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.

One Reply to “Reading Jane Austen with Daughters”

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