The Wisdom Library invites you on a journey through the lives and works of the world’s greatest thinkers and leaders. Compiled by scholars, this series presents excerpts from the most important and revealing writings of the most remarkable minds of all time.
THE WISDOM OF JANE AUSTEN
“Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility.”
Few novelists are as beloved as Jane Austen. For more than 150 years, her books have been read and reread by fans who cherish her satirical wit and acute insight, and modern generations have discovered her irresistible characters through film and television adaptations. Though rooted in the social mores of the early nineteenth century, Jane Austen’s works are timelessly appealing, and her observations remain surprisingly relevant in our very different times. The Wisdom of Jane Austen gleans nuggets of advice—alternately reflective and savagely witty—from her impressive literary legacy and correspondence, revealing her views on subjects as diverse as love, marriage, education, fashion, friendship, pride, poverty, success, sense, and of course, sensibility. This collection of gems reveals the very essence of Jane Austen—delightfully, abundantly wise.
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"No one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved." Caroline Bingley, PP
So far her improvement was sufficient — and in many other points she came on exceedingly well; for though she could not write sonnets, she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed no chance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude on the pianoforte, of her own composition, she could listen to other people's performance with very little fatigue. Her greatest deficiency was in the pencil — she had no notion of drawing — not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover's profile, that she might be detected in the design. There she fell miserably short of the true heroic height. At present she did not know her own poverty, for she had no lover to portray. NA
"It is amazing to me," said Bingley, "how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."
"All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?"
"Yes all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished."
"Your list of the common extent of accomplishments," said Darcy, "has too much truth. The word is applied to many a woman who deserves it no otherwise than by netting a purse, or covering a skreen. Charles Bingley, Fitzwilliam Darcy, PP
"It is as a dream, a pleasant dream!" he exclaimed, breaking forth again, after a few minutes' musing. "I shall always look back on our theatricals with exquisite pleasure. There was such an interest, such an animation, such a spirit diffused. Everybody felt it. We were all alive. There was employment, hope, solicitude, bustle, for every hour of the day. Always some little objection, some little doubt, some little anxiety to be got over. I never was happier." Henry Crawford, MP
I shall think with tenderness and delight on [my young nephew's] beautiful and smiling countenance and interesting manner, until a few years have turned him into an ungovernable, ungracious fellow.
It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides.
Let her think & act as she chuses, however. I have never yet found that the advice of a Sister could prevent a young Man's being in love if he chose it.
"I suspect," said Elinor, "that to avoid one kind of affectation, Edward here falls into another. Because he believes many people pretend to more admiration of the beauties of Nature than they really feel, and is disgusted with such pretensions, he affects greater indifference and less discrimination in viewing them himself than he possesses. He is fastidious and will have an affectation of his own." Elinor Dashwood, SS
Edmund had been her champion and her friend: he had supported her cause or explained her meaning, he had told her not to cry, or had given her some proof of affection which made her tears delightful ...
"It is a melancholy consideration. Born to the prospect of such affluence! I cannot conceive a situation more deplorable. The interest of two thousand pounds — how can a man live on it? ... I cannot picture to myself a more wretched condition."
John Dashwood, SS
"Mine is an active, busy mind, with a great many independent resources; and I do not perceive why I should be more in want of employment at forty or fifty than one-and-twenty."
Emma Woodhouse, EM
But seven years, I suppose, are enough to change every pore of one's skin and every feeling of one's mind.
By the bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of chaperon [at dances], for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like.
I am much obliged to you for writing to me again so soon; your letter yesterday was quite an unexpected pleasure. Poor Mrs. Stent! it has been her lot to be always in the way; but we must be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves, unequal to anything, and unwelcome to everybody.
"The older a person grows, Harriet, the more important it is that their manners should not be bad; the more glaring and disgusting any loudness, or coarseness, or awkwardness becomes. What is passable in youth is detestable in later age." Emma Woodhouse, EM
It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before; and, generally speaking, if there has been neither ill health nor anxiety, it is a time of life at which scarcely any charm is lost.
Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, was a very old lady, almost past every thing but tea and quadrille.
Surely that time is now at hand. You are this day 55. If a woman may ever be said to be in safety from the determined Perseverance of disagreeable Lovers and the cruel Persecutions of obstinate Fathers, surely it must be at such a time of Life.
It appeared to her that he did not excel in giving those clearer insights, in making those things plain which he had before made ambiguous.
"That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whatever be his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, and leave him no sense of fatigue." Marianne Dashwood, SS
"I must look down upon anything contented with obscurity when it might rise to distinction."
Mary Crawford, MP
"No, Emma; your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very 'amiable,' have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people — nothing really amiable about him." John Knightley, EM
Various as were the tempers in her father's house, he pleased them all. He endured too well, stood too well with every body. He had spoken to her with some degree of openness of Mrs Clay; had appeared completely to see what Mrs Clay was about, and to hold her in contempt; and yet Mrs Clay found him as agreeable as any body.
Mrs. John Knightley was a pretty, elegant little woman, of gentle, quiet manners, and a disposition remarkably amiable and affectionate; wrapt up in her family; a devoted wife, a doating mother, and so tenderly attached to her father and sister that, but for these higher ties, a warmer love might have seemed impossible.
Angry people are not always wise.
"If you observe, people always live for ever when there is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and healthy, and hardly forty. An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father's will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it." Fanny Dashwood, SS
Heavily passed the night. Sleep, or repose that deserved the Name of sleep, was out of the question. That room, in which her disturbed imagination had tormented her on her first arrival, was again the scene of agitated spirits and unquiet slumbers. Yet how different now the source of her inquietude from what it had been then — how mournfully superior in reality and substance! Her anxiety had foundation in fact, her fears in probability; and with a mind so occupied in the contemplation of actual and natural evil, the solitude of her situation, the darkness of her chamber, the antiquity of the building, were felt and considered without the smallest emotion; and though the wind was high, and often produced strange and sudden noises throughout the house, she heard it all as she lay awake, hour after hour, without curiosity or terror.
She was safe; but peace and safety were unconnected here. Her mind had been never farther from peace. She could not feel that she had done wrong herself, but she was disquieted in every other way. Her heart and her judgment were equally against Edmund's decision: she could not acquit his unsteadiness, and his happiness under it made her wretched. She was full of jealousy and agitation.
He was a very good looking young man; height, air, address, all were unexceptionable, and his countenance had a great deal of the spirit and liveliness of his father's; he looked quick and sensible.
His appearance is so much against him, and his manner so bad, that if she ever were disposed to favour him, she is not now.
His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly the theme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raised against Marianne received particular spirit from his exterior attractions.
They acknowledged considerable beauty; her features were pretty, and she had a sharp quick eye, and a smartness of air, which though it did not give actual elegance or grace, gave distinction to her person.
"I shall very soon think him handsome, Elinor, if I do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother, I shall no more see imperfection in his face, than I now do in his heart."
Marianne Dashwood, SS
Fanny Price was at this time just ten years old, and though there might not be much in her first appearance to captivate, there was, at least, nothing to disgust her relations. She was small of her age, with no glow of complexion, nor any other striking beauty; exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, her voice was sweet, and when she spoke her countenance was pretty.
"There is hardly any personal defect," replied Anne, "which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to." Anne Elliot, PER
Appearance and idleness
"In fact, as I have long been convinced, though every profession is necessary and honourable in its turn, it is only the lot of those who are not obliged to follow any, who can live in a regular way, in the country, choosing their own hours, following their own pursuits, and living on their own property, without the torment of trying for more; it is only their lot, I say, to hold the blessings of health and a good appearance to the utmost." Mrs. Clay, PER
"There is always a look of consciousness or bustle when people come in a way which they know to be beneath them." Emma Woodhouse, EM
They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste: and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day. She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance.
Artlessness will never do in Love matters; & that girl is born a simpleton who has it either by Nature or affectation. I am not yet certain that Reginald sees what she is about; nor is it of much consequence. She is now an object of indifference to him; she would be one of contempt were he to understand her Emotions.
"And till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well- informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of chusing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice."
Emma Woodhouse, EM
Emma laughed, and replied, "My being charming, Harriet, is not quite enough to induce me to marry; I must find other people charming — one other person at least. And I am not only, not going to be married, at present, but have very little intention of ever marrying at all."
Emma Woodhouse, EM
"Miss Harriet Smith may not find offers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. Men of sense, whatever you may chuse to say, do not want silly wives." George Knightley, EM
Captain Benwick and Louisa Musgrove! The high-spirited, joyous-talking Louisa Musgrove, and the dejected, thinking, feeling, reading, Captain Benwick, seemed each of them everything that would not suit the other. Their minds most dissimilar! Where could have been the attraction?
Half the sum of attraction, on either side, might have been enough, for he had nothing to do, and she had hardly anybody to love; but the encounter of such lavish recommendations could not fail.
She did not imagine that her father had at present an idea of the kind. Mrs. Clay had freckles, and a projecting tooth, and a clumsy wrist, which he was continually making severe remarks upon, in her absence; but she was young, and certainly altogether well-looking, and possessed, in an acute mind and assiduous pleasing manners, infinitely more dangerous attractions than any merely personal might have been.
His having been in love with the aunt gives ... an additional interest ... I like the idea — a very proper compliment to an aunt! I rather imagine indeed that nieces are seldom chosen but out of compliment to some aunt or another. I daresay Ben [Anna's husband] was in love with me once, and would never have thought of you, if he had not supposed me dead of a scarlet fever.
Now that you are become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence and must excite great Interest in whatever you do. I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible, and am sure of your doing the same now.
Mrs. Gardiner went away in all the perplexity about Elizabeth and her Derbyshire friend that had attended her from that part of the world. His Name had never been voluntarily mentioned before them by her niece; and the kind of half-expectation which Mrs. Gardiner had formed, of their being followed by a letter from him, had ended in nothing.
On the morning appointed for Admiral and Mrs. Croft's seeing Kellynch Hall, Anne found it most natural to take her almost daily walk to Lady Russell's, and keep out of the way till all was over; when she found it most Natural to be sorry that she had missed the opportunity of seeing them.
Elinor had just been congratulating herself, in the midst of her perplexity, that however difficult it might be to express herself properly by letter, it was at least preferable to giving the information by word of mouth ...
He spoke to her, and then turned away. The character of his manner was embarrassment. She could not have called it either cold or friendly, or anything so certainly as embarrassed.
I give you joy of our new nephew, and hope if he ever comes to be hanged, it will not be till we are too old to care about it.
She saw that there had been bad habits; that Sunday travelling had been a common thing.
"Such an eye! — the true hazel eye — and so brilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! oh! what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size; such a firm and upright figure! There is health, not merely in her bloom, but in her air, her head, her glance. Mrs. Weston, EM
Beauty and plainness
To look almost pretty, is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life, than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.
Beauty of complexion
"Did you ever see such a skin? — such smoothness! such delicacy! — and yet without being actually fair. — One cannot call her fair. It is a most uncommon complexion, with her dark eye-lashes and hair — a most distinguishing complexion! Just colour enough for beauty."
Frank Churchill, EM
Beauty of one's beloved
"She is a complete angel. Look at her. Is not she an angel in every gesture? Observe the turn of her throat. Observe her eyes."
Frank Churchill, EM(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Wisdom of JANE AUSTEN"
Copyright © 2003 Shawna Mullen.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Table of Contents
FOREWORD: THE WORLD OF JANE AUSTEN,
KEY TO ABBREVIATIONS,
ABOUT THE EDITOR,