Town & Country (UK)
I DO DECLARE, WE SHOULD TAKE THE AIR
Revisiting the novels of Jane Austen, Becki Murray hails the author’s belief in the benefits of alfresco activities
Becki Murray draws inspiration from the novels of Jane Austen and heads into the great outdoors
In Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon, written in 1817 as the author’s health was declining, one of the characters offers the suggestion that time outdoors in nature is the secret to longevity: ‘No person… could be really in a state of secure and permanent health without spending at least six weeks by the sea every year’.
Throughout her novels, Austen consistently extols the invigorating qualities of fresh air, and gives the same attitude to her heroines: think of Anne Elliot’s love of seaside strolls in Persuasion, Fanny Price rejoicing at the ‘sublimity of nature’ in Mansfield Park and the energetic Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, who is successfully proposed to by Mr Darcy when they are both out walking together.
But the outside world offers far more than romance for Austen’s protagonists – it is beneficial for their health and complexion too. Consider the description of Elizabeth Bennet’s face ‘glowing with the warmth of exercise’, while the presence of Emma’s Jane Fairfax in the fictional village of Highbury is explained because she has an unshakeable cold and there is ‘no doubt that three or four months [in the country]… will entirely cure her’.
Clearly, Austen’s beliefs in the recuperative properties of being outdoors were widely held. In the Victorian era, when tuberculosis raged through the overcrowded cities, sanatoriums were built by the seaside or in the country, so that patients could slowly regain their strength in more salubrious surroundings.
Now, as we look towards recovery from a new pandemic, the practice of convalescence is seeing a modern resurgence. It may also be due to the fact that the
coronavirus lockdowns isolated us not only from each other but also from the outside world. Never has time in nature seemed so precious, especially for city dwellers who flock to green spaces or even leave the metropolis altogether for greener pastures. I was lucky enough to find refuge at my parents’ rural home, escaping my small flat at a time when access to fresh air and exercise was limited to a single hour a day.
‘Science now supports all of Austen’s prescriptions,’ says Bryan Kozlowski in his book The Jane Austen Diet. He highlights her prescient understanding of ‘the importance of morning light on hormone regulation (“A walk before breakfast does me good,” says Jane Fairfax in Emma), the realities of sick-building syndrome (“bad air” indoors affects Fanny’s health in Mansfield Park), and the rejuvenating magic of forest bathing (a wooded grove brings “comfort” to Anne’s mind in Persuasion)’. Recent studies also point to the positive impact of being outside in the open air: research by the University of Exeter’s medical school using data from almost 20,000 people found that spending at least two hours a week outdoors was associated with improved health and wellbeing.
If being in the countryside is linked with a reduction in stress and boosted immunity, city living can unfortunately bring about the opposite. Instead of a radiant complexion, environmental aggressors may dull the face and increase the frequency of dark circles and fine lines. ‘Research reveals that pollution can have a negative impact on skin,’ explains the facial-aesthetics expert Dr Yusra Al-mukhtar. ‘Non-gaseous pollutants known as nano-particles are small enough to get into pores, where they become trapped and cause ongoing damage, such as acne-like breakouts. Pollution also causes free-radical damage, which is linked to premature ageing.’
Fortunately, you don’t need a six-week holiday to lend your skin that outdoors glow. ‘Look for SPF products that double as make-up and wear them every day, all year round,’ advises the cosmetic dermatologist Dr Mervyn Patterson. Try Estée Lauder’s Futurist Hydra Rescue Moisturizing Makeup SPF45 or Dr Sam’s Flawless Gossamer Tint SPF50, both of which contain the necessary shields to protect against UV rays. You can also fake Elizabeth Bennet’s lit-from-within radiance, created by air that is oxygen-rich and low in pollutants, by booking a rejuvenating facial treatment, such as Dr Michael Prager’s Hydrogen Infusion, which promotes hydration deep within the dermis.
Nor do you need much make-up to achieve the windblown rosy cheeks and fresh complexion that were so prominent a feature at the (virtual) spring/summer 2021 shows. Try pinching your cheeks gently to identify your natural flush, before selecting a blush colour that is one shade warmer, using the skin finishes at the Chanel, Erdem and Simone Rocha shows as your inspiration. ‘Alongside blusher, my secret is pressing a little bit of Advanced Night Repair serum into the skin over the top of a glow-boosting base,’ says Violette, the global beauty director of Estée Lauder. ‘It provides a natural highlight, without the metallic finish of some powders.’
And finally, next time you consider working through your lunch break, take a leaf out of Austen’s book. She understood that even the most cursory ramble in the park can work wonders for wellbeing. As Sir Thomas Bertram opines in Mansfield Park, ‘I advise you to go out: the air will do you good.’
NEVER HAS TIME IN NATURE SEEMED SO PRECIOUS, ESPECIALLY FOR CITY DWELLERS WHO FLOCK TO GREEN SPACES