When a society loses its memory, it descends inevitably into dementia. Mark Steyn
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April 3, 2012

The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After

(Full disclosure: Elizabeth is a friend and sent me an advance copy for review.)


Elizabeth Kantor's new book, The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, is just that: a how-to for women (including you spinsters pushing thirty) who are finding the contemporary approach to love and marriage not at all conducive to that "permanent happiness" Jane Austen's heroines ultimately secure. In other words, the rules of 21st century dating and relationships aren't working. And Jane Austen can help. From the Amazon description:
Women today are settling for less than we want when it comes to men, relationships, sex, and marriage. But we don’t have to, argues Elizabeth Kantor. Jane Austen can show us how to find the love we really want.

In The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, Kantor reveals how the examples of Jane Austen heroines such as Elizabeth Bennett, Elinor Dashwood, and Anne Elliot can help us navigate the modern-day minefields of dating, love, relationships, and sex. By following in their footsteps—and steering clear of the sad endings suffered by characters such as Maria Bertram and Charlotte Lucas—modern women can discover the path to lifelong love and true happiness.

Charged with honesty and humor, Kantor's book includes testimonies from modern women, pop culture parallels, the author's personal experiences and, of course, a thorough examination of Austen's beloved novels.

Featuring characters and situations from all of Jane Austen’s books (including unfinished novels, and stories not published in her lifetime), The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After tackles the dating and relationship dilemmas that we face today, and equips modern women to approach our love lives with fresh insights distilled from the novels:
  • Don’t be a tragic heroine
  • Pursue Elizabeth Bennet’s "rational happiness” —learn what it is, and how you can find it
  • Don’t let cynicism steal your happy ending
  • Why it’s a mistake to look for your "soul mate”
  • Jane Austen’s skeleton keys to a man’s potential
  • How you should deal with men who are "afraid of commitment” (from Jane Austen’s eight case studies)
  • Learn how to arrange your own marriage—by falling in love the Jane Austen way 
This clever concept is nicely executed, packed with food for thought for anyone who's interested in our culture and where it's headed.

Mrs. Kantor's discussion of "love by increments" will resonate with her readers. Austen women who opt for that end up with nothing close to the "permanent happiness" they desire. And though 21st century women no longer have to worry about a disapproving society, they still place themselves at a disadvantage when they pursue "love on the instalment plan":
If the point of getting to know guys better is for women to choose for ourselves, and to choose well, then any mating scheme that progressively strips us of our power to evaluate men is seriously defective. 
And living together before marriage does just that:
When women say they'd never marry a man without living with him first . . . they're forgetting the power of "attachment." Sure, you know more about a guy once you've shared an apartment with him. But the knowledge you gain by setting up housekeeping with him is not free. As you get to know your man better, you also become more attached to him. For every bit of knowledge that you gain, you lose, in some measure, your objectivity, your ability to evaluate him, and your freedom of judgment. And who doubts that attachment is generally a more powerful game changer for women than for men? (p. 226-7)
Prematurely attaching to a man may lead to this common contemporary scenario:
Today the wheedling and caressing [by Mrs. Clay in Persuasion] -- and arguing and pressuring and ultimatuming, and the use of every other possible method of of persuasion that might get a guy to agree to the things we desperately want, but that he's not inspired to offer us -- don't end with marriage any more. Now even after we're married, we still have to start a whole new campaign to talk the man into being willing to have a baby. And a second child. And to share a life together, pooling financial resources and divvying up responsibilities like a real family. (p. 224-5)
Absent from the Happily Ever After guide, and from the novels as well, is that general contempt for men so prevalent among bitter veterans of contemporary "dating." Elizabeth Kantor devotes a chapter to warning us against cynicism. A bit:
But man-bashing as an entrenched attitude is alien to the mindset of the Jane Austen heroine. You can't build up one of these grand indictments -- even just in your own head, let alone in regular gripe sessions with your girlfriends -- without having it come out, sooner or later, in angry or sarcastic words aimed at the guy you've been complaining about. Harboring resentment in this way will set you up for an ugly scene that doesn't belong in a Jane Austen love story. Given that Jane Austen and her heroines aren't blind to men's faults, given that they're extraordinarily intelligent and witty women, how do they steer clear of spoiling the confidence and affection they share with the men they love by making them objects of ridicule?
You'll have to read the book for the answer to that, but I can tell you it has something to do with humility, though I don't think Mrs. Kantor uses that word.

Do not miss the voluminous notes in the back, which are as essential and diverting as the rest of the book. If you're anything like me, you'll finish it up with a great yearning to dive back into the novels. The Guide has made me realize how very much I missed in the first couple of go-rounds.

Linked at the Everything Austen Daily -- many thanks.
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8 comments:

  1. Oh my, I know the perfect person to read this book. She also has a book blog so maybe she will do a review too.

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  2. I don't know whether to be thrilled that such a book has been written, or faint of jealousy because I didn't think of writing it first. It sounds wonderful! Even for us old married ladies (of course, some of us have daughters...)

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  3. I just got this book from my library after seeing it on your sidebar. Great idea; I love Jane Austen novels and that whole time period and social mores, but I was disappointed. Maybe I'm just a bit middle-aged and Catholic for a lot of the modern examples, and intentionally out of touch. Too much talk about SEX, even if she was trying to steer women in the right direction.

    Perhaps it'll be of some help to the teens and 20-somethings. I know she's a friend of yours, so I apologize, but I was disappointed.

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  4. Elizabeth, I understand what you're saying. I'm sure the intended audience is indeed those 20-somethings (and 30-somethings) who are lost, to varying degrees, without a compass. I too hope it will do them some good. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Thanks, I'll get it for my nieces.

    "Intelligent and witty", I don't know about that. Elisabeth Bennet was the witty one, and maybe Emma a little. Anne Elliot and Elinor Dashwood weren't, and certainly not Fanny Price.

    And Austen didn't make a virtue of intelligence, as we do today - look how Mary Sinclair gets treated.

    Sounds like I'm just picking at the Amazon description, though. Kantor's comments on Mrs. Clay seem shrewd.

    Those misandrist diatribes are cringe-making. If I were a young man and single again (which would be awful), I wouldn't marry in America with its malign Family Courts and VAWA - not unless I was convinced my intended had a moral grounding in religion.

    Gertrude Himmelfarb has a nice essay on Austen in THE MORAL IMAGINATION. She asks why Mr. Knightley condescends to marry Emma. P&P Picks fodder, perhaps?

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  6. "And Austen didn't make a virtue of intelligence, as we do today - look how Mary Sinclair gets treated."

    Oops, I meant Mary Crawford, from Mansfield Park.

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  7. The author here, grateful for these comments! I'm sorry you were disappointed, Elizabeth--and you're actually the first I've heard that from. I did get pre=publication feedback from some moms of delicately nurtured homeschooled Catholic girls, & they thought it would be all right even for teenagers, essentially on the grounds that they thought even their girls--growing up in today's world--would have heard the risque stuff already, & in fact much worse, & that the guidance about how to deal with it could be helpful. But it is tricky, getting the balance right.

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  8. Believe it or not, the comment above really is by Elizabeth Kantor--my husband (Jeff) & I use the same gmail at home, & google gets us confused!

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