Monday 14 March 2022

Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be by Haley Stewart - Review

Book cover: Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life by Haley Stewart
So when you have a to be read list as long as your arm you shouldn’t be looking on Netgalley, but I was, and this title caught my eye. Let’s take a look at the (very long) blurb, and then I’ll let you know what I thought of Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be by Haley Stewart 

Book Description

Popular Catholic podcaster Haley Stewart insists that there's no better life coach than nineteenth-century British novelist Jane Austen.

In this uniquely Catholic take, Stewart reveals Austen's thoughtful, deeply personal exploration of human relationships--including with God--through her six novels. Stewart's insights take you on a journey that is both literary and spiritual, revealing how Austen's characters and themes can lead to you to discover and become the person God has called you to be.

Stewart draws fascinating connections between Austen's novels and real life and introduces Austen as a capable life coach by how she guides her readers to understand virtue and vice through friendship, love, community, and God's grace. Austen's characters reveal how virtuous habits transform us and help us become who we were meant to be. Each chapter focuses on characters and virtues from a single novel:

·        Do you find yourself swayed by superficial charm and yearn to see others more clearly? Let Elizabeth Bennet teach you how to recognize substance in others and address the pride in your own heart through the cultivation of humility (Pride and Prejudice).

·        Are you stuck in selfishness that wounds others (and yourself)? Let Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley help you develop the compassion to see the world more clearly with the eyes of Christ (Emma).

·        Do you get swept away into poor choices due to a lack of self-control? Let the Dashwood sisters show you the virtue of temperance and guide you to embrace your God-given personality and temperament (Sense and Sensibility.

·        Do you have treasured ideals but struggle to live them out? Follow along with Edmund Bertram's journey toward constancy through the example of Fanny Price (Mansfield Park).

·        Have the disappointments of life grown resentment or bitterness in your heart? Be inspired by Anne Elliot's vulnerable fortitude in the storms of life (Persuasion).

·        Do you struggle to know what to do or who to believe in tricky situations? Join Catherine Morland in learning prudence to know and act on the truth (Northanger Abbey).

Whether you are already an Austen fan or are discovering her works for the first time, Stewart's infectious enthusiasm and captivating spiritual insights will have you digging in to experience firsthand the characters and stories that have captured imaginations in book and film for more than two centuries.

Discussion questions and recommended film adaptations make this book suitable for individual or group use or as a high school classroom or homeschool resource. A free, downloadable leader's guide is available at

Book cover: Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life by Haley Stewart
My Review of 
Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be by Haley Stewart 

This is a book looking at Jane Austen’s works as a guide to life, from a Catholic perspective. Although I would call myself a Christian, and was baptised Catholic, I didn’t have a religious upbringing, so am not coming at this book from a Catholic perspective.  Austen was not Catholic, but was obviously born at a time when religion was much more a part of everyday life. When you think of some of the clergymen she wrote (Mr Elton in Emma and Pride & Prejudice’s Mr Collins, for example) you could be forgiven for thinking that she didn’t hold religion in high regard but I believe that she held hypocritical clergymen in low regard. Austen is known to have written prayers and I think had a belief in God. Moreover, I think she had a belief that it was important to have a moral code and improve yourself. When you think of her novels, most of them have a strong correlation between good morals and good outcomes.

I love Austen’s novels for the fact that we have realistic good and bad in the characters – at the time most heroines were tiresomely perfect, and Austen’s heroines had flaws, while her less admirable characters also have redeeming characteristics. Some characters, like Marianne in S&S, learn to behave differently, and this helps on her road to happiness. Others, like Lydia Bennet in P&P or Maria Bertram in MP, behave outside the moral code, don’t change their ways are punished by their outcomes.

Austen’s villains make excuses, view the world through a fog of selfishness, and are incapable of loving other people well. They are in a hell of their own making – and without contrition and transformation, they will stay there. 

Ms Stewart looks at the 6 main novels of Austen and looks at the lessons we can learn from them in detail, relating them to everyday modern life events.

One of the things that I think make Austen’s novels so timeless is that they are about people, rather than events, which are universal, and the author looks at many of their faults, and what we could learn about ourselves from reading Austen’s books.

Do you have those trustworthy Mr. Knightleys in your life? Do you have people who will call you out because they love you? 

As highlighted in the book description, focus is put on each of the novels and how Austen’s novels teach us how to cultivate the virtues of humility, compassion, temperance, constancy, fortitude and prudence.

One aspect I liked is that the author mentions the novels having moments of ‘undeception’, where usually the heroine, but sometimes the hero realises where they have been wrong. This hadn’t occurred to me, but it was interesting to think of the moments in each novel with this in mind. 

Dante’s The Divine Comedy was mentioned many times, almost as though it was as important as the Bible. I am not sure how this work is regarded in Catholic culture but the author seems to think that we should be aware of it and agree with it. I looked it up after reading and it seems to be a work from 1320 which was hugely successful in its time and centuries after. It has had a lot of influence on popular conceptions of hell. Here is an article about it if you’re interested in finding out more. 

At the end of the book there are book discussion questions, and summaries of the six main novels for those who were unfamiliar with the works, which I thought were a useful addition.

I enjoyed reading this book. It gave me food for thought. There are some religious themes and comments such as working towards becoming the person God wants you to be, but I think that should be expected in a book that is billed clearly as being Catholic. I’d rate this as a 4 star read.

4 star read

* I received an ebook of this title from Netgalley for my honest review.

Book cover: Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be by Haley Stewart
Buy Links 

Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be by Haley Stewart is due for release on 25 March and available to preorder in Paperback or Kindle now.

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  1. Fascinating review, and have just pre-ordered this book. I'm not a Catholic but I'm convinced this author is onto something very deep and truthful here. Austen herself wrote (as I remember, to her niece): 'Perhaps we all ought to be evangelicals' - by which she meant evangelical, not in the modern, political sense, but in the 19th-century sense, of course. I have a feeling she would have loved this book.

    1. Thanks Alice. I think religion is so much less a part of many people's everyday lives these days so it was interesting to see a more religious take on it than I would have.

  2. Sadly, I'm not generally drawn to books that are good for me so pairing a thinking book with a favorite author and her novels would definitely grab me. Good to know about this one, Ceri!

    1. I love self-improvement books, so this was right up my street :)

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ceri. I must check this out.

  4. sounds like a fascinating book.



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