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Jane Austen Heroines to Take Inspiration From

Updated on June 17, 2013

Facts About Jane Austen

Jane Austen was a fascinating woman, though we know relatively little about her compared to some other literary luminaries:

  • Jane wrote an estimated 3,000 letters in her life, but only 160 remain
  • Jane was one of eight children, but had only one sister
  • Jane never married, though a few romances were speculated
  • Two of Jane's six novels were posted posthumously

Being Inspired by Jane Austen's Intelligent, Feisty Heroines

Jane Austen wrote only six full-length novels, but all six of them are deeply beloved and are considered some of the great works of the English language. She went beyond the thrill of romance in her plots to offer sharp social commentary, all while keeping her characters vibrant and her prose sparkling.

When you think of her novels, you probably immediately think of her heroines, who could be real women--passionate, clever, and true to themselves.

With the parade of celebrities and starlets behaving badly today, it may not be such a bad idea to take Jane Austen's heroines as role models--they have a lot to offer the modern woman.

A Clip from the Film Version of "Pride and Prejudice"

Elizabeth Bennet, from "Pride and Prejudice"

Elizabeth Bennet, affectionately called Lizzie by many characters in the novel, is probably Jane Austen's most beloved heroine, and the easiest from which to draw inspiration. Saddled with a socially embarrassing mother who schemes constantly to marry her daughters off and able to speak intelligently with only one of her sisters, Lizzie is nevertheless patient and deeply loyal to her family.

When she feels they are slighted by the pretentious Mr. Darcy, who refuses to dance with her at a countryside ball, Lizzie immediately makes up her mind about him--choosing instead to trust the deceptive Wickham. After a series of misunderstandings and revelations, Lizzie falls in love and finds that first impressions aren't always what they seem.

What traits should we take from Elizabeth Bennet?

  • Loyalty to family
  • Intelligence and wit
  • The ability to find amusement in absurd situations
  • A strong sense of right and wrong

Of course, Lizzie is also quick to jump to judgments and is unwilling to change her mind once it's made up--no one's perfect, and those are traits to avoid!

A Clip from the Film Version of "Emma"

Emma Woodhouse, from "Emma"

My personal favorite of Jane Austen's novels is "Emma," with its eponymous heroine. Emma Woodhouse is young and unmarried, and lives with her clingy father. She's very pleased that she managed to make a good match for her governess, and next sets her sights on Harriet Smith--a young woman of indeterminate origin. Though Harriet is perfectly happy with her courtship by a young local man, Emma decides Harriet can do better--and sets out to find "better" for her new friend.

Emma grows a lot in the course of the novel, mostly under the guidance of family friend and mentor Mr. Knightley. Emma eventually realizes her foolishness before it's too late to rectify the chaos she's created in their small social circle, and even falls in love herself.

What traits can we take from Emma Woodhouse?

  • A sense of fun and spontaneity
  • A belief in true love
  • A willingness to own up to mistakes and take instruction
  • A fierce loyalty to family and friends

As with Elizabeth Bennet, though, Emma is not perfect--far from it. We should avoid her traits of being self-absorbed, headstrong, and occasionally heedless of other's feelings and wishes.

A Clip from the Film Version of "Sense and Sensibility"

Elinor Dashwood, from "Sense and Sensibility"

Though both Elinor Dashwood and Marianne Dashwood are heroines of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Elinor emerges as the clear winner when you're looking for an inspirational heroine. When they are left destitute after their father's death, Elinor is the one who holds the family together and acts as its strength while Marianne is concerned with romance, poetry, and brooding heroes.

While Marianne has her own ill-fated romance with the rakish Willoughby, Elinor falls for the quiet Edward Ferrars, who has a secret that breaks Elinors heart (though it all turns out well in the end, as it always does in an Austen novel).

What inspirational traits can we take from Elinor?

  • An adherence to logic and order
  • Devotion to family and willingness to sacrifice for it
  • Steadfastness
  • Intelligence
  • Great societal tact

Of course, some of Marianne's traits are positive too--a willingness to trust, a belief in love and happiness, and an appreciation of beauty are all good things to possess.

A Sketch of Jane Austen

A sketch of Jane Austen, author of some of the most beloved novels in the English language
A sketch of Jane Austen, author of some of the most beloved novels in the English language | Source

Fictional Heroines as Real-Life Inspiration

Jane Austen's stories and characters resonate with readers throughout the generations,and for good reason--they're entertaining, romantic, and easy to relate to. Her fictional heroines are realistic, well-rounded characters who can provide inspiration to even today's modern woman.


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