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Pray tell me, what would Jane Austen do? The answer is in The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan, featured in our very first Book of the Month video. This book offers tongue-in-cheek advice that may have worked for a woman in the 19th century, but not always so much in today’s world. I must admit, I was quite swept up in all of it – just watch the video to see me go from blazers and jeans to bonnets and baskets.
Really though, The Jane Austen Handbook is delightful! Not only do we love Jane Austen, but we love that today we can have fun with the culture that fueled her novels. Obviously, a lot of the “advice” given is based on outdated social norms, but with our appreciation for Jane Austen and literature we couldn’t help but dive right into the book with full force and full skirts. If you or a friend can’t get enough of the literary icon – or perhaps the A&E Pride and Prejudice miniseries – then I definitely recommend picking up this book. Still, if you’ve never read a Jane Austen novel, you’ll probably still enjoy the humorous passages in addition to a few small DIY projects such as basket embellishing.
Want a chance to win this book? Well, all you have to do is join our discussion!
If you lived in Jane Austen’s time, which rules would you break?
Also, if you purchase the book from us, leave your own review of the book right here on the site, or on our Goodreads group!
I’d curse and proposition men.
I would probably break the whole not dating lower class if your upper and upper if your lower class thing.
I would lovveeee to win!!!
I’d be wearing pants, go out by myself, and not have any children.
I would insist on getting a “full” education. Also, I probably just wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut. I would speak my mind, even if I was in mixed company.
The thing about how a man has to introduce you to another man before you can talk to the second man. I would want to meet guys myself!
Which rule would I break? First thing, I would throw away the girdles. Then, I’d probably fall in love with someone in a different social class than I.
When it came to courtship, basically any move a woman made was seen as breaking the rules! Letter correspondence with a man while not being engaged with him, long walks alone and dancing for more than two sets at a ball were all seen as major ‘no-nos’! … And I would most certainly break all those rules!
You SHOULD do Pride and Prejudice and Zombies… It’s very good.
I would talk to and associate with whomever I chose; whether or not it was considered “appropriate”. Also, I’d probably say un-proper things like “Um, I gotta pee” and “Aw crap, I’m getting cramps”.
If I lived in Jane Austen’s time the rule that I would most likely break is the way women had to be less thought of as a human when compaired to a man. If a guy really got me mad or there was something that someone told me I couldn’t do because I was a women I would do it any way or have a fit…I just could not handle that kind of treatment!
I would break all the rules of courtship! We would truly have romance before an engagement! Also I would show my intelligence with no fear!
I hate gender stereotypes. So, I would not ride side sadle, talk back wear pants (even though I adore Regency fashion and the dresses were probably more comfortable than wearing a cravat), at least try to get myself rights, and have an “anything you can do I can do better” attitude.
I’d run wild and get my dresses dirty. Then let my ankles show, but just a little 😉
I would break the rules by finding any and all loopholes i could find (i.e, needing to be introduced by another man before you can speak with a man doesn’t mean you can’t dance with him) and i wouldn’t be afraid to show some wit when the situation calls for it.
Definitely the rule that dictates that women are expected to set aside her own ambitions to marry. I especially admire Jane’s ambition to become a writer, despite social parameters that said otherwise. I, myself, have this problem, with an aspiration to become a great writer like Jane Austen, yet setbacks are laid out like a minefield before me.
Also, possibly, the many restrictions placed on young women of courting age. The courter and courtee basically have a quiescent, platonic relationship until marriage, only allowed to read facial cues to interpret whether the girl is interested. Breaking social restrictions would be as simple as break physical boundaries with a caress of the face. I also resent the stereotype that men are supposedly superior to women in all ways, including intellectually. It would really be a shame if the man I’m with is so intellectually below me that it’s impossible to keep a poignant, philosophical conversation going. I will never repress my talents for anyone, including a courter or potential husband.
Hmmm… as they say, rules are made to be broken, and a lot of Austen’s female contemporaries were busy breaking them. For instance, Mary Wollstonecraft famously wrote her A Vindication on the Rights of Woman some 20 years before Jane was published, and if there was ever an advocate of “free love,” she was it. Her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ran off with the married Percy Bysshe Shelley and gave us Frankenstein. These were sure unconventional women, who lived by the “courage of their convictions,” I suppose. If you lived in the Romantic era, would you want to live a quiet country life, with occasional forays into the city, like Jane, or would you prefer to traipse all over Europe, penniless and making your own way, like Mary Shelley and her half sister Clare Clairmont? Not that either life would have been an easy one… But alternatives did exist.
You bring up a great piece of literature, Callie. The whole of “Vindication of the Rights of Women” can be read here! http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/wollstonecraft/woman-contents.html
The rule I would break would be…well, probably just the standard for female behavior in general! The Jane Austen character I’m most similar to is Elizabeth Bennett in that we’re both educated, outspoken, and keen on the outdoors. I would make a terrible Austen-era lady, I suppose.
I’d find some way around male primogeniture! 🙂
I would break the rules of the social divide. I think that treating a person based on their socio-economic standard is so 19th century. Wait…
Unfit topics would not be safe from me – I would be labeled a hoyden 20 minutes into my first dinner party. Everything else, however, would be tons of fun… for awhile.
I’d probably be far more outspoken than socially acceptable!! Especially that in regards to marriage!
I would read whatever I wanted to read and pursue a full education into a university even if Iâ€™m the only woman there. Also I would shoot guns, the notion that a woman shouldn’t – or couldn’t – fire a gun is ridiculous and I’d love to go hunting with “the guys”.
getting an education, wearing pants, …oh hell probably all of them 🙂
I’d break the rule that says you can’t inherit money and/or property as a woman, and the unwritten rule that women can’t live independently – having a job, owning property, living alone. I’d be the woman everyone talks about! Proud of it : )
I applaud you, but how would you get around the laws dictating property would go to just about any available male heir rather than a woman?
I would break the rules and get a high paying job. Also I would make a man in a higher social class fall in love with me and then break his heart because marriage isn’t everything. <3
I’d break several rules, but in all the Jane Austen books the girls sit around and wait for the guy to ask them for their hand in marriage. If it were me, I’d gather up the courage, ignore society’s ways, and ask the guy that I love to marry me! If I had a love like Elizabeth Bennet, I could never sit around and wait for him to find me.
Funny thing is, I would probably not want to break the rules, just so I could experience what it was truly like live during her time. I think my mouth would be the thing to end up betraying me. I don’t think I would be able to keep my thought and opinions to myself. I would probably ostracize myself very quickly. Then I wouldn’t have any suitors in my social class and I would be forced to marry someone from a different station and it would all be downhill from there!
good riddance to all those boring afternoons in the drawing room.
I wouldn’t be able to hold back my opinion.
In addition to maintaining a practiced discipline in all areas of womanly skills, (for example painting, singing, sewing, knowledge of language and geography, poetry and dancing) in order to respect the name of my family, I would also take it upon myself to cultivate an inward sense of feminine independence. Understanding of business and politics, trade, currency, as well as mechanical advances would serve a young lady well in the modern age. Ability to speak ones mind is well and good, but without wisdom of these essential subjects, and a willingness to apply ones time and energies to their mastery, a lady is likely to get herself in to trouble and sent back to the parlor.
Very wise. Education, patience, passion, perseverance — I agree this is the way to flourish and be fulfilled in this particular society!
I’m eccentric. Convention isn’t really my thing. However, the “rule” most difficult for me to abide by would be submissive role women were supposed to assume. Owning property, wearing pants, dictating conversation, and most of all, the lack of courtship rules are all daily pleasures. Anything else would cramp my noggin.
It’s funny, thinking about what everyone says about how they would misbehave in Austen’s time. We might not, because we wouldn’t know the relative freedom of modern society.
I have to agree with you.
We’re all out-spoken women who act independently because that’s what society expects of us now. Since we act the way we’re expected to so often in these days, who says we wouldn’t follow a lot of the rules in Austen’s?
I would go out wandering by myself. Maybe even travel to another city alone. Oh my!
I’d go meet people and introduce myself instead of having to wait to be introduced by some acquaintance. You gotta make life happen for yourself!
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I would most definitely pursue higher education, marry for love and not status (scandalous!), and refuse to put aside my own dreams for child-bearing and housewifery.
I can hardly contain my emotions now-a-days. I would speak my mind and get emotional, and get chastised for it every time. But never be able to stop myself.
I would be educated the same way a man was. I would travel by myself. And maybe I would ‘flert’ with some guy.
I would still wear my short skirts and use colorful language…loudly.
I would have a romance with someone under my social class.
I would break 2 rules – I would follow in Miss Austen herself’s footsteps and write, and have my books published under my own name (not ‘A lady’ as Jane’s were)
And 2 – I would ride with a leg each side of the horse. Much more fun than sidesaddle!
I would refuse to go to social events I was not in agreement with. I would also not settle for an arranged marriage. If i did happen to get married I would work wheather or not my husband did. (I would probably be a dressmaker.) I would also have the number of children I wanted and not the amount that was expected of me.
I would voice my opinions on:
-voting rights and gender equality
-and child bearing
I would certainly never wear a corset, but most of all, I wouldn’t worry all that much about marrying in order to live a secure life. I would instead focus on my mind, learning everything I could in order to never be taken advantage of.
Okay the rules I would break would be…
-I would wear what ever I wanted to, make my clothes, and mix it up
-definitely date men outside of my social class
-sing, dance, and enjoy life!
-read, write, and educate myself
-and lastly, I would want to participate in hunting and fighting
I would have gone to school, even if it was behind my family’s back and I probably would not have gotten married or had children. I would have lived independently as I much hope to in the future.
I would definitely wear men’s clothing. Coattails and trousers. I would also create my own clothes. And I’d break the rule that you couldn’t break the rules.
The whole arranged marriage thing would definitely be a no-go for me…I’m also not very good at sucking up to/flattering people I don’t like (not very Mr. Collins of me!!), but I suppose that wouldn’t be “breaking the rules” if I were rich enough. It would just be eccentric. If I were middle class or poor, though…I’d be in big trouble.
I would educate myself and date out of class.
Everything….I would get a job outside of the house.
I would have a hard time keeping my language and temper in check! I’m not bad compared to the current times…but back then? I would have been much too wild for their taste.
I would not be able to maintain a serene countenance despite my feelings. I would have to speak up and I am sure that I would have been kept out of society for that reason and numerous others.
Oddly, I just watched Emma last night. A rule I don’t think I would be able to uphold would be holding my tongue. I like to share my opinion on everything.
I definitely would not ride sidesaddle and I would break the rule about not dating outside your class.
I’m pretty sure there are more rules I would break than those I would follow.
I wouldn’t do well with the day-to-day hierarchy. Who enters a room first, who can speak to whom (and when), who leads a dance, etc. Actually. I’m pretty sure I’d be terrible at the dancing in general, and that was like, their only fun. I’d be one miserable Austen heroine.
Or you’d be perfect. How many of the rules do you see Jane’s girls following/breaking?
I second that, B! Nobody fit in 100% then just as they don’t now. Individuality was possible (or inevitable) even then… or at least in the way Jane wrote it.
If a lady was unmarried and under thirty, she was never to be in the company of a man without a chaperone. I definitely prefer modern dating… going out with a chaperone would be way to awkward.
The rule I’d break would be the societal rule that women should be seen, not heard (unless giving birth to many many sons). I have a brain and a voice, and I’m not afraid to use either of them.
As for smaller stuff, like “women should be accomplished in playing music/singing/painting/sewing/recitation/dancing” well, that’s tough luck, because those are skills I just don’t have 🙂 Also, I prefer to wear shorts and tank tops~those Georgian gowns showed a bit of cleavage, but I couldn’t survive having my legs covered all the time and wearing layers upon layers of undergarments.
Definitely going into bars by myself, fraternizing with other gentlemen, and holding the very first Victorian karaoke contest.
I would wear pant’s, and I would NOT ride side saddle! Also, I wouldn’t sew, recite or sing.
I would hate to never be allowed to be on my own; women always seemed to go from being told what to do by their parents to being told what to do by their husbands without ever having a chance to try and make it on their own! I’d want to live on my own in that era and not have to answer to anyone!
I would insist on a full education, and I’d probably drop a few f-bombs now and then!
I would be well read and be able to have an opinion on any subject.
I wish more the social norms of Jane’s time would come back, except for the girdles. Who ever thought of girdles?? Seriously, what a horrible idea!!
Well, first of all I would not marry someone my parents choose or I didn’t love, I would definitely be a free spirit and speak my mind without being too concerned what people say or think about me, and last but not least I would not use those hooped Petticoat skirts under my dress in summer or just to be more comfortable xP.
I think that if I lived in Jane Austen’s time I would have an interesting time breaking the rules of propriety. While I would enjoy pretending to be a proper lady , I would be riding horses with one leg over each side of the saddle rather than side-saddle, cut my hair short, and would never care if I ever got married or had children. Education would be my number one priority but I would have also wanted to travel the world and go on adventures no proper woman would long to have.
I would cause physical harm to my mother if she were anything like Mrs. Bennet.
I want to read this book! As for rule breaking, I would insist on an education and on managing my own money/property.
I would insist on getting an education and socialize with individuals outside of my social class.
If i lived in Jane Austen’s time i would walk down the street wearing a short cocktail dress and raise my voice up to demand that women were persons too, sometimes all it takes is for one person to stand up before others do too.
I’m sure I’d commit an “Emma” and say something insensitive to someone who was annoying me!
If I lived during the alluring time of Jane Austen and I could break a couple of rules, I would start off with break the introduction when entering into a room, this would make everyone a mystery. Then, I would let women be able to say what they felt first, without waiting for the men. They take too long to get to all of the mushy stuff.
I would go everywhere and do everything myself, no chaperone for me! I’d probably be perceived as a Lydia Bennet, wild, wayward, and wanton, and have to take on the chin all the well meaning comments of my sister who would say my behaviour had exposed me to some very impertinent remarks. : ) Yay for Jane and her marvelous words!
I would not stand for the way women were treated in Jane Austen’s era. If not a flaming feminist, I would at least not rely on a husband to bring me happiness. I would imagine having the same attitudes about marriage as Miss Emma Woodhouse!
I would work to abolish the social rule stipulating that your prospects and place in life is dictated by the actions of your past relatives. Because of course, one couldn’t possibly find themselves in respectable society when their mother’s aunt was an orphan! No sir, what nonsense, it would shame the entire family line! I would do all I could to make sure that people were able to live their lives on their own merit and abilities and were not stunted by the social misconducts of their relatives.
I would go around unchaperoned! 🙂
Cursing loudly and almost without provocation in the presence of women and men would be a must. Other things: stay flagrantly single, while flaunting my lover to “polite” society, wear pants or shorter dresses whenever I wanted (after all I will probably have adorable booties that I would want ALL to see!) and live by myself (maybe my lover can stay with me, as long as he doesn’t try to control me), singlehood be damned! I wouldn’t need to live with my parents until I got married. I would strike out on my own when I wanted.
If there was a rule to break, it would definitely involve my hair! I’m currently sporting short, cropped hair right now, and wouldn’t want my hair in any other way (plaits, in a bun…), be it in Jane Austen’s time or not!
Lady Caroline Lamb sported a saucy short bob back in the day! Who knows? You might just fit right in! 🙂
I would get myself whatever type of education I wanted.
I would defy the Victorian notion that men were more intelligent than women by reading as much literature as I could and joining the political and philosophical discussions (despite any opposition). I would also drink brandy and smoke cigars as I did so.
I would definitely wear pants. Maybe even show some scandalous ankles!
I would definitely have to attain an education, and I would want to go off and talk current events with the menfolk instead of gossiping with the ladies at parties! Also I would want to travel the world by myself, and obviously not want to get married as a teenager. Sorry Jane!
I would break any rule that would keep me from studying and learning. And any rule that kept me from having adventures.
i would refuse to have an arranged marriage, if i’m spending the rest of my life with him i’m choosing some1 i like!!!
I agree with most of the notions that as a woman in Jane Austen’s time more independence would be nice – but I think if I were really raised in that time I would take my bonnet off as often as possible. I like to feel the wind on my face. And I’d also try really hard to find an alternative to a corset. If I hate bras now, how am I supposed to deal with one of those?
Going along with what Maggie said, unless it was like time travel that we were expierencing, we would not know about a lot of the freedoms of today. (That’s not to say that there weren’t some women back then that broke the rules. But to most women it was unthinkable.)
However if I could I would likely:
1. Break the rules of social classes. Who really cares about that?
2. Not have kids! It’s bad enough now, let alone back then!
3. I would probably try to play sports with the guys, or go shooting. That would be fun.
As for clothes, I’d wear pants only sometimes, I would ove to wear dresses! And ridding side-saddle I would only not do because I would be so bad at it! But if I could I would. 🙂
I would want to be just like Elizabeth Bennet; a true nonconformist in so many ways! I would educate myself to the best of my abilities even though it was somewhat frowned upon for a woman to be highly educated. I would also be perfectly willing to break the “class system” and marry the man that I loved!
I wouldn’t want to suffer in silence like Elinor from Sense and Sensibility did. She loved unconditionally and even though denied by her love, she, like the other women of her time, held her pain in silence. I would wear my heart on my sleeve openly and allow the word to see the pain my heart feels. Most of all, I want the world to see its desires.
I would likely have difficulty maintaining a civil tongue at times, and I’m certain I wouldn’t have the patience for needlework. I would want a higher education, for certain, and not just as a governess. I would probably also end up unescorted with a man at some point (scandalous!), though as a lady I doubt I would really break all that many rules. I already play piano, dance, and draw, after all…
I would want to have a more formal education then most women were allowed, and I would want to read newspapers. Knowing what is going on in the world – the politics, the wars, the culture, etc. – would be really important to me.
Oh yes, please!
Itâ€™s fun to imagine really breaking the rules and defying expectations in Jane Austenâ€™s era, but the consequences of that behavior could be much more devastating than some of us may realize. Thatâ€™s why more people didnâ€™t break them! Itâ€™s easy to talk about running off and having a scandalous romance now, but thatâ€™s what Lydia Bennet did and nobody thinks well of her in the end. She ended up exiled, married to a devious man who probably cared very little for her, but she could have ended up starving to death alone or with a â€œbastardâ€ child she could not feed in the London winter if Darcy hadnâ€™t prevented Wickham from abandoning her — or very likely succumb to prostitution on the mean streets of London, in which case a then practically incurable case of the clap would have been almost certain. Those were the penalties of really stepping outside the lines.
That said, I certainly wouldnâ€™t want to disappear into the cloak of feminine subjugationâ€¦ at least not entirely. Jane Austen heroines were then granted something I never seem to have enough of â€“ time! I would master those arts I found fulfilling, take up writing, sneak peeks at gentlemenâ€™s newspapers, read so much Iâ€™d go cross-eyed, assist the poor as much as possible, really see and listen to what was going on around me. I would educate myself and make art in any way I dared and when the opportunity to prove myself the intellectual and artistic equal of the gentlemen around me came, as I assure you it would, I would take it. And hopefully I would flourish, without romance. I wouldnâ€™t focus on romance, but also wouldnâ€™t deny it if a good thing came along. I would dare to not need marriage or men. Much like Jane herself, I would dare to make my own living in whatever ways I found pride, perhaps as a fabulous couture milliner in a time where hats and bonnets were actually exceedingly popular. There may not be men, but there would most certainly be dancing! That, though some commenters here seem to be under a different impression, was most definitely allowed.
I’d wear whatever I wanted and do everything in my power to get an equal education as compared to the men around me.
I’d speak whenever I choose, pants whenever I please, and flirt like a fiend. 🙂
I’d break the rules of courtship , I’d also speak my mind and cut my hair….and wear bathing suits.
You know how “good girls” weren’t supposed to kiss men before they were married? Yeahhhh, fat chance of that.
P.S. I almost bought this at a bookstore today, didn’t, and then saw your giveaway. I think it’s a sign! 😛
My man would have no say in who I talk to, what I do, where I go, and def. not what I wear. If anything, it would be the other way around!! I would still cook dinner but it would be on my time!!
I would marry for love, and promptly be poor!
I’d do that today too! 🙂
I would break the specific rules that separate men and women from association in public without proper chaperones.
I hardly think I would be able to be an Accomplished Woman. But maybe that’s because I spend too much time with my computer and the internets… without the distraction of the internets I might be an accomplished painter by now!
I’d be independent, like Elizabeth Bennet, say what I mean and mean what I say. Only marry to the man that I truly love, and flirt with whomever I want. Also, read books that can expand my horizons.
I daresay, I would have accomplished the most appalling feat of journeying to town unchaperoned! Likewise, in a most unladylike and undignified manner, I would have denounced the practice of riding sidesaddle to the great horror of my onlookers.
I would break most of the rules becuase it seems like most of Jane Austens Characters break the rules set in place for them, anyways. The one thing I would do is faint. If someone I didnt want to talk to was talking to me I would faint. If my mom is pestering me I would faint. I would faint when the guy that I am intrested was around so that he would have to catch me and carry me. Whenever I was caught doing or saying something I shouldnt I would just faint and nobody would dare say a word to me because of my very delicate disposition.
Breaking rules in Jane Austen time is a very tricky thing to do but i would simplistically build my own house from the ground up! Own it! Being able to own property without a man to buy the property on my own.
If I lived in Jane Austenâ€™s time I would found a savings bank specifically targeted at women, so that women could legally own property and be economically independent from men … instead of them facing marriage as the only way to sustain themselves economically (as women in lesser developed societies still do). Plus, I’d introduce voting rights for women – Shout if you love democracy!
I’d not be very accomplished, be a tad on the plain side. not have a penny to my name, and still snag the most eligible bachelor in England. Oh, wait, I think one/ some of her heroines already did that..:-P
I would unapologetically be myselfâ€¦always.
I would never have a man tell me what to do or how to do it.
I would do the work around the house myself, without having to rely upon servants to do my bidding. If the responsibilities of cleaning and cooking took up too much time and I had to give up needlepoint, then so much the better. Avoid the creation of social barriers than by not supporting a service class.
I would object to the fake little ‘refreshing walks around the room’ with snooty acquaintances, and instead fling myself onto a horse (NOT riding side-saddle and likely even in the rain) and ride to the prettiest place around–the land I bought and own. I would whip off my corset, climb a tree, and hang it in the highest branches. Then, I would draw and sing wildly on the top of a large hill while eating the most fattening dessert I could bring along, followed by rolling down the long-grassed slope. I woud return with a massive appetite, a crown of wildflowers, and surely shocked inquiries as to the location of my corset. These I would answer with a lovely pat on the shoulder and “The oak liked it more than I did, so I shared”. Then, I would run up to my room and chuckle till dinnertime, but likely munch on a stash of food under my washstand while I waited.
While I would be quite at ease in the long, empire-waisted Georgian dresses, and taking long walks, sewing, and working in the garden also suit me, playing an instrument/singing in front of others would be quite out of the question. As for following a man’s lead in all things… well I probably just wouldn’t marry.
While there are plenty of rules I would have broken, I love a lot of the aspects of that time period. The feminine dresses girls wore and how gentlemanly the men would usually act is so missed in our modern world. However, I know I would break the rule of no higher education for women. I would have found a way to go to a school so to become a doctor, even if it meant pretending to be a man. It would be a scandal but it would prove a point: women are just as capable as men when it comes to education and careers.
I strongly believe in true love, that you should NEVER be forced to marry someone you are not in love with. Just like Lizzie Bennett, I would have turned down the sniveling Mr. Collins. If MY parents disagreed I would have eloped with the man of my dreams and lived happily ever after.
I would not marry someone who didn’t like me for who I am instead of who they think I am. I would not be afraid to speak my mind, for a man who didn’t want to marry a woman who was intelligent would not be a man I wanted to marry at all. So I’d hold out for someone who was worth it, all while enjoying the clothing and the balls! I’d also be big into helping women achieve rights and not give a fig what anyone else thought! 🙂
Well the first thing to go would most definitely be the corset. After that, I would obtain a higher education and lastly would find myself a swimsuit and jump in a lake. Somehow I can’t imagine that I would survive very long (especially during the summers- and in those long dresses!) without swimming. 🙂
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