Tag Archives: Pride and Prejudice

10 Life Lessons WE Can Learn From Jane Austen

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.- Northanger Abbey, 1817

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s novels are some of the most widely-read in all of literature. Her work regularly appears on popular must-read lists, is a staple on English literature syllabi, has inspired tabletop and online role-playing games, and is even invoked by the U.S Supreme Court in quibbles over language. Austen has also notably saturated the literary and film/television markets with a flood of adaptations, spin-offs, prequels, and sequels ranging from Andrew Davies’s iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (yes, that one. Take your time. *cue daydream music*) to the web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and last year’s successful retelling of Lady Susan in “Love and Friendship.”

Today mark’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and many readers and scholars across the world are reflecting on the reasons for her longevity as a literary phenomenon. For many of us who return time and time again to her novels, the answer lies in the fact that they resonate with universal truths about the human character and the joys and sorrows of life, at once encouraging us to laugh at ourselves and challenging us to scrutinize our failings alongside our admirable qualities. I myself have written about how my exposure to Austen at a young age shaped my reading tastes and taught me what it meant to be a feminist before anyone had even formally introduced the word into my vocabulary. Today, then, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Jane Austen, here are 10 life lessons her novels can teach us.

1. A runaway imagination rarely leads in the right direction

Northanger Abbey (1817) is often dubbed Austen’s satirical foray into fanfiction via young Catherine Morland’s fascination with Gothic Literature. When Catherine, captivated by the Gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe, receives an invitation to stay with her new friends, the Tilneys, at Northanger Abbey, she’s quickly carried away on a wave of mystery and intrigue, convincing herself that General Tilney has secretly murdered his wife. While she does still manage to snag the generals son Henry for a husband in the end (because of course), accidentally accusing one’s would-be father-in-law of murder isn’t the best way to win his affection. Here Austen satirically cautions us not to fall victim to our imagination and let fancy override good sense.

2. Pride goeth before a fall.

“Pride, where there is a real superiority of mind, will always be under good regulation,” declares Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1813). Unfortunately, however, he fails to keep his own pride in check during his first ill-fated proposal to Elizabeth: “Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”

Who could accept such a charming declaration? Good day, sir. I said good day. If Darcy learns one lesson here, it’s that thinking too highly of yourself won’t endear you to anyone. Never approach a goal in life as if it’s a settled thing; work hard to earn the respect of your family, your friends, your colleagues and, of course, your spouses.

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in the 2005 "Pride and Prejudice."
Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen), image credit Working Title.

3. Never presume to know what’s in a person’s heart better than they do themselves.

Emma Woodhouse, the titular character of Emma (1816) thinks she’s doing Harriet Smith a favor when she tries to separate her from the gentleman-farmer Robert Martin, with whom Harriet is in love, and match her up with the vicar Mr. Elton. Little does she know how deeply Harriet and Robert care for each other. While everything turns out well in the end (as it usually does in Austen’s universe), Emma’s interference comes with much heartache and embarrassment for all parties involved. Support the decisions of your friends; voice your concern when appropriate, but never presume to tell anyone what to think or how to feel, particularly in matters of the heart. Not to mention, when you spend so much time looking into the hearts of others, you risk silencing the still small voice in your own. All’s well that ends well, of course, because to paraphrase Sarah Vaughan, whatever Emma wants, Emma gets.

Emma and Mr. Knightley in the 2009 "Emma."
Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) and Mr. Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller), image credit the BBC.

4. Hold fast to your right to make your own decisions.

Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park (1814), often gets shunted to the side in discussions of Austen’s heroines; she doesn’t possess Lizzie Bennet’s wit, Anne Eliot’s self-command, or Emma Woodhouse’s charm. She cowers in the presence of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, is practically her aunt Norris’s personal servant, and doesn’t even voice any objection when Mrs. Norris insists that Fanny doesn’t need the luxury of a fire in her room because she must remember her place. Yet when she truly thinks herself in the right, Fanny possesses just enough self-confidence to stand her ground, even if she’s shaking in her shoes as she does so. Consider the moment when she stands up to her uncle when he insists that she accept Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal. Lucky for her that she refuses, since Henry later runs off with Mariah Bertram not long after her marriage to Mr. Rushworth, plunging the family into scandal. Close call, Fanny. Timid she might be, but Fanny Price still reminds us to stand firm in our convictions and protect our interests.

5. Learn when to hold your tongue.

Yes, we’re looking at you, Mr. Collins. Nobody likes a windbag. His excessively eloquent speeches in Pride and Prejudice do little more than fill already stuffy ball rooms with more hot air. Likewise, Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax’s maiden aunt in Emma, prattles away to the amusement (but more often irritation) of her neighbors. The danger of mindless chatter is, of course, saying too much, as when Mrs. Bennet speaks so loudly and presumptuously about Jane’s possible marriage to Mr. Bingley that she unwittingly harms all of her daughters’ chances of marrying with her uncouth manners. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, and learning the difference between the two is a social survival skill worth cultivating.

6. Keep your head in a crisis.

Anne Eliot knows all about this one; anyone who has read Persuasion (1818) will recall Louisa Musgrove’s ill-fated leap from the cob so that captain Wentworth can catch her in his arms, only to wind up with a nasty head injury. While everyone else flails in panic, fearing Louisa is dead, only Anne has the sense to remain calm and give directions about carrying her to the nearest inn and fetching a doctor. While being the only one in the group to keep your wits about you means that everyone is apt to rely too heavily on your judgement, you at least have the satisfaction of knowing that when cooler heads prevail, you can solve problems more easily.

7. Never underestimate the power of a well-written love letter.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart more your own than when you almost broke it, eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

Yes, Captain Wentworth, this one goes out to you. When Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth reunite at the conclusion of Persuasion, more than eight years have elapsed since Anne broke off their engagement, acting on the advice of her godmother, lady Russel. If we think her unwise, we can forgive her because, after all, she was only 19; nor can we entirely blame Captain Wentworth for being, in his own words, weak and resentful. She did chuck him, after all. Fortunately for them, he swallows his pride and pours his heart and soul into a love letter with an offer that she really can’t refuse. In this age of social media, emojis, and online dating, when the love letter seems to have become a cultural artifact, it’s worth remembering the value of a few well-chosen words.

Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth in the 2007 "Persuasion."
Anne Eliot (Sally Hawkins) and Rubert Penry-Jones (2007), image credit I TV.

8. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.

This is basically Sense and Sensibility (1811) summarized in one concise sentence. When Marianne Dashwood discovers that Willoughby, the young man who has been paying her attention, is actually engaged to another woman with a larger inheritence, anyone with an ounce of human sensitivity can’t blame her for feeling crushed, but walking about in the rain and intentionally catching such a severe chill that it nearly kills her seems a bit extreme. No man is worth that much. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve, but over-dramatization and self-martyrdom never does anyone any good. Still, once again, more sensible heads prevail in the end (we love you, Colonel Brandon, flannel waistcoats and all).

Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon in the 1995 "Sense and Sensibility."
Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) and Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), image credit Columbia Pictures.

9. Sisters before misters.

Elinor Dashwood, who plays sense to Marianne’s sensibility, would probably have quite a bit to say about this contemporary maxim; while Marianne is wringing her heart out over the worthless Willoughby, Elinor is secretly and silently nursing her own heartache. She spends several months during the course of the novel concealing her knowledge that Edward Ferrars, whom everyone, including Elinor, believes to be attached to her, has been secretly engaged to one Miss Lucy Steele. Her silence speaks volumes about her loyalty both to her own sister and to the bonds formed when women share confidences. Cautioned by Lucy not to breathe a word of the engagement, Elinor solemnly keeps her word, despite being none too fond of Miss Steele.

Marianne speaks sensibly, perhaps for the first time, when she declares, “How barbarous have I been to you! You, who have been my only comfort, who have borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be suffering only for me.” That’s right, Marianne; the sun called, and you are not, in fact, the center of the universe. She, not to mention the rest of us, could learn a lesson from Elinor about self-sacrificial love.

10. Live life according to your own dictate.

Lizzie Bennet says it best when she refuses to promise Lady Catherine never to become engaged to Mr. Darcy not only because she shrewdly suspects that he’s still in love with her (which, you know, he totally is), but because she refuses, in proto-feminist fashion, to let anyone else decide her destiny: “I am only resolved,” she declares, “to act in that manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to anyone so wholly unconnected with me.” The takeaway here is simple yet profound; never allow anyone to dictate the choices you make about your own happiness. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Lizzie’s self-determination here carries tremendous risk given that, as Mrs. Bennet continually reminds her, her fate and that of her family depends largely on her ability to secure a rich husband. That said, Lizzie can still remind us never to sacrifice self-respect for the sake of pleasing others, and to never allow anyone to convince us that we’re undeserving of the best life has to offer. (Can we say mistress of Pemberley, anyone?)

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in the 1995 "Pride and Prejudice."
Elizabeth Bennet (Jennifer Ehle) and Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth), image credit the BBC.

5 Times We Fell in Love with Colin Firth

He’s left audiences spellbound with his Academy Award-winning portrayal of King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” He’s displayed a surprisingly impressive set of stunt skills in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: the Secret Service.” He carved a permanent place for himself in the hearts of women the world over with his tenderly authentic portrayal of Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” But there’s a bit more to Colin Firth than a dive into a lake and the fact that thanks to him no one else can ever win an ugly sweater contest ever again. Ever.

Photo of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy wearing his reindeer jumper in Bridget Jones's Diary
Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), image credit Miramax

In honor of his birthday today, here’s a look at 5 times the world fell in love with Colin Firth.

1. His 2011 Golden Globes acceptance speech

When he scooped up his Best Actor award at the Golden Globes in 2011 for “The King’s Speech,” the first of many accolades, it was easy to forget for 50 seconds that Firth was drawing on the talent for which he was being awarded. Nonetheless, post-gameshow press recaps praised him for essentially showing showbiz how it’s done.

Go home, Hollywood. Colin’s got this one covered.

2. His moment of gallantry at the 2012 BAFTA Awards

Colin Firth doesn’t break the Internet very often, but we all remember flailing when Meryl Streep, in an adorable if inadvertent Cinderella impression, lost a shoe while mounting the stage to accept an award, and Firth, in true Prince Charming mode, retrieved it for her while his wife Livia looked on with an expression that clearly said, “Sorry, ladies. This one’s mine.”

On a side note, reenacting this scene in the rain while running to teach a class doesn’t conjure Colin from the shadows to save you, as I discovered, to my acute embarrassment. But that’s another story.

3. His jab at Ricky Gervais at the 2012 Golden Globes

Colin Firth is the king of deadpan, and that is all. When Ricky Gervais, albeit jokingly, called him a racist kitten-puncher at the 2012 Golden Globes, this was Firth’s response.

Colin Firth 1, Ricky Gervais 0.

4. His moment of appreciation for Jane Austen

In a 2006 interview, when asked to name the women in his life, Firth replied, “my wife, my mother, and Jane Austen.” While some of us have since speculated that this was largely a tongue-in-cheek jab at the fact that his role in the BBC’s wildly popular adaptation of Pride and Prejudice forever entrenched him in Darcy mania, I have to confess that despite my healthy skepticism, I allowed a tiny piece of my heart to drop into his hand at that moment. You’ve said it, Mr. Firth, and you can’t take it back.

5. His flawless improvisation as Mark Darcy

We’ve all seen “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” We all remember that fateful snowy kiss that was likely the primary catalyst for my decision to drag my last boyfriend with me to a wedding in Wisconsin in the dead of winter in the hope that he might be similarly inspired. (He wasn’t. Because you were wondering. And he’s not my boyfriend any more, for entirely unrelated reasons. Let’s be clear on that). But many people don’t know that Firth ad-libbed Mark Darcys forever classic line at the conclusion of that snowy kiss scene.

Pro tip, nice boys: that’s how it’s done.

So, Happy Birthday, Mr. Firth!


What are your favorite Firth moments?

Improving my Mind by Extensive Reading: How Pride and Prejudice Taught me to Read Romance

Several days ago, a conversation emerged on my Twitter feed about romance novels—specifically, what had been the “first” romance novel people had read. It might surprise readers who know me well, but this question gave me pause. I can list any number of romance novels I’ve enjoyed over the years, but as a child and teen, I gravitated more toward mystery and fantasy—some of which had strands of romance woven through them but that I couldn’t squarely locate within that genre.

Then I remembered that lonely Saturday afternoon when I was 13, just after the Valentine’s Day dance at school, when I lost myself in the comfort of a fictional universe to drown my sorrows over the fact that not a single boy had asked me to dance. Quite by chance, the novel I plucked off my shelf featured a heroine in the same plight as myself: a girl who, for want of a partner, had been forced to sit down because the gentleman who’d been suggested to partner her was “in no humor to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” Yes, I’m talking about Pride and Prejudice. What a comfort that, as if bestowing a smile on me from the netherworld, Austen introduced Elizabeth Bennet to me when I needed her most.

Portrait of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra Austen. Image credit Wikimedia Commons
Jane Austen (1775-1816)

Why I didn’t immediately pluck this title from my brain when asked what the first romance novel I’d ever read had been likely stems from a (admittedly pretentious) tendency to only categorize Pride and Prejudice as literary fiction by default, as if the “romance” genre cannot bestow enough literary distinction on Miss Austen. As someone who encourages and even participates in conversations about the blurred boundaries between literary and genre fiction, I’m almost ashamed to admit my mistake. Joshua Rothman, in an article published in the New Yorker, poses the question, “What is it, exactly, about genre that is unliterary—and what is it about “the literary” that resists genre?” Appropriately, perhaps, he cites Austen’s Northanger Abbey as one of the earliest examples of the collision between literary and genre fiction.

Pride and Prejudice, in as much as it’s been categorized as literary fiction, also fits fairly snuggly within the romance genre because the major conflict, after all, arises from a “matter of the heart.” The choices that the characters make, both wise and poor, have a ripple effect on more than one romantic relationship in the novel; Darcy’s interference in Bingley’s courtship with Jane, for instance, not only causes them both heartache, but loses him points in his pursuit of Elizabeth. Ultimately the novel follows that formulaic construction in which we know who will wind up marrying whom, but we read because we want to find out how they reach that conclusion.

To return to the conversation about romance novels with which I opened, thinking about Pride and Prejudice in relation to the romance genre also challenged me to reflect on the extent to which Pride and Prejudice has shaped my overall reading tastes. For one thing, I learned at a young age that I could, and should, expect strong-minded heroines in fiction. Even if Lizzie Bennet’s narrative follows the traditional trajectory for that period (ending in marriage) she’s still a relatively forward-thinking female for her time primarily because she holds strong opinions and has no qualms about voicing them. One of my favorite scenes in the novel is the moment when she stands up to Lady Catherine and refuses to promise never to enter into an engagement with Darcy. It matters not in that moment whether or not Darcy does propose to her a second time. It only matters that she make it clear that she, and she alone, will decide what will make her happy.

I credit Austen with guiding me toward romance fiction in which the couples are not only sexually/romantically attracted to one another, but worthy sparring partners on the intellectual playing field, which deepens their romantic attachment. I learned at a young age that both in my reading tastes and my own romantic choices, I could and should demand a man who values my brains as much as if not more than my beauty—a man who doesn’t feel intimidated by a self-sufficient, intelligent woman.

Having given Jane Austen tremendous credit for the extent to which my feminist principles inform my relationship choices, I’ve strongly considered implementing a sort of relationship version of the Litmus test, effective immediately, in which I ask each of my dates to name his favorite woman writer. I imagine the conversation proceeding something like this:
Me: so, who’s your favorite woman writer?
Date: I’m…not sure. Name a few.
Me: Contemporary or classic? British or American? Fiction or nonfiction?
Date (looking a bit like a deer caught in the headlights): I…have to go to the bathroom. *he abruptly leaves the table and climbs out the window*

This seemed like a perfectly sane screening practice for a college English teacher; then I remembered that I haven’t had a date in two years, so I might be better off casting a slightly broader net, at least for the time being.


What was the first romance novel you remember reading?

Fictional Fragrances: or, What If Yankee Candle Created Scents from Classic Novels?

Confession: I’m addicted to Yankee Candles. From Butter Cream and Blueberry Scone to Pumpkin Pie and Pineapple Cilantro, you name it, I own it. I cannot walk past a Yankee Candle store without rushing inside to catch a whiff of the fragrant fun. I can spend hours losing myself in the scents, and walking out of the store empty-handed works about as well as trying to defy the laws of gravity.

Since I often work from home, my focus depends on maintaining an atmosphere of peace and productivity, and I’ve found that I achieve this balance with fragrance. One whiff of Fresh Cut Rose instantly transports me to an English country garden reminiscent of a scene you might encounter in a Jane Austen novel. For those days when I long for nothing more than a margarita and a massage, Pineapple Cilantro sends me on a mental trip to the tropics. During a recent trip to Bed Bath and Beyond with a friend, I attempted, bravely and ultimately unsuccessfully, to resist the temptation to browse their Yankee Candle selection. After several minutes of sniffing, savoring, and sighing, my friend shoved a jar at me, declaring “Smell this! Girl Scout Cookie!” I wanted to respond, but I was in the throes of an olfactory orgasm.

My fondness for fragrance and the images I associate with various scents has resulted in a number of amusing conversations, the most recent of which involving a debate about what literary characters, like Mr. Darcy, might smell like. The exercise is a bit like that scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Professor Slughorn explains that the love potion Amortensia has a distinctive fragrance for each person, based on what attracts him or her. When I think of Mr. Darcy, I imagine pine trees, a hint of pipe tobacco, and the well-worn smell of saddle and boot leather familiar to anyone who’s grown up around horses. Combining this with my love of scented candles, I’ve hit upon a brilliant marketing concept that will probably rocket me to the apex of affluence, and I’ll be able to spend the remainder of my days sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping margaritas and reading all of the books on the BBC’s “Big Read” list that there haven’t been enough hours in my day to tackle. Fictional fragrances!

Seriously, just run with me here. The concept is scented candles inspired by classic novels that booklovers everywhere will bury their noses in. Here are just a few examples:

1. Donwell Strawberry

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, this delicious scent that replicates freshly picked strawberries will instantly transport you to Donwell Abbey. One whiff, and you’ll be strolling through the strawberry fields, arm in arm with Mr. Knightley, chatting comfortably about the latest Highbury gossip while occasionally slipping a succulent berry between his laughing lips. Who knows? He might even find a sunny spot perfect for enlightening you with his knowledge of crop rotation.

Cover image of Jane Austen's Emma, image credit Penguin Classics
Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

2. Passion of Pemberley

Another Austen-inspired fragrance (because of course) this candle will envelop you in the comforting smell of a crackling fire combined with well-worn leather. Close your eyes, and when you reopen them, you’ve been magically whisked away to the library of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. And there’s Mr. Darcy, alluringly, Austenianly handsome from the crisp collar of his ruffled shirt and impeccably tailored waistcoat to the tips of his perfectly polished boots. He glances up from the volume in his hands, and his dark eyes fix you with a smoldering gaze to rival the blaze of the fire at your back.

Cover image of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, image credit Penguin Classics
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

3. Thornfield Summer

Enter the world of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with the smell of haymaking and the strawberries Adele has spent the afternoon gathering. As you stroll the grounds of Thornfield Hall with Mr. Rochester, admiring the gloss of his dark hair in the setting sun and the light of love in his eyes, you want nothing more than to pass through life at his side.

cover image of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, image credit Penguin Classics
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)

4. Springtime on the Moors

Set your spirit free with the scent of fresh, spring rain, running wild, barefoot and free across Emily Brontë’s moors in Wuthering Heights with Cathy and Heathcliff, chainless souls swept up in the whirlwind of their passionate, boundless love.

Cover image of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, image credit Penguin Classics
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1846)

5. In the Garden

Bury your face in a bouquet of roses picked straight from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden. If you close your eyes, you can feel their silky petals tickling your nose and hear Mary and Colin giggling at Dicken’s Yorkshire accent, with Captain the Fox curled in Mary’s lap and Soot the Crow occasionally interjecting a wise comment from his perch on Dicken’s shoulder.

Cover image of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, image credit Puffin Classics
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

So, there you have it. Fictional fragrances: available wherever imaginations are sold.

Got any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Two Roads Diverged in a Wood, and I–I took the one leading to Pemberley: Reflections on Reading Emma Campbell-Webster’s Lost in Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception. Christened Elizabeth Bennet, you are tolerably beautiful and moderately accomplished, with a sharp wit and quick mind. You are the daughter of misguided but well-meaning parents and live with them and your four sisters–Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia–in the village of Longbourn, near the town of Meryton. You are of a happy disposition and have hitherto whiled away your years reading, walking and enjoying what limited society Meryton has to offer. A recent event, however, threatens to disturb your tranquility: a man of large fortune has let a nearby manor house. Inconsequential though this change of circumstance appears, it is the first in a long chain of events that will require you to face difficult decisions and impolite dance partners. Equipped with only your wit and natural good sense, your mission is to marry both prudently and for love, eluding undesirable suitors and avoiding family scandals which would almost certainly ruin any hope of a financially advantageous marriage for you or any of your sisters.

So opens Emma Campbell-Webster’s interactive, text-adventure novel: Lost in Austen: Choose Your Own Jane Austen Adventure. It should come as little surprise to anyone who has had the pleasure of my acquaintance for more than five seconds that I spent my most recent holiday break with my head (and my heart) buried in this book—the Austenite’s version of a map of Middle Earth, and like a journey into Middle Earth, should you choose to accept Campbell-Webster’s mission, you will embark upon a series of trials, tribulations, and tests of endurance that, if you succeed, might end here.

Lyme Park: the estate that served as Pemberley in the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Image credit: Mike Calvon via Wikimedia Commons
Oh, the Pemberley, Precious! We wants it! We does!

(Seriously, who wouldn’t want to be mistress of such as this?)

The story opens predictably enough for readers familiar with Pride and Prejudice—with the announcement of Mr. Bingley’s arrival in Hertfordshire and the resulting marital mischief-making that ensues. Yet when Jane falls ill after riding to Netherfield in the rain and you rush to her side, the path before you holds more than the threat of sullying your petticoats six inches deep in mud; even if you choose the traditional plot, beware: the path to Pemberley requires brains, bravery, and a bookshelf full of Austen novels to survive. Along your journey, you’ll meet a host of characters, from wayward Wickham to noble Knightley. Do you elope with Willoughby or settle for the sensible Colonel Brandon? Choices, choices; what’s an Austen addict to do?

Campbell-Webster appropriately refers to these textual detours into all of Austen’s published works, as well as accounts of her own life, as “diversions”—a fitting term not simply because they offer literal diversions from the storyline of Pride and Prejudice, but because Austen frequently uses the term to denote an entertaining distraction. See, for instance, Elizabeth Bennet’s observations of her cousin’s and Sir William Lucas’s behavior during their visit to Kent in Chapter 28 of Pride and Prejudice: “Mr. Collins and Charlotte were both standing at the gate in conversation with the ladies; and Sir William, to Elizabeth’s high diversion, was stationed in the doorway, in earnest contemplation of the greatness before him, and constantly bowing whenever Miss De Bourgh looked that way.” The book’s structure seems to speak to the respective popularity of each Austen hero (or scoundrel); a quick detour will lead you into Colonel Brandon’s Path—the proverbial low-hanging fruit, as it were. On the other hand, you have to journey somewhat further to cross paths with Knightley or captain Wentworth. Darcy, predictably, is the furthest from your reach, and before you can even hope to become mistress of Pemberley, you must endure all manner of tribulations from dirty stockings to soiled reputations, and by that time, who’s to say that he will even have you—a woman who has already refused him once?

In addition to your usual selection of suitors from amongst Austen’s heroes, you have the option to engage in some revisionist roleplaying with several of the more minor characters; however, some things in Austen are sacred. Campbell-Webster takes the “sisters before misters” mantra to heart, for instance, and Bingley cannot fall in love with you, nor you with him. (Well, you can, but alas, if you do, that love story is destined to remain untold. Thank God for fan-fiction). In case you thought Campbell-Webster cast aside her feminist principles in favor of marital bliss, there is also the singleton narrative option, but whether you will be rewarded or ridiculed for taking it into your head to go on refusing every offer of marriage remains for you to discover.

I confess, devoted Darcyian though I am, I would have liked to see some f/f action, perhaps in the manner of this scene from “Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason” (with a happier ending for Rebecca):

Indeed, the closest we come to any female interaction is an arbitrary encounter with a young girl in the attic of Northanger Abbey whom I can best describe as Fanny Price meets Emily Dickinson meets Bertha Mason. Whether Campbell-Webster meant this as a comical reference to Gilbert and Gubar, I don’t know, but it would seem a fitting nod to the Madwoman in the Attic one of the foundational texts about the nineteenth-Century female literary tradition.

Overall, the book is well-written and accurately-researched, rich with references both to Austen’s published work and the Juvenilia, as well as to her personal life lifted from letters to her sister Cassandra and Claire Tomalin’s biography: Jane Austen, a Life. In short, whether you have never satisfactorily settled the Team Knightley/Team Darcy debate in your mind, or if you’ve ever wondered what might happen if Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam faught over you (not that I’ve ever indulged in such foolery myself), Lost in Austen is a Janeite’s fantasy come true.