If you were expecting top tips on how to get a rich husband, then sorry, girls, you’re in the wrong place. But there are some aspects of the romantic challenges in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which we can apply to our professional and personal lives in the complicated world of the 21st Century.
Cultivate a sense of humour
We’re not talking about knocking ’em dead with your unique brand of stand-up comedy, or even cracking jokes, but about developing a lightness of touch and the ability not to take everything too seriously. Tune in to the playful side of your personality – it’s there, somewhere. Elizabeth thinks Darcy should lighten up, and her way of gently teasing him is one of the characteristics that draws him to her.
Cultivate a wise older woman
The Bennet mama, bless her, isn’t cut out to give good advice or sensible observations. Luckily the girls have an aunt, Mrs Gardiner, who is not only intelligent, but is also pleasant, elegant, good company and a good listener. She tries to steer Jane, Lizzie and Lydia in the right direction.
At the very end of the book, Lizzie acknowledges the role Mrs Gardiner played in bringing her and Darcy together.
You might have a mama who fulfils this function, or an aunt or cousin or friend. Lucky you. If you haven’t, try to find someone. At work, you’ll find it really helpful to hook up with an unofficial mentor who has a range of life and work experience and whose personal qualities you admire.
Cultivate a lively mind
Darcy says that from the beginning he admired Lizzie’s liveliness of mind and found her to be an interesting character. Interesting people are interested in many things. Being interested in other people, being curious about the world, being open to experience and engaging in a range of activities will lead to personal growth, increase your confidence and enhance your working life.
Incidentally, Darcy likes women who read. Just saying.
Don’t put down other women
Elizabeth is looking a little rough, Caroline says. Her skin has grown brown and coarse, and as for her nose and teeth…
Bad move. Darcy sees right through her ploy, and delivers the knock-out blow that, actually, he now thinks Elizabeth is one of the best-looking women he knows.
In the tough and complicated world of work and beyond, mutual support will help women to thrive. It has been said that women bosses do not encourage others to succeed. Don’t let that be said of you, wherever you are in the pecking order. Respect and generosity will, in the end, trump self-protective small-mindedness.
Learn to deal with difficult people
I know we all love Darcy, but I sometimes wonder if that is because in our minds he has become mixed up with Colin Firth.
Elizabeth takes on a lot when she takes on this difficult, complicated character. He’s uptight, with a haughty manner that puts people off. He’s casually rude, and offputtingly arrogant.
Lizzie isn’t cowed by him, and her instinctive teasing, mocking approach both intrigues him and brings out the best in him. Elizabeth thinks about how to handle Darcy. When she’s on the point of teasing him about the huge influence her has on Bingley, she stops herself. ‘She remembered that he was yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin.’
Understanding what makes people tick is the first step towards understanding why you find them difficult to deal with. When you have got a little bit of their measure, think about the best approach to use.
Be bold, not bland
Jane and Bingley are obviously made for each other, and if only he had been sure that she had feelings for him, he would have made his move a lot sooner. (Of course, there would have been far less of the book to enjoy.)
It’s all right to let people know how we feel. It’s all right to make the first move. It’s all right to ask for what we want.
You can do it nicely, you can do it strategically – but make your meaning clear. Jane is so uniformly nice to everyone, smiling too much, as Darcy observes, that it’s difficult to discern her real feelings.
In Robert Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess’, the woman in the title is just like Jane. The duchess was so lovely and gracious to everyone, and gave everyone exactly the same charming smile, that it drove her (admittedly a little off-kilter) hubby mad. So he had her killed.
Now we know that Bingley wouldn’t harm a fly, but Jane’s relentless niceness and her sweet willingness to think the best of everyone might drive him a little crazy.
You can learn how to express yourself forcefully and gracefully, clearly and sensitively. You can learn the skills which will help you to be an active player in life’s tricky negotiations and challenging situations.
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My novel, Charlotte’s Wedding, is a reimagining of Pride and Prejudice for the 21st Century, looking at Jane Austen’s issues of love and money in a contemporary setting. Click on the book cover for more details.