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Rebecca Smith, former writer in residence at Jane Austen’s House Museum and a descendent of the enduring author, channels her distant aunt’s advice.
On A First Date
When it comes to dating, I always strike out. How can I find the right person for me?
“Jane once wrote a letter to her niece advising her not to settle for the first man who attached himself to her,” says Smith, author of the new book Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas. “In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy Bennet dismisses Mr. Darcy after he makes a bad first impression. She eventually overcomes her skepticism, though, and enters a beautiful relationship. It all comes down to maintaining a balance between head and heart.”
At the Office
I said something that hurt my coworker’s feelings. How can I make up for my rude remark?
“In Emma, after the title character realizes she has offended the kindhearted chatterbox Miss Bates, she promptly apologizes. To further show how sorry she is, Emma goes out of her way to do kind things for Miss Bates. She also enlists the help of Mr. Knightley, who reassures Miss Bates that Emma didn’t mean to be so harsh. Jane would advise doing all of these things. But expect to be shunned by the person whose feelings you hurt for a while. It takes time.”
In the Mirror
Seeing people on TV makes me feel like I need to look more attractive. How can I improve my self-esteem?
“Find your heroes in literature. At the beginning of Northanger Abbey, we learn that Catherine Morland looks very plain. Yet she triumphs by winning the affection of Henry Tilney, who sees her for who she is. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy says of Lizzy Bennet, ‘She’s not pretty enough to tempt me.’ But she does. By staying true to themselves, both characters find happiness.”
My brother thinks he can mooch off me instead of getting a job. I love him, but I want him out of my house. How can I show him some tough love?
“Tom Bertram, heir to the family fortune in Mansfield Park, squanders almost everything and comes close to drinking himself to death. But his brother, Edmund, sticks by him. Jane’s advice would be to maintain your boundaries. Set the rules in your household, but avoid leaving your brother in the cold. Families should stick together, but you shouldn’t let yourself suffer.”
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