Catholic Women, Grow in Virtue as You Journey With Your Favorite Jane Austen Heroines and Heroes

BOOK PICK: ‘Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life’

‘Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life’ is a must-read for Austen fans and newbies alike.
‘Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life’ is a must-read for Austen fans and newbies alike. (photo: Courtesy of Ave Maria Press)

Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life

On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be

By Haley Stewart

Ave Maria Press, 2022

160 pages, $16.95

To order:


Rejoice, Jane Austen fans: There’s a new book for your bookshelf.

Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life will make you want to grow in virtue as you journey with your favorite heroines and heroes toward greater self-awareness. This book truly highlights the genius of Miss Austen.

“From her Christian faith and the insight into virtue she shares in her novels, Jane Austen looked onward to a heavenly goal. ... Walking in Jane’s footsteps, we should live with enduring hope,” writes author Haley Stewart.

Stewart highlights the truth about virtue, through the lens of Jane Austen’s novels.

As Stewart writes:

“Jane Austen’s stories are a vehicle of truth about not only growing in virtue and ideal romance but also the purpose of vocation and our relationship with God.”

What a lovely way to sum up the beloved books and their wonderful characters. 

A beautiful inclusion is how Mother Mary lived each virtue — humility, compassion, constancy, temperance, prudence and fortitude — as part of lessons about each novel.

As Stewart outlines, Austen’s “presentation of successes and failures in virtue shows us what it looks like for ordinary men and women to try to become good people.”

The book guides readers through a literary journey via “Jane Austen’s insights for cultivating virtue to become the people God calls us to be.”

Readers can ask themselves: Which heroine or hero am I most like? Which virtue do I need to further cultivate?

“Austen’s stories, like all great fiction, point us onward to a deeper truth, to an eternal reality,” Stewart underscores.

I agree. I love to revisit these characters and storylines because there is so much to glean for the spiritual life.

For example, Mr. Knightley is my favorite hero because he is a true gentleman in every way. 

Stewart discusses this exemplary hero’s virtue accordingly, noting: “‘Mr. Knightley always knows the right thing to do, and he always does it,’ my brother observed. ‘I wish I could be more like Mr. Knightley.’ Mr. Knightley is his hero to this day. ... Considering WWKD (What Would Knightley Do?) is a good practice for all of us ...”

“George Knightley is genuine, honest, wise, funny ... an excellent judge of character, speaks the truth in charity,” Stewart continues. “... Doing what is right is his priority, and he is always aware of the needs of others, particularly those who are often forgotten or excluded.”

This is indeed the Christian call for all of us, in Miss Austen’s time as well as our own.

Sense and Sensibility’s stalwart sister is also highlighted by Stewart, evoking her estimable example:

“Elinor is certainly the heroine that Austen wants us to emulate. ... Austen wants to show us that Elinor’s behavior is worthy of imitation, not because our feelings are bad and should be repressed, but because Elinor shows us how to order them toward the good of others.”

And when it comes to the heroine of Persuasion, Miss Elliot is also worthy of imitation: “Anne does not allow adversity to sow bitterness in her, nor does she close herself off to others in her grief. In fact, she lets her suffering cultivate compassion and a desire to help others endure their own troubles.”

Readers will value this and other insights about Austen’s characters. A couple of “spinster” (a word I do not recall Miss Austen herself using) references, and a few literary mentions not all readers will appreciate or relate to, aside, this is a delightful must-read On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be.

This book is for those, like me, who want to be affirmed in why they see themselves in heroines like Elinor and Anne, or Lizzy or Jane, and more. It’s also for those who want to learn more about these novels and grow in virtue themselves. 

Highly recommended.

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