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10 Quotes From Jane Austen’s Emma That Can Teach Us About Life

10 Quotes From Jane Austen’s Emma That Can Teach Us About Life

For much of this year, bookworms worldwide have been celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma, first published in December 1815. Possibly one of the most beloved of Austen’s six novels next to Pride and Prejudice, Emma is a wonderfully witty comedy of manners in which the fun-loving, slightly spoiled, but ultimately kind-hearted Emma Woodhouse sets herself up as a matchmaker for her friends and acquaintances while, perhaps predictably, failing to listen to the yearnings of her own heart until it’s almost too late. The novel has spawned numerous retellings and adaptations, and its hero, Mr. Knightley, stands second only to Mr. Darcy in the eyes of Austenites. In honor of the novel’s bicentennial, here are 10 quotes from Emma that can teach us how to love, how to laugh, and how to live happily ever after.

1. “I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control.”- Emma Woodhouse

After discovering that Frank Churchill has been secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax while blatantly flirting with Emma, Emma smiles, brushes herself off, and maintains as much dignity and self-composure as she can. The takeaway here is simple: sometimes you’re going to have your heart broken and your emotions toyed with. It’s not unnatural to feel wounded, but be sensible about it and don’t wallow.

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2. “I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other.”- Emma Woodhouse

Again, our heroine puts it succinctly; never settle for anything less than the best you feel you deserve in life, whether in your friendships, your workplace relationships, or your romantic partnerships.

3. “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”- Mr. Knightley

Not altogether unlike Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley is a man of actions, not words, when it comes to expressing love. Anyone with eyes in their head—anyone except Emma, of course—can see how tenderly he loves her and holds her in high regard, even if he never says quite as much until the last possible moment. The kindest of words can sometimes be the most insincere if not accompanied by an action meant from the heart. (Frank Churchill, anyone?)

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4. “Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives.”- Mr. Knightley

Though Mr. Knightley offers these words to Emma as a caveat against puffing her friend Harriet Smith up above her station in life as the illegitimate daughter of, well, someone or other, his words here nonetheless encapsulate what we love most about Austen heroes: that they love and cherish women of good sense whom they can value as their equals rather than as playthings.

5. “I lay it down as a general rule, Harriet, that if a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him.”- Emma Woodhouse

While Emma offers this advice to Harriet simply because she thinks the gentleman farmer Robert Martin beneath Harriet’s notice, Emma raises a fair point here; if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, and the truth is that if Harriet—young and impressionable as she is—can’t make up her own mind about her feelings without consulting Emma, she isn’t quite ready to commit herself yet. Removed from Emma’s influence, she eventually comes, on her own, to discover that she still loves Mr. Martin and takes her happiness into her own hands. The salient point here, then, is quite simply, to look before you leap. If anything gives you pause, trust your instinct.

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6. “If things are going untowardly one month, they are sure to mend the next.”- Mr. Weston

Ah, good old Mr. Weston, ever-cheerful, ever-hopeful, always sure that Frank will come to visit, even when he doesn’t. Nothing dampens his spirits, and however exhausting we might sometimes find his relentless good humor, it reminds us that however bad things seem, they do eventually get better.

7. “Never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.”- Emma Woodhouse

Emma might be spoiled; she might be her father’s pet, but, say what you will, she devotes herself to his care and is rewarded with the highest regard, and until she recognizes a deeper love in Mr. Knightley, she need be content with nothing else. Sometimes we would do well to remember that no one can love us as our parents do, with all of our flaws.

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8. “How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”- Frank Churchill

Frank might be impetuous and a bit of a rake, but sometimes, we need to grab our pleasures where and when we find them and live in the moment because no one wants to live with the regret of having squandered an opportunity.

9. “A woman is not to marry a man merely because she is asked, or because he is attached to her, and can write a tolerable letter.”- Emma Woodhouse

This, like so much of Austen’s advice, is shot straight from the hip. The women of Austen’s world had perhaps fewer choices than women in the 21st century do, but she still recognized a key point in exercising agency in one’s own life; seizing an opportunity simply because someone places it in front of you isn’t choosing. It’s settling. Women in the 21st century do have choices, and marriage is just one of those choices. Societal pressure, or the fear of dying alone and being eaten by wild dogs or stray cats should never force your hand into something you don’t want.

10. “Miss Bates had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavor to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman, and a woman whom no one named without good will.”- The Narrator

This description of the good-natured, exhaustively chatty spinster Miss Bates at once amuses and inspires. Relentlessly cheerful despite her reduced circumstances, Miss Bates counts herself supremely blessed with the good fortune of kind friends and neighbors who love her and see to her comfort, and this, in truth, is what we ought to value most in life.

Featured photo credit: Emma by Jane Austen via amazon.com

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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