Reading Jane Austen with Daughters

I didn’t read any of Jane Austen’s books until after I had graduated from college. However, when I delved into “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time, Jane’s writing captured my heart. Much like L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables,” I found Jane’s characters relatable and familiar.

What struck me most was that Jane’s characters weren’t stagnant. They evolved, much like real humans do. Emma, Elizabeth Bennet, and Elinor Dashwood all matured emotionally as I turned the pages.

Jane’s novels primarily revolve around conversations—layer upon layer of dialogue—with very little action. As I read, I felt like a fly on the wall, observing every person in the story and hearing their deepest thoughts.

As my daughters grew, I knew I wanted to introduce them to the beautiful and timeless writing of Jane Austen. There are multiple reasons I wanted my girls to be introduced to the books by Miss Austin, but overall, I feel strongly that the characters in her novels will help my daughters thinking and verbal skills, as well as impact their perspective on romance and marriage.

I want my girls to to see the failures and shortcomings of others, and the way a person develops over time. Sometimes a child does not see this change in herself or others because a child has not had a long time to observe. It gives hope for my daughter to know that what she struggles with whether prejudice, pride, a poor economic situation,  or a quick tongue can be overcome and altered with time. What we see in a person now, has not always been who that person was. Nor what a person is today, is what that person will always be.

Jane Austen excels at portraying disagreements among characters. In today’s world, however, there seems to be little tolerance or understanding for differing opinions. Rather than engaging in verbal disagreements, many people simply avoid certain conversations or topics altogether. Fear of expressing their true thoughts on a matter is common, and sensible discourse on various subjects is increasingly rare.

In Jane’s books, we encounter intense disagreements, such as the one between Emma and Mr. Knightley regarding Emma’s friend, Harriet Smith. Similarly, the rift between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” provides valuable insights. Reading about these characters allows us to appreciate their ability to express their views graciously, stand up for their beliefs, and engage in sensible arguments that help readers understand both sides.

Another aspect Jane Austen masterfully portrays is the art of confession. Her characters often make significant mistakes, but by the end of the story, they acknowledge their wrongdoings. Whether through heartfelt letters or face-to-face conversations, issues are addressed, resolved, and settled. This willingness to confront problems head-on is a rare gem in our modern culture of self-importance and image-consciousness.

We desperately need this approach in our world—within marriages, churches, and friendships. Too often, important matters go unaddressed because we lack the know-how. Jane Austen’s works teach us how to navigate conflicts, live with our differences, and humbly admit when we are wrong, ultimately altering our course for the better.

Jane Austen gives words to my daughters. Her vocabulary is rich, but beyond the remarkable words she employs in her books, lies her skill in weaving those words together during conversations. Through these dialogues, she crafts arguments, perspectives, and evokes emotions—pain, regret, and depths of feeling.

Often, individuals grapple with unexpressed thoughts and emotions. Jane Austen’s novels serve as a bridge, enabling my daughters to articulate those innermost sentiments. By reading her works, they learn to give voice to their feelings and put their thoughts into words.

Reading Jane Austen’s novels sets a high standard for my daughters’ expectations of a good husband. While true gentlemen may be rare, they do still exist—I happen to be married to one. I want my daughters to recognize the qualities of a good man: how he treats a lady with protection, kindness, and grace.

The gentlemen in Jane Austen’s novels are diverse and imperfect, each with their own unique traits. What unites them is their kindness. They are not the stereotypical macho figures, flexing muscles and boasting. Instead, they exhibit selflessness, standing up for what is right and treating others with respect. Even during moments of disagreement with a lady, they maintain composure and avoid brashness or loss of self-control. These men exemplify true gentleness, a trait I hope my daughters seek in their future spouses.

In a world where fairy tales often depict a kiss as the magical key to love, Jane Austen offers a different perspective. In her novels, love is multifaceted:

  • Honesty: Love involves openness and truthfulness.
  • Forgiveness: It requires the ability to let go of past mistakes and hurts.
  • Disagreement: Love doesn’t shy away from differences but navigates them with grace.
  • Selflessness: It prioritizes the well-being of the other person.
  • Patience: Love waits, endures, and perseveres.
  • Silence: Sometimes love speaks softly or remains unspoken.
  • Timing: Love understands the right moment for commitment.
  • Guidance: It leads and supports.
  • Learning: Love grows through understanding and shared experiences.
  • Perseverance: It doesn’t give up easily.
  • Moving On: Love allows healing and growth after heartbreak.
  • Fighting for Love: Like Mr. Darcy, love is worth the struggle.
  • Endurance: It withstands challenges and stands the test of time.

Jane Austen’s characters exemplify these facets of love. Their journeys reveal that love isn’t instantaneous; it’s a gradual process. It’s not just about fleeting feelings, but about building something lasting. So, let us teach our children to see romance as a lifelong, sometimes painful, yet faithful journey—a journey where love is more than mere appearances or fleeting moments, but a commitment to endure and cherish.

I want to read Jane Austen’s books with each of my daughters, rather than simply giving them the books to read on their own. Recently, reading “Emma” to my oldest daughter sparked numerous interesting and necessary conversations. We’ve delved into the cultural context of that time, explored the differing perspectives on marriage then and now, and discussed the development of various characters.

Most importantly, Jane Austen’s works have brought my daughter and me closer together. As we share in the hopes and disappointments of each character, we are able to engage in many heartfelt discussions about each character’s actions and words.

Close Your Ears- A Lesson in Discretion

“Close your ears,” my mother would say, signaling all of us at the dinner table that we had just overheard something not yet meant for our ears. Usually, it was a snippet of conversation between her and Dad, something exciting or intriguing. But occasionally, it was information accidentally revealed during casual talk.

As a child, I held the unofficial title of the world’s most curious snoop. Whenever my parents retreated to their room for a private conversation, I’d press my ear against the door, eager to catch every word. My parents, while amused by my inquisitiveness, recognized it as a flaw that needed correction.

My mother spent years teaching me discretion—to mind my own business and respect others’ privacy. No more eavesdropping on her phone calls or prying into who had called. “Listening in” was neither cute nor acceptable behavior. They assured me that if something truly essential arose, they’d share it with me in due time.

By their example, my parents instilled in me the art of avoiding gossip. They taught me that the listener is as guilty as the teller. I witnessed my mother gracefully halt a friend mid-conversation, saying, “Please, no more. I don’t need to hear that.” She’d then steer the discussion away from sharing someone else’s shortcomings.

Today, my curiosity remains intact, but my upbringing guides me. I’ve advised friends not to divulge unnecessary details or names. Sometimes, all I need to pray for a situation is minimal information. I shared in a recent post, Love Covers about the importance of knowing what things to share and what there are private; knowing who to tell things to is also invaluable for children to lean.

Gossip and slander—two words that often slip into our conversations unnoticed. Gossip is one person telling unconfirmed information to other people. and Slander is saying bad things about another person. Both gossip and slander are unnecessary, unloving, and harmful. Both gossip and slander involve a teller and a hearer.

I have learned that a lot of hurt and pain could be completely avoided if people could discern not only when shut their mouths, but their ears too.

As hearers, we bear a responsibility when it comes to the information we receive. When someone shares potentially harmful details about another person, we must quickly discern whether or not we need to engage in that conversation.

When to Listen:

Responsibility to Help:

When counseling someone or discipling a child, the information they share becomes crucial. It equips me as a guide to know where issues are and how to best help those in my care overcome their difficulties with others.

If I am personally involved:

Sometimes I need to be informed about things that concern me because they relate either to me or to a situation that pertains to me. In such cases, actively listening to information, discerning truth from falsehood, and avoiding assumptions about unknown details can be insightful in seeking the truth of a personal situation.

When to close your ears:

Unnecessary Details:

If we’re not directly involved or responsible, we’re not doing anyone a favor by hearing things that should remain private.

Avoiding Harm:

Gossip and slander can inflict wounds. By choosing not to listen we guar our hearts and minds from negative thoughts and feelings about others, as well as untruths that might be told us by someone who does not have all the facts or is so personally involved only one perspective seems right.

We don’t hear much about the sin of gossip in our culture. I think it has hidden in a variety of names…. confiding, seeking justice, prayer request, preventing further harm to others… Gossip doesn’t always name names, or even seek to damage as it strives to be heard and seen.

The Hidden Faces of Gossip:

Our culture often disguises gossip under various names:

  • Confiding: If my friend is telling me her negative opinions about someone else, chances are, she or he cannot be trusted with my confidence either. As person who shares too much has a problem of sharing too much, no-one is safe in their mouth.
  • Seeking Justice: Some people consider it good justice/revenge to ruin another person’s reputation, by sharing that persons secrets in public. If the right courses put in place by God do not serve justice, as Christians, we have no choice but to leave the matter in God’s hands. We should never attempt to resolve those matters on our own.
  • Prayer Requests: Sometimes, we use prayer as a cover for gossip. By asking someone to pray for a situation, we sometimes share more than should be said or hear more than should be heard.
  • Preventing Further Harm: We convince ourselves that sharing information serves a noble purpose; that may sometimes be true, but in general that is a cover-up reason for those who are dealing with deep hurt and seeking personal healing by sharing their story.

People who are godless are described in Romans 1:29-31 as: “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no loveno mercy.

II Corinthians 12:20 also describes artificial believers as: there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.”

We, as believers  to guard our mouths and ears with great diligence. If there is a question that we ae saying or hearing something that could be gossip or slander, it is best not to say a word. And if we are uncertain if what we are being told is completely true, helpful, or kind…it is best to find something else to talk about, or as my mother would say, “Close your ears.”

Love Covers

As Christians, we believe we are accountable to God for every thought and every word. What we say matters.

It takes great discernment to learn what must be told to someone else and what must be kept quiet. I believe that learning how and what to share about others begins in childhood.

Training my children about what is appropriate to talk about begins with my example. I learned at a young age by watching my mother tell a person that she did not want to hear something they were telling her about someone else. My husband’s mother taught him to tactfully change the subject when there was a conversation started that was full of slander or gossip. My children watch me, and how I talk about others to others is heard by them on a regular basis. Slander and gossip ought not to have a place in my speech. I also do not share with my child the wrongdoings of his or her sibling. If a child is caught and given consequences, my husband and I do not make that public. We take the offending child into privacy and deal with the matter. If our other children want to know what happened, we make it clear that it is not their business.

I also speak and repeat to my children what is appropriate to tell others and what needs to be kept to oneself.

What to Share:

  1. Emergencies: If there’s an urgent situation or someone’s safety is at risk, I encourage my children to tell me. I want them to know what situations are urgent and need my immediate attention.
  2. Disobedience: When someone is actively disobeying a rule or command, as that child’s parent, I do want to know so I can correct my child. Although it may be considered tattling for one child to tell on another, I do consider obedience a primary concern and will deal with a situation if a child tells me about it.

What Not to Share:

  1. Past Grievances: I do not want my children to remind me of conflicts or grievances they have had in the past with siblings. I want them to learn to forgive and leave what has been forgiven behind them. I have taught all of my children I Peter 4:8 and remind them of that if a past and forgiven issue surfaces again. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Today, my children know it is time to stop talking when I say, “love covers.”
  2. Slander and Gossip: It has not been difficult to teach my children the pain of gossip or slander. They have all experienced the pain of unkind things said behind their back. I emphasize showing grace and love to others in our conversations as well as in our behavior towards other people.

Who to share with:

I have also learned that there are people who need to be told something because it IS their business. As a mother, most of what my children say and do is my business because I am responsible for them. But there are other people who can be told things that we would not tell everyone, except whose business it is. Doctors can be told personal health concerns. Counselors can be told about relationship problems and difficulties one might have with another person. A police officer can be told grievances about others. Pastors and spiritual leaders can be asked to pray and help in specific personal matters that one should not share with everyone in general. I want my children to know that telling a person information so they can help is not the same as gossip or slander.

As Christian parents, we strive to raise children who embody love, patience, and kindness. By teaching them discernment in conversation, we equip them to navigate relationships with grace and love.

I Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”