The great skill of a teacher is to get and keep the attention of his scholar: whilst he has that, he is sure to advance as fast the learner’s abilities will carry him; and without that, all his bustle and pother will be to little or no purpose. To attain this, he should make the children comprehend, (as much as may be,) the usefulness of what he teaches him; and let him see, by what he has learned, that he can do something which he could not do before; something which gives him some power and real advantage above others, who are ignorant of it. To this he should add sweetness in all his instructions; and by a certain tenderness in his whole carriage, make the child sensible that he loves him, and designs nothing but his good; the only way to beget love in the child, which will make him hearken to his lessons, and relish what he teaches him.
John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 161
We have cried in our despair
That men desert,
For some trivial affair
Or noisy, insolent sport,
Beauty that we have won
From bitterest hours;
Yet we, had we walked within
Those topless towers
Where Helen walked with her boy,
Had given but as the rest
Of the men and women of Troy,
A word and a jest.
This, my friends, is a real romance novel. By that I mean this is a real novel, which means a story told in prose, about a real romance, which means the courtship and development of love between a man and a woman. While the world and writing of Jane Austen will undoubtedly seem antiquated and foreign to a generation of readers who believe that a novel is a string of monosyllabic words strung together in with semi-coherency and that romance is the literary equivalent of pornography, Austen has a great deal to teach readers — and would-be lovers — today.
There are undoubtedly aspects of Victorian social mores which deserve some criticism. The customs which governed the relations of the sexes, however, are not among them. Instead, what we see are a set of rules that reinforced the mutual respect of men for women and women for men. The result was a harmony of the sexes. It is only when the proper decorum is violated — when the woman behaves with unreasonable flirtatiousness, when the man refuses to take responsibility, and when the family is treated with disdain — that the results are unhappiness and disorder. The marriage of Mr. Collins with Lydia is, of course, the case in point. When women behave with decency and men are responsible and respectful, however, the effect is the obverse: a truly happy and fulfilling marriage.
All of this is not to say that Austen does not engage in a critique of contemporary customs. In her presentation of Lady Catherine as an overbearing busybody, she presents to us the rust that had grown up on certain traditional institutions. But Austen would not have us throw away the baby with the bathwater, as can be seen by the benevolent patriarchy of Elizabeth’s father, and his representation as a reasonable and goodhearted head of his family.
While I believe that anyone who enjoys a good story with enjoy this book a great deal, I recommend this book in particular for young teenagers. Young ladies and young gentleman today would benefit a great deal from imbibing the lessons that Austen has to offer us. They would also, of course, have the privilege of reading one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language.