3 Things Jane Austen Taught Me About Fear

Jane Austen was the master of characterization. She knew people inside and out, foibles, propensities to do good or ill, and emotions. One of those emotions she was familiar with and wrote about is fear.

Fear? What did anyone have to fear? They didn’t have terrorists. The characters lived comfortable, privileged lives, with servants to do the dirty work. No one starved, no one experienced violence–no main characters, that is. What is there to be afraid of in Regency England for the likes of the Bennets and the Elliots?

001Me, afraid

Here are five characters and their fears, along with how they dealt with them:

  1. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet (Pride and Prejudice.) Lizzy is the daughter of a not-so-well -off country gentleman. With no brothers to provide for her when Mr. Bennet dies, and no brothers to inherit and give her a leg up, Lizzy faces the very real possibility of winding up dependent on any benevolent relative she can find if she cannot marry well. If all failed, there are really few to no options for her career-wise. Yes, women worked back then. Gentlewomen, however did not, it would seem, besides becoming governesses, a lonely, demeaning job.

What I learned from Lizzy…

Though she says, “Beggars cannot be choosers” (in the movie anyway) regarding accepting a marriage proposal, Lizzy is determined not to be induced into matrimony if she does not love the man, which she proves by declining TWO marriage proposals. She could have been safe, comfortable, but miserable. Some people–back then, at least–might have called her foolish for putting her survival on the line (Mrs. Bennet let her displeasure be known, that’s for sure.) But what I learned was this: It’s okay to say no to the known in favor of the frightening unknown if your character and morals are at stake. In other words: Don’t compromise just because you’re afraid.

2. Mr. Willoughby (Sense and Sensibility.) Ah, Willoughby. The rake. The rogue. What has he got to do with fear? If Lizzy Bennet is a moral heroine, Willoughby is the inverse: Willoughby is victim to his own desperation. Oh, he’s fine at first, seducing women right and left. Feels pretty good about being in line to inherit his aunt’s great fortune and estate…until it’s discovered he got a girl pregnant out of wedlock and then abandoned her. Well, his auntie finds out about this bad business and disinherits him. Desperate and afraid of losing his cushy lifestyle, Willoughby sets out to make a most advantageous marriage…for himself. He marries and lives off a rich woman.

What I learned from Willoughby…

He could have done the right thing: Married the girl he seduced and impregnated, apologized to Marianne and her family, and changed his ways. Instead, he goes to Eleanor and basically tries to absolve himself. It’s obvious he feels terrible, but his “apology” is completely self-serving. When you’ve done wrong, you need to face your fear of rejection and humiliation and make things right, no matter what. In other words: Fear isn’t a pass to overlook your duty.

3. Mary (Elliot) Musgrove (Persuasion.) Bear with me, I have only read the book once. But I have seen the movie multiple time 😉 Mary strikes me as a fearful person. At the root of her fear, though, is pride. Mary will not have you think her beneath her station, even it’s at the expense of other people’s feelings.

What I learned from Mary…

Perhaps some fear and most pride are very closely linked (much like Lizzy and Willoughby being two sides of the same coin, one good and one ill.) Fear of failure = pride. Fear of being laughed at = pride. Fear of what other’s think of me = pride. This brings to mind some wonderful sayings: What other people think of you is none of your business and The only opinion about yourself that is worth considering is God’s.

What about you? What has Jane taught you about fear? Anything?

Keep your pen on the page,
Beth

Author: bethovermyer

Beth Overmyer wears several hats, all belonging to different writers. From fantastical kidlit to everyday popular fiction, Beth pens her work with gusto. In 2008, her screenplay The Method won best comedy at Gotham Screen’s contest, and in 2012, her MG book In a Pickle came out from MuseItUp Publishing.

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