Jane Austen’s Insights: Some Things Never Change

Jane Austen’s Insights: Some Things Never Change


There are– of course!– so many reasons to love Jane Austen.  Far too many to list here.  But when I think about my reasons for loving her style as an author, one of the top qualities I admire is her insight into human nature.  She was such a keen observer of human foibles and follies and quirks– and so many of her observations ring true, even 200 years later.

I especially love her observations on the differences between the sexes.  Not that I in any way want to bash men.  Men are great, (especially my husband).  But I do smile at the way Jane Austen pokes gentle fun.  For example, this passage from Emma:

There were Mr. and Mrs. Weston; delighted to see her and receive her approbation, very busy and very happy in their different way; she, in some little distress; and he, finding every thing perfect.

“Emma,” said she, “this paper is worse than I expected. Look! in places you see it is dreadfully dirty; and the wainscot is more yellow and forlorn than any thing I could have imagined.”

“My dear, you are too particular,” said her husband. “What does all that signify? You will see nothing of it by candlelight. It will be as clean as Randalls by candlelight. We [i.e. the gentlemen of the neighbourhood] never see any thing of it on our club-nights.

I’m sure there are men who are sticklers for cleanliness out there, but anyone who’s ever asked their husband to tidy up. . . or to supervise the children cleaning . . . can probably relate to Mrs. Weston there.

I also love this passage from Mansfield Park.  Apparently men in Jane Austen’s day were no more willing to stop and ask directions than they are today!

“Bertram,” said Crawford, “I have never told you what happened to me yesterday in my ride home.” They had been hunting together, and were in the midst of a good run, and at some distance from Mansfield, when his horse being found to have flung a shoe, Henry Crawford had been obliged to give up, and make the best of his way back. “I told you I lost my way after passing that old farmhouse with the yew-trees, because I can never bear to ask; but I have not told you that, with my usual luck — for I never do wrong without gaining by it — I found myself in due time in the very place which I had a curiosity to see. I was suddenly, upon turning the corner of a steepish downy field, in the midst of a retired little village between gently rising hills; a small stream before me to be forded, a church standing on a sort of knoll to my right — which church was strikingly large and handsome for the place, and not a gentleman or half a gentleman’s house to be seen excepting one — to be presumed the Parsonage — within a stone’s throw of the said knoll and church. I found myself, in short, in Thornton Lacey.”

“It sounds like it,” said Edmund; “but which way did you turn after passing Sewell’s farm?”

“I answer no such irrelevant and insidious questions; though were I to answer all that you could put in the course of an hour, you would never be able to prove that it was not Thornton Lacey — for such it certainly was.”

“You inquired, then?”

“No, I never inquire. But I told a man mending a hedge that it was Thornton Lacey, and he agreed to it.”

Of course, Jane Austen didn’t just point out male quirks and follies.  She had gently satirical observations to make about women, too.  For example, in Northanger Abbey when Catherine Morland lies awake wondering what she ought to wear:

She lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating between her spotted and her tamboured muslin, and nothing but the shortness of the time prevented her buying a new one for the evening. This would have been an error in judgment, great though not uncommon, from which one of the other sex rather than her own, a brother rather than a great aunt, might have warned her, for man only can be aware of the insensibility of man towards a new gown. It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it.

I remember very soon after my husband and I got married, I was about to leave for a college class and woke him up to ask him whether I looked all right.  I still remember his look of complete disbelief.  You woke me up to ask me WHAT?  It was then that I realized that husbands, wonderful as they are, are not exactly the same as a female college roommate!

What about you?  What universal observations have you found in Jane Austen’s works?

8 Responses to Jane Austen’s Insights: Some Things Never Change

  1. How often have I heard, “It’s a man thing”? Even in Bible Study we concluded that men have this need to compete and thus fight over footballs, baseball, soccer balls, national borders, oil fields, even women, etc. Women, for the most part talk it out. Maybe it is a hormone thing. I have noticed with menopause and my testosterone and estrogen levels changing my personality is now much more willing to “take a stand” and “tell someone off” than it was before.

  2. Lol! This was too much fun! I remember laughing out loud at that passage in Northanger Abbey as I read it in the Metro around Washington DC. My husband could not understand my amusement. And just a moment ago, I bemoaned in Barbara’s thread about the length and ridiculousness of The Odyssey and how different it would have been with an all female cast, they might not have got lost so many times at the very least!

  3. Thank you for sharing. It’s fun to see Jane’s take on men and women. Throughout history, men have acted one way and women another….it’s comforting to know that some things never change.

  4. I find comfort in knowing that some things never change. Men will be men and women will be women, no matter the century! Loved your insight into Jane’s writing. Like Regina, I found the morning after talk among the women so familiar. 🙂

  5. Women love to dissect the “morning after” with their female friends. We talk about each and every phrase the men made. Look at the morning after the Meryton assembly in Pride and Prejudice.

  6. Well Anna, I love that my DH is always looking out for me. If there is something that needs to be done, Greg will do, figure it out, or pay someone to do it. He is loyal to a fault and goes out of his way to help others. We met several years after my first DH passed on and I really needed to fix up my old house, sell it & and get out of debt. That crazy guy didn’t think we had chemistry but he insisted on helping me because it says in the Bible to help the widows. How about that! Not to say that Greg doesn’t have his faults. It’s just that the high points outshine the low. ~jen

    • Oh goodness, I hope you don’t think I was in any way complaining or saying that men’s bad points outshine the good! My DH has so many wonderful qualities it would take me a year to fully describe them all! I was just amused by Jane Austen’s insights that are often still true today, that’s all. 🙂

Your thoughts are precious!