Jane Austen had much to say in an indirect way about living the local and everyday life – the simple life. To us in a time of environmental damage it may also be worthwhile for us to consider how others in the past lived a sustainable life. That is not to romanticize the past or sentimentalize it but to learn from it and apply it to a modern setting.
Astoundingly in the affluent West we have rates of depression and mental illness that startle us. Why? What have we lost while we have seen our GDP increase? Why is it that in peaceful but poorer nations depression is not such an issue? A few years ago Martin Seligman mentioned a study that Nigeria and Germany are on the same happiness scale despite the huge disparity in wealth. Just this week Elizabeth Weil has an article in my city’s daily paper republished from the New York Times about another psychology professor, Sonja Lyubomirsky who has found we have a happiness set point. A friend of mine calls it the happiness gene.
Jane Austen wrote little while she was without a stable home. Although Jane wished for a legacy many times, none came. But what did come was a house. Finally her brother gave his mother and sisters a house. This house in Chawton enabled her to live the way she wished to live and this was where she was able to create her art. But also interesting is the way she lived and the values she espoused gleaned from her letters which are so easily accessible in Deidre Le Faye’s collection.
Jane Austen’s values were steeped in the local and the country rather than the exotic or the city. She satirised the sophisticates and showed that having good values of the philosophic life meant a better chance at happiness. Despite mischievously writing, “I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned & uninformed Female who ever dared to be an authoress” to the Prince Regent’s librarian, who has made some ridiculous suggestions about what she should write about next, she has some answers in the Austen Six on living the simple life.