Book review · Nonfiction · Reading · Uncategorized

A Review of Jane Austen’s Genius Guide

“The finest novelist”

“Moral philosopher”

“Sharp social commentator”

These are three of the ways Haley Stewart described one of my favorite writers of all time, Jane Austen. Her added appellation though is the topic of this book:

“Life Coach”

I went into reading her book with this in mind. Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be, Stewart invited a reading of the Regency author’s life and novels through the lens of faith and philosophy. She showed how Austen employed her stories to provide insight and advice on what it looks like to have a strong moral compass, avoid vice, and live the virtuous life.

Austen’s father had served as rector for various Anglican parishes. Stewart compared Austen’s masterpieces to “snow globes.” Her novels have a small setting, limited characters, and rich stories that delve deeply into common moral dilemmas and universal truths.

Austen would have studied the classics, including Aristotle and Dante’s Divine Comedy, alongside her brothers and the students her father taught. A Catholic podcaster, Stewart connected the seven cardinal sins and seven virtues to Austen’s heroes. She talked about how these philosophical works influenced Austen’s writing, with added insights from G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, American philosopher Dr. Cornel West, and German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper.

Stewart used personal stories and humor, along with these alliterative moments in her writing. Before she delved into the Austen’s novels, she first gave a brief historical journey through Jane’s life. I enjoyed her reflections on reading Austen’s novels from her first reading of Pride & Prejudice on an audio book in the backseat of the car to arguing with a man about Austen’s greatness at a bookstore. We could be BFFs.

Stewart’s writing approach took me back to graduate school. I still love finding new interpretations of old texts, so she held my interest from the first chapter. She showed where characters like Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Woodhouse, Marianne Dashwood, and Catherine Morland let their vices cloud their judgment. They then pivoted and experienced moments of “undeception.” Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, and Anne Elliot showed readers what virtuous living looked like, especially how to stay strong and endure times of suffering.

I did think some areas didn’t connect well as evidence of Jane Austen as life coach. Stewart discussed Dante’s works as a way to read Austen’s works. She also wrote about Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, as “Our Lady,” a source for virtuous living, as a way to read Austen’s works. That’s fine, except it came across like Mary made Jesus perform miracles, like she had a hand in them or something. Now, those areas may be edited or cut entirely by press time, but choosing this route caused a disconnect from the premise and made this more like a dissertation.

I appreciated the novel synopses at the end and information about the film adaptations. And I think this is a wonderful resource for those studying Austen for the first time or as a refresher. I just think Stewart needed to cut areas that didn’t answer the question: How is Jane Austen a life coach?

Thank you, Netgalley and Ave Maria Press, for providing this free advanced reader e-copy of this book. Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life will be available to buy March 25 from here and here. I wanted to include this short clip of Dr. Cornel West answering questions about his reflections of Jane Austen. I think she would have been excited to hear what he thought of Emma, “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Enjoy!


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