Jane Austen’s novels have been the focus of many a book report. For some, there’s only the vague memory of sifting through many pages and struggling through wordy texts. But there are actually many secrets and mysteries hidden within Austen’s writings. One of her favorite topics to discuss quite openly, in fact, was health and medicine.
Although her writings were published in the 1800s, they’re still topically debated today. Many current authors have a fascination with Austen’s outlook on what health really is and how to live a healthy life. Here are some of the views she displayed about healthy living in her novels.
Health is a broader concept
Jane Austen faced an interesting paradox at the time of her writings. The concept of ‘hale,’ meaning complete health and being whole, originated a few decades before, but at the same time, there was a distinct societal obsession with what a person weighed. However, again and again, Austen mentions health, happiness, and beauty all together and describes characters who were notoriously thin as sickly.
Many of Austen’s discussions of health in her novels focus on the interplay between a character, their environment, and how they feel. The healthiest characters were those that spent time in nature and understanding their environment. Modern science and medicine are only now catching up and realizing that there are actually many factors that contribute to the development of diseases or a healthy state of living, beyond just a person’s biology.
Be indifferent toward food
One of the more interesting techniques used in Jane Austen’s novels is comparing the relationship a character has with food to a romantic one. A prime example is the obsession with food that Doctor Grant has in the novel Mansfield Park, where he would binge eat and eventually die from this.
The other extreme is Mr. Woodhouse from the novel Emma. He is portrayed as so concerned about rich foods that it begins to affect him and his guests’ emotions. Jane Austen demonstrates what she believes to be a healthy relationship with food through many of the other characters who are actually indifferent to it. So what does this mean in today’s world? Simply put, you should pay attention to food as just a necessity and not overindulge or over-obsess about every calorie.
It’s easy to exercise
Jane Austen doesn’t directly discuss exercising as part of a healthy lifestyle, but the tone of some of the scenes in her novels suggest that she did not see a need for vigorous exercise. Unlike the intense and sweaty jogs or muscle aching sessions we do at the gym today, Austen’s characters take simple and pleasant walks and rest when they need to. The difference is that they walk for many miles each day.
What Austen’s characters were taking part in is what’s known as intuitive exercise, which is basically the exercises we need to do to go about our day. Nowadays, most people don’t have the time to walk as much, but there is something to be learned from this example. Scientific studies are now showing that all that is required to receive significant health benefits is 30 minutes of brisk walking each day. An understanding that there is such a thing as intuitive exercise might be the next step in getting more people fitter and healthier.