The other morning I woke up and immediately went on an Elizabeth Gilbert binge. I read some of her quotes, googled pictures, but mostly watched youtube interview snippets. One of my favorite ones was a brief discussion with Oprah where Gilbert shares her perspective on soul mates:
"A true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake...
A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in..."
In reflecting on the soul mates in my life, I see how one followed the exact pattern that Gilbert experienced. I am ever grateful for what he opened me up to, however painful and confusing the process was. Others, though, remain in my life and we continue in healthy, rich relationships. This dynamic among soul mates more closely resembles the type that Austen generally wrote of. Her characters were often ‘smacked awake’ by the same person who was compatible as a partner through life’s journey.
A few of my favorite moments when Austen’s heroines are helped in seeing themselves are:
Pride and Prejudice
Elizabeth has just read Mr. Darcy’s letter and realizes the blindness she has had in her understanding of things.
"I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! … How humiliating is this discovery!…Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. …Till this moment I never knew myself.”
Pride and Prejudice Ch. 36
Catherine’s fanciful mind concerning General Tilney and his wife has just been put to correction by Mr. Tilney:
“Catherine was completely awakened. Henry’s address, short as it had been, had more thoroughly opened her eyes to the extravagance of her late fancies than all their several disappointments had done. Most grievously was she humbled. Most bitterly did she cry.”
Northanger Abbey Ch. 25
Emma has just been reprimanded by Mr. Knightley on her behaviour towards Miss Bates:
“She was vexed beyond what could have been expressed -- almost beyond what she could conceal. Never had she felt so agitated, mortified, grieved, at any circumstance in her life. She was most forcibly struck. The truth of his representation there was no denying. She felt it at her heart.”
Emma Ch. 43
In William Deresiewicz’s book "A Jane Austen Education: how six novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and the Things That Really Matter" (which, by the way, is a wonderful read), he shares his experience in reading Emma. First, he starts out bored by the book, annoyed by the pointless prattle. Soon he finds resonance with Emma, for she is just as bored and annoyed as he is. Though the heroine agreed with him, he becomes aggravated by her arrogance, naiveté, noisiness, and meddling. And then it hits him, he understood what Austen had done,
“Emma’s cruelty, which I was so quick to criticize, was nothing, I saw, but the mirror image of my own….By creating a heroine who felt exactly as I did, and who behaved precisely as I would have in her situation, [Austen] was showing me by own ugly face.” Ch. 1
Ouch. But isn’t that one thing soul mates are designed to make us say? Yes, I suppose so and Austen managed to create soul mates not only for her characters, but for us too. Her characters teach us about our own ego and distasteful parts of our personalities. . . I hate it when I catch myself being a Miss Bates or a Miss Crawford! Luckily, any of the pain is greatly compensated by Jane’s writing and stories. Thank you, Jane Austen, for giving me a world of soul mates to learn and grow from.