Austen Reminds Us We Can Change

Austen Reminds Us We Can Change

In Northanger Abbey, Austen introduces an unlikely heroine.

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.

It’s a delightful way to begin a story, and reveal a truth. We can change, learn, think and grow. Even if we aren’t right now, we can become the heroes and heroines of our own stories. Human nature writ-large may be static, but we as individuals are not. We grow, change, discover our flaws and work to amend them. We seek higher ground and doggedly walk that path.

Her most beloved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice backs this up,

“…But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment I never

knew myself.”

Now, Catherine and Lizzy don’t overturn their presuppositions and refine their thinking all at once. We never believe it if they did. Austen’s books are carefully drawn journeys of self-discovery. Her young heroines learn who they are, where they stand, and who they want to be over time – and if that comes with love, all the better. Catherine constantly sparred with the quixotic Henry – her education was challenging and slow. She had to break old patterns and expectations – her thirst for good gothic drama, for one. Lizzy needed to recognize she was fallible. Her education was almost the opposite of Catherine’s. One came at the world with wide-eyed naiveté, and the other with a cynical belief in her complete understanding and control.

Like Catherine, we can see mystery, pain, subterfuge and drama where only a laundry list exists. And like Lizzy, we often don’t pay attention to what’s around us and make discerning judgments. We judge on what we think we know rather than reality.

But standing still is not their story – nor is it ours. And, for me, January 2018 is great time to begin paying attention and doggedly walking that hill. 🙂

Have a great day!




8 Responses to Austen Reminds Us We Can Change

  1. Good thought for the beginning of a new year. And I always tell my own children: fate has us all born to different parents, in different social strata and with different intelligent. No one gets to chose. Even the country we are born into makes such a difference. But the social media allows painful mockery of differences we can’t control. Sad.

  2. Very insightful post and one worth keeping in mind not in reading Jane’s stories but in our own lives. Have a wonderful weekend! Hope the hill is gradual!

  3. Now that I am older… I look back on my life and wonder… What Was I Thinking??? OMG! If I knew then what I know now… would I have made the same decisions?. We can’t look back. We are who we are… because of… or in spite of… past experiences. Austen gave us a much wiser Catherine and Elizabeth than they were at the beginning of their books. Experiences changed both of them. Catherine lost her naivete and Elizabeth gained a better knowledge of herself. Many question Elizabeth having such a dramatic shift in her thoughts so quickly after reading Darcy’s letter. [For Wickham anyway… she would struggle with her thoughts and feelings for Darcy]

    I’ve had one of those moments myself so I know it can happen. That split second when the ‘scales fall from the eyes’ and I was suddenly presented with a person that I no longer knew. Someone I had placed my faith and trust in was suddenly a stranger to me. How did I miss that? How was it possible to go that long and not know this outward persona was a lie and covered a multitude of sins? I felt like a fool. In an instant, the friendship was gone… thrown away by someone who cared nothing for me other than how it profited them. At that moment I grew up and left my trusting childhood behind.

    We all have the capacity to change… if we will allow it. Thanks for this post. It made me think and I will look more closely at the other Austen stories and see who had a chance to change. I have several in mind already.

    • Thank you so much for your insights. You are right — most of Austen’s characters change. In fact, it is only the “villains” who don’t — who don’t seem to possess that capacity. We may find them interesting (Mary Crawford) but Austen doesn’t let us trust them. 🙂

      Have a wonderful day!

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