In Miss Jane Austen’s Guide To Modern Life’s Dilemmas, Rebecca Smith channels the great novelist herself to answer burning questions about life, love, and happiness.
While researching Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas, you immersed yourself in Jane Austen’s books as well as her letters and early writings. What were some of the most surprising things you learned about Austen in the process?
I was actually quite surprised that I could answer every single dilemma with advice from Jane’s works and letters! Hundreds of dilemmas were suggested by family, friends and my students – there were too many to fit into the book – but, amazingly, all of them could be answered.
As far as Jane is concerned, I was struck by how determined she’d had to be to achieve what she did. The way she carried on writing and working so hard at her fiction for so many years before she was finally published is inspiring. She was deadly serious about her art, and yet also very quiet about it.
I was also struck anew by how important and sustaining Jane’s relationships with her sister, female friends, some of her brothers and her niece, Fanny Knight, were. Jane wrote romances, but in her life, these friendships were the most important to her.
Your book addresses several timeless challenges that can seemingly be resolved with help from modern-day technology. For example, Skype and email are valuable resources for long distance relationships. Do you think Jan Austen’s feelings about love and life would be different if she had these resources at her disposal?
Not really. Long distance relationships are, of course, easier nowadays, but they can still be very difficult. I don’t’ think the plot of Persuasion would have been very different if Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth had had iPhones! Jane loved to write letters; she must have written thousands. She wrote letters the way people now write emails. I think she would have enjoyed being able to communicate so easily with those she loved. Skype and email are no substitute for actual togetherness, though, and Jane and her heroines would have understood that. Technology can’t stop you from missing somebody, and there would still be issues about trust, commitment, being able to wait, and coping with feelings of loneliness.
If you could ask your great-great-great-great-great aunt one question, what would it be?
There is much that I would like to know but that she would think me very impertinent for asking! I would definitely ask her about her unfinished novel, Sanditon – what was going to happen next, how was it all going to end? I would love to know that.
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MISS JANE AUSTEN’S GUIDE TO MODERN LIFE’S DILEMMAS by Rebecca Smith is the ideal gift for the Jane Austen fanatic in your life. In this sly and funny book, novelist Rebecca Smith—who also happens to be Jane Austen’s great, great, great, great, great niece—draws on Austen’s novels to glean answers to some of our most burning questions about life, love, and what to wear.
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