struggles. Humanity’s greatness and limitations are illustrated through her characters.

In the end, Lizzy and the other heroines rise to the occasion, seeing the cads for who they are and recognizing the virtue in their heroes — and understanding what they need to do to improve themselves. The stories inspire us to act in ways that better ourselves and help others become better people as well.

Austen’s themes seem to stem from her own faith experiences. Several of her prayers survive today, like this excerpt, taken from The Minor Works of Jane Austen: “Incline us O God! To think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.”

This would be a good prayer for Lizzy, wouldn’t it? Not to mention for me. Maybe for you, too — whether you’re a woman or a man?

Take some time to curl up with an Austen novel. There’s great satisfaction in seeing Austen’s characters obtain the happy endings that are right for them. Happy endings always remind me of one of my favorite Scriptures, Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

We truly can live happily ever after by living out God’s will for our personhood. We can all be heroes and heroines in our own lives, in our own ways.

Amy Smith writes from

Geneva, Illinois.