Fit and Fascinating Authors: Jane Austen
This is Idea Crib’s second post under its Fit and Fascinating Authors series. In this series, I feature celebrity authors with a commitment to health and fitness. I started off with one of my favorite authors, Japanese icon and marathoner Haruki Murakami. This post features literary genius Jane Austen.
Okay, a caveat: there doesn’t seem to be any documents overtly stating that Jane Austen loved exercising. To be sure, being a gym bunny wasn’t really the trend among ladies like her in the Georgian era. There is evidence that suggested that she liked walking though; it’s a trait she shared with her famous characters such as Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.
Jane Austen, celebrated author
Jane Austen (1775–1817) is a celebrated English writer well-known for the witty social commentary she incorporates in her novels about courtship and marriage in the Georgian era. Some of her famous novels include Pride and Prejudice and Emma.
Though she achieved a modest level of success in her lifetime, her works did not achieve widespread popularity until 1869. She and her works are a beloved part of pop culture and have spawned cult-like fan clubs as well as a thriving industry of film, TV, and book adaptations such as Clueless and Dinner with Mr. Darcy.
Walking as a Regency-era form of recreation
If office yoga, gym memberships, and HIIT were not a thing during the 1800s, then how did women keep physically active? Well, as far as I could tell, their physical pursuits were confined to the following activities:
- horseback riding,
- ballroom dancing, and
- leisurely walking.
Let’s talk a bit about leisurely walking. According to The Jane Austen Centre, walking was very much a part of life during Austen’s time – particularly during the Regency period. “A stroll in the park during the fashionable hour, while not as impressive as driving or riding, still provided a chance to see and be seen. There was also the all important shopping expedition to the exclusive shops of Bond Street, where the elite would be seen promenading from shop to shop after they drove or rode to the area.” Apparently, only the lower classes walked to work. “Gentlemen might walk to their clubs if they had rooms nearby. By and large they never walked as a means of travel. Walking was recreation – a chance to see and be seen.“
“The Pleasantest Part of the Day”
This awesome academic journal article “I Prefer Walking”: Jane Austen and “The Pleasantest Part of the Day”. (the Country and the City) by Sally Palmer also offers insights about just how much the author loved walking. Here are excerpts from the said article (boldface mine):
“Although Regency women of the gentry were largely confined to home and carriage, to Austen herself, as well as to her fictional heroines, the most enjoyable and significant moments of life were spent not indoors but “walking out.” In contrast to the immobility of female life inside four walls, the daily walk, whether sociable or solitary, is shown in Austen’s letters and novels to be a valuable, even treasured, habit.
For Austen and for her characters, walking is a habitual part of daily life. In letters written in 1805 and in 1806, Austen says, “we do nothing but walk about” and “we walk a good deal” (196). She characterizes herself as a “desperate” walker, and this disposition is shared by her heroines.”
If you characterize yourself as a “desperate walker,” then you must really enjoy the pursuit, right? Had she lived in the 21st century, I’ve no doubt in my mind she would’ve joined fun runs and the like!
Get fit, Jane Austen-style
Walking is one of the most natural activities of humans. This weight-bearing exercise is as instinctive to us as breathing. Some of its health benefits include the following:
- increased cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness,
- reduced risk of heart disease and stroke,
- improved management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes,
- stronger bones and improved balance,
- increased muscle strength and endurance, and
- reduced body fat (BetterHealth Channel, June 2015).
Austen probably wasn’t thinking about the technicalities of the endeavor, though she definitely felt the benefits at a mental, social, and emotional level. To quote the aforementioned Questia article (boldface mine), “Austen would contend that walking has a salutary, healing effect on health and vitality. It also promotes and advances social relationships, develops aesthetic sensibilities, and leads to proper understanding of correct behavior and thinking.“
A Jane Austen fitness lesson
The fitness lesson here seems to be to move when you can where you can how you can. Even Jane Austen with her bonnets and long, long dresses didn’t let the constraints of her world prevent her from pursuing the joy of walking.
What are your thoughts about Jane Austen and the Georgian and Regency eras? Who could I write about next in this series? 🙂
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