It is February once again. If you’re anything like me and dreading being single for yet another Valentine’s Day, I can guess that you sometimes wish you could find something to keep your mind off that fact. Today I was thinking about Jane Austen’s novels and how they have been portrayed and romanticized over the two centuries since they were published. Many people hear the words Pride and Prejudice and think “cheesy rom com.” We tend to focus on the dreamy men in the novels–Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, or Mr. Tilney. But we forget that the women in the novels are fascinating apart from their male counterparts. I’ve compiled a list of activities that I’m sure would be Jane Austen-approved for those days when you really need to stop reminding yourself of just how single you are—or maybe when you want to find a new way to impress a certain eligible gentleman.
1. Take a long walk. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett once walked several miles—in the mud! Walking is healthy, and it can be relaxing. Also, Mr. Darcy noticed that Lizzy’s eyes “were brightened by the exercise.”
2. Read The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. It may have been published in 1794, but this Gothic novel was scandalous and amusing enough for Austen to have her young heroine Catherine Morland’s imagination run away with her in Northanger Abbey. Catherine praised it highly to Mr. Tilney: “Do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world?”
3. Try painting. Why not? Sign up for a class. Go to your favorite spot in nature, set up an easel, and try your hand at painting—or better yet, try painting a friend’s portrait. After all, in Emma, Mr. Elton was so struck by Emma’s painting that he exclaimed: “Oh, it is most admirable! I cannot keep my eyes from it. I never saw such a likeness.”
4. Learn needlework. Yes, it can be time consuming and detail-oriented but also rewarding. Ask your mother, grandmother, or a friend if she will teach you to knit, crochet, quilt, or cross-stitch. Not only will you learn a new skill, but you’ll get to spend quality time with a person you love. Oh, and you could always knit a scarf or hat and impress a potential suitor. It’s also a great way to be inconspicuous, as Elizabeth showed us: “Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion.”
5. Learn to play an instrument. It doesn’t have to be the pianoforte of course, but you’re never too old to appreciate music and learn to play a musical instrument. In Pride and Prejudice, “Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabeth of having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly to the instrument.” Gentlemen can be impressed when a woman excels at something, especially playing an instrument.
6. Plant a garden. Even if you don’t have outdoor space for an actual garden, try planting some flowers in pots to brighten your home—or even plant some herbs or vegetables. The heroines of Austen’s novels always enjoy strolls through their gardens.
7. Try floral arranging. You know all those flowers you’ve planted and grown now? Try your hand at arranging them in vases around your house! Arranging flowers takes skill and makes a home even more welcoming.
8. Learn to cook. I know most of us can follow a recipe or make delicious macaroni and cheese, but have you ever tried cooking a three-course dinner? Why not challenge yourself? After all, the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! So, create a menu and invite some friends over to share it with you! Jane Austen herself had a “Household Book” with over 100 family recipes. Do you need some inspiration? Buy yourself a copy of Dinner with Mr. Darcy by Pen Vogler. My friend gave it to me as a gift, and it is full of fantastic recipes!
9. Try your hand at writing a short story or novel. I’m sure Jane Austen would encourage anyone to use their imagination and try writing. In Northanger Abbey, the wonderful Mr. Tilney does say that “the person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” I think that goes for reading and for writing novels.
10. And lastly, write a letter. We have lost the art of letter writing today, but there’s nothing quite like getting a handwritten letter in the mail. Pick up a pen and paper and write a long letter to a friend, family member, or even to a potential beau! Don’t just write a few short words. This isn’t an e-mail or a text message. Take the time to make it interesting! Letters were one of the only forms of communication in Jane Austen’s world. Reading any of her novels will give you plenty of examples of beautiful letter writing. Of course, my personal favorite is Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth in which he explains himself articulately and elegantly. And just for fun, there is a wonderful website called “Write Like Austen” that will give you the perfect Regency British-style word to make your letter even better— http://www.writelikeausten.com.
So there you have it. Ten ways to survive Valentine’s Day without a date! And of course, reading one of Jane Austen’s novels is obviously another option. I hope this list gave you some ideas, made you laugh, or at least helped you stop focusing on being single for a few minutes. I know that writing it helped me. Can you think of any other Jane Austen-approved activities that I didn’t include in this list?
All quotations were taken from the wonderful website: http://www.pemberley.com.