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“How can we, as women, realize our own internal power both personally and professionally, no matter the constraints in the external world?” asks author Andrea Kayne on her website

Kayne’s focus as an educator and writer has been to nurture, empower and inform future feminist leaders and teach constructive conflict resolution. Kicking Ass in a Corset: Jane Austen’s 6 Principles for Living and Leading from the Inside Out (Iowa University Press) is a slender volume concisely encapsulating her insights and educational theories, trademarked as Internally Referenced Leadership — which encourages looking inward, relying on independent thinking based on a strong, ethical core of behavior and recognizing and trusting one’s worth in work and life. It’s an imaginative title and a discerning book applicable to all readers from students to retirees.

Corsets are an apt metaphor for external constraints. It’s ingrained in many a woman’s nature to “make nice,” conform and act with compliant deference. A sense of inadequacy with not belonging and/or caring what others think often discourages women from speaking up even when they disagree with a speaker or situation. Internally Referenced Leadership™ is not about advocating for stridency or creating discord. One can achieve and lead without sacrificing personal life and individuality even when not fully in control in the workplace.

One might wonder what Regency England native Jane Austen — who died in 1817, unmarried, provincial and relatively unrecognized for her secretly-written six novels — might have said that would remain relevant. Through years of reading and intensive study, Kayne carefully analyzed the heroines in each of Austen’s novels. The protagonists were strong-willed women and freethinkers who often defied conventions, including rejecting unsuitable marriages arranged for them. It is within their core strengths and unyielding principles that women today will find valuable insights.

Late 18th and early 19th-century English women lacked the most basic legal and economic rights we now take for granted. They could not vote, hold public office, serve on juries, sue or testify in court, attend universities or be guaranteed custody of their children in case of the failure of a marriage. Single women or widows could own property but only until marriage when it would become their husband’s. In such a position, the best a woman could aspire to was mastering the etiquette, manners and social graces of genteel society that would allow her to marry a suitable husband; ideally, one who would benefit her extended family. As Tina Turner sang, “What’s love got to do with it?” and in the literary and revolutionary romance novels penned by Austen, her heroines stood firm and would only marry for love.

There is no requirement that you be an Austen scholar or even have read her books to reap the benefit of Kicking Ass in a Corset thanks to a synopsis of each novel in the chapters exemplifying the six principles discussed. Her theories are further explained with personal anecdotes and citations from Stephen Covey, Deepak Chopra and other widely-recognized leadership authorities. An extensive bibliography is included. 

A chapter is devoted to each of Austen’s novels with its main character and principle represented: 

  • Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet, “know your inherent value”
  • Sense and Sensibility:  Elinor Dashwood, “inner calm and resiliency”
  • Persuasion: Anne Elliot, “choose and claim your hard work and merit”
  • Mansfield Park: Fanny Price, “faithfully following your internal moral compass”
  • Northanger Abbey: Catherine Morland, “retain your inner childlike dreaming”
  • Emma: Emma Woodhouse, “learn from a place of openness and humility”

In addition to her many credentials and academic accomplishments, Kayne is a robust Janeite, a somewhat obsessed devotee of the author whose novels she re-reads annually. A lifelong member of the nonprofit Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) which currently boasts 80 groups in the USA and Canada, she serves as the organization’s Assistant Regional Coordinator of the Greater Chicago Region and she is a popular speaker at conferences. Kicking Ass in a Corset is at the core of her empowerment course and leadership coaching programs.

Kicking Ass in a Corset is classified in the genre of Business Leadership/Self-Help, a designation arbitrarily limiting its scope. It would make an excellent choice for book club discussion groups. This is not a category I routinely read, but Kayne wrote my favorite novel of 2011, Oxford Messed Up. If she suddenly began writing copy for cereal boxes I’d be among the first in line to buy the product.

Kayne is enriching lives through literature and encouraging women leaders to take power over their own lives and careers. During the course of a stress-filled day, women can pause and ask, “What would Jane Austen’s heroines do or say?” and find the answer within themselves.

Genre: Business, Nonfiction, Self Help
Linda Hitchcock

Linda Hitchcock is a native Virginian who relocated to a small farm in rural Kentucky with her beloved husband, John, 14 years ago. She’s a lifelong, voracious reader and a library advocate who volunteers with her local Friends of the Library organization as well as the Friends of Kentucky Library board. She’s a member of the National Book Critic’s Circle, Glasgow Musicale and DAR. Linda began her writing career as a technical and business writer for a major West Coast-based bank and later worked in the real estate marketing and advertising sphere. She writes weekly book reviews for her local county library and Glasgow Daily Times and has contributed to Bowling Green Living Magazine,,, the Barren County Progress newspaper and SOKY Happenings among other publications. She also serves as a volunteer publicist for several community organizations. In addition to reading and writing, Linda enjoys cooking, baking, flower and vegetable gardening, and in non-pandemic times, attending as many cultural events and author talks as time permits.

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