The healing power of Jane Austen

I love, love, love this story.  If you continue reading the story over at The Telegraph, they mention Azar Nafisi using Jane Austen to teach her Iranian students about the complexities of love and attraction, as chronicled in our new favorite book, Reading Lolita in Tehran.  I also didn’t know the lovely Emma Thompson was married to Kenneth Branagh.  There’s nothing really wrong with him, except every time I think of him, I imagine him as Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which I had to watch for a theory class…thanks Branagh).  Ugh.  Greg Wise is much better.

I can’t have been the only one taken aback to hear that the apparently cheerful and pragmatic Emma Thompson suffered severe depression after the break-up of her first marriage, and to such a debilitating extent that, in her own words, she “should have sought professional help”.

But her choice of self-medication drew a huge nod of recognition, in this house at least. For Thompson was “saved” not by Prozac, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but by immersing herself in Sense and Sensibility, the Jane Austen novel she turned into an Oscar-winning screenplay. “I used to crawl from the bedroom to the computer and just sit and write, and then I was all right, because I was not present,” the actress and screenwriter said. “Sense and Sensibility really saved me from going under, I think, in a very nasty way.”

Obviously meeting the very handsome Greg Wise, starring opposite him in said film, and then marrying him might have provided a little balm to the soul too, but as anyone who loves books knows, fiction – and Austen especially – is a great remedy for the steeper humps of the human condition. In fact, so effective is Austen’s facility for helping people overcome adversity that she has spawned a sub-genre: books like The Jane Austen Book Club – in which characters improve their lives and overcome heartbreak through reading … um …Austen.

And it’s not just about escaping back to the 18th century, to a land of petticoats and Regency toffs in breeches. Austen, like Shakespeare, still resonates because she tells us modern truths: that decent people end up in impossible situations through no fault of their own. And that if they are good (Emma Woodhouse), honest (Lizzie Bennett), and true (Fanny Price) there is a good chance it will all come right in the end. (Interestingly Claire Tomalin, Austen’s biographer, suggests she too may have suffered deep depression, which may have helped her to write so humanely about the complexities of emotional life.)

Click here to read more.

Image from here.


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