This morning, I was thinking—as one does—that I would not make a very good Austen heroine. Here’s the thing: I am, and nearly always have been, a follower of signs and rules. I take instructions at face value. I hate being caught out of line; I stress out over the most minor infractions; people who ignore the rules make me crazy, mostly because I’m following them, so why shouldn’t they? Because of all these things, and also possibly because—this paragraph informs me—I am old and crotchety, my tolerance for handsome scoundrels is, I think, unusually low. The “falls for cute guy who’s kind of a jerk” phase would never work. Wickham? Willoughby? Henry Crawford? Not for me, right off the bat. (OMG, you guys. Am I Fanny Price?)
Then I realized: any one of Jane’s heroines could say the same. It’s not like the douchey decoy love interests in Austen ride into town on their Harleys, blaring Steely Dan and smoking unfiltered cigarettes. They’re sweet-faced. They pretend to be nice. Moms like them. It’s only later that they’re exposed as cads, liars, and seducers of the very young, and most of them end up alone when their natures are revealed. That’s the pattern: handsome guy shows up and makes nice with local ladies, handsome guy is exposed as terrible, handsome guy loses all credit in the neighborhood and is pushed out by the more honorable suitor who’s waiting in the wings. (I suppose the exception here is Mr. Wickham, as he ends up married…but Lydia doesn’t really know what’s up, and let’s be honest: this is karmic retribution of a very particular and satisfying type.) Anyway, I have to assume that none of Jane’s characters mean to get sucked in by these guys.
The twin assumptions here, of course, are that a) nobody—no lady—likes a scoundrel once he’s revealed as such, and that b) handsomeness never trumps skeeviness, which I think Hugh Grant and reality TV generally have pretty much proven incorrect. And so I wonder: what would Jane have done with a scoundrel who was unashamed—someone openly rebellious, especially when it comes to the ladies? Could she (or any of her heroines) have been drawn to the wild side, or would obvious rule-breaking have disqualified a man from her personal “gentleman” category? Why don’t any of these men end up the way they might in real life: eventually okay, and not smacked down by the universe?
Readers, what do you think?
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our coverage of the final round of Men’s Debauchery competition in these Olympic games. It’s been a harrowing week of faked backstories and false seductions, and I can’t imagine that tonight will be any different. What do you think lies in store?”
“Well, any talk of debauchery—and its better-known cousin, cross-country douchebaggery—must begin with George Wickham. Wickham has been the most dominating force in both sports for nearly a decade. After his promising debut of demanding his inheritance and then declining to join the clergy, back when he was the youngest guy in the game, we’ve seen victory after victory for him.”
“It’s true. Is there anybody more decorated in his field? I mean, his classic performance with regards to Georgiana Darcy says it all. Look at the way he convinced her to run away with him in the previous round of competition—she was a nice girl from a good family, and he got her all the way to the seaside! And she was only fifteen! Just an amazing performance from a debaucher at the height of his fitness and skill.”
“Let’s not forget about Wickham’s closest competitor, though. For my money, John Willoughby demonstrates a superior technique and perhaps a siren song for the classic moves of the old guard. Let’s take a look at the tape of that amazing, amazing scene on the hillside near the Dashwood cottage—there. Look at the way he uses the rain and Marianne’s natural drama-queen tendencies to turn a perfectly fit young lady into a damsel in distress! I’ll never forget the reaction of the crowd that day, and I think Willoughby represents a new era for showmanship in the sport.”
“It’s true that Willoughby appears to have been training hard for this competition, and in some ways may already have surpassed his rival. Wickham, after all, never consummated his dalliance with Miss Darcy; Willoughby managed to conceive a secret child and abandon her to the fates, and you know the judges can’t resist that kind of solid performance.”
“Tough luck for him, though, in the aftermath. Who knew Colonel Brandon would find out about the child, provide for her in every possible way, and expose Willoughby in the process? I just don’t think there’s any way he’ll end up on the podium after a misstep like that.”
“Well, we’re only thirty-eight seconds from finding out. Will either gentleman—and we use that term loosely—make it to Scotland and then abandon his teenage bride, alone and confused? Stay tuned and we’ll see you after the break.”
England is a lovely country. Everyone’s so polite and so friendly. Which I guess is why they need sarcastic outlets like Time Out London‘s Lies to Tell Tourists column. My personal favorite:
When on the tube it’s customary to introduce yourself to the people sitting next to and opposite you. (@magiczebras)
I never need a sarcastic outlet, which is why I immediately started thinking of Lies to Tell Jane Austen Tourists.
When at a party it’s customary to introduce yourself to all those present, particularly superior nephews of your noble patroness.
Respectable, marriageable gentlemen will flock instantly to your side should you fall down a hill. Important: It must be raining at the time.
When conversing with a new acquaintance, you should comment on their father’s ill health and be surprised they were raised by a lady.
Lockets of hair possessed by significant others always represent true love.
The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his ha-ha. OK, the quickest way to a man’s aunt is through her ha-ha.
If you’re a guest in someone’s house, your first duty is to suspect your host of nefarious activities and scour the place to find the truth.
One’s first impressions of people are invariably right.
And, the best way to get a girl to break up with your son/nephew is to insult her.
My efforts just scratch the surface. Come on, readers, show us your stuff! I’m sure you can lie to Jane Austen tourists like anything. Bring it on!
Hunh. So the upcoming movie From Prada to Nada is being billed as a “modern twist on Sense and Sensibility.” To quote The Wall Street Journal, it “centers on two spoiled Beverly Hills rich girls (Camilla Belle and Alexa Vega) who are forced to move in with poor relatives in East L.A. following their father’s death. Do the girls learn to embrace their Hispanic heritage? Of course they do.” See the preview below.
I think The Wall Street Journal is a perfectly appropriate venue to talk about Sense and Sensibility. They’re both so much about money, of course. But let’s go over a few problems here, shall we?
A) Do we think Elinor and Marianne are spoiled before their father dies? (Answer: It never even occurred to me.)
B) Do we think they “learn to embrace” the values of the poor relations they now associate with? (Answer: Ha! As if! Leaving aside the quibble that the relations aren’t poor, their values differ mainly by being less refined than the Dashwoods’. And we know what Jane thinks about that. In fact, I learned from Sense and Sensibility that you can and should maintain your standards even if those around you have lower ones, while at the same time being nice to them, because hey, it pays off.)
But that rich people are spoiled and stupid, and poor people are maybe a bit rough around the edges but fundamentally more real, no, Sense and Sensibility does not go there. Even in Jane Austen’s more class-conscious books, like Emma and Pride and Prejudice, there are real rich people and spoiled rich people, real poor(er) people and silly poor(er) people. It’s hard to tell from the preview, but I hope From Prada to Nada keeps at least that much shading, and even more, that it possibly, just possibly, gets into differing expectations of love and romance. I hope they manage to get anywhere near as close as the new xkcd to showing us Marianne and Willoughby’s relationship. If so, it might be a worthwhile adaptation. You see, I’m keeping an open mind!
Lauren Miller, posting over at nameberry, a baby names site, sounds like someone we’d like to know: she’s a true Austen enthusiast, and we appreciate her thorough knowledge of and appreciation for the names in Austen’s books. And I appreciate her suggestion of naming your child after the hero or heroine of your favorite book—a friend of mine named her daughter Serenity, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that (though I would not name my child Enterprise.) Yes, your Elizabeths, Janes, Emmas, Annes, bring ‘em on!
However, I do think Ms. Miller is a trifle naive in some of her name suggestions. To wit:
Kitty: Ms. Miller realizes you probably don’t want to name your kid Fanny. But naming her anything that can be twisted into the name of another female body part is really not a good idea. Alas, I speak from experience here.
Lydia or Maria: There’s nothing wrong with either of these as names. But do you want to name your progeny in honor of Lydia Bennet or Maria Bertram? Why not call her Scandal and be done with it?
Benwick: “It’s ‘Ben-ick,’ not ‘Ben-wick.’ On second thought, just call me Ben. Ha ha, Icky Ben! Like I haven’t heard that one before.”
Bertram: What ho?
Bingley: Is it my own dirty mind, or is this potential phallic territory? Rhymes with Dingaling, doesn’t it?
Dashwood: Similarly . . . Though we may have to face the possibility that NO name is safe from that sort of thing. But this one really does sound like a porn name. Sorry.
Wickham or Willoughby: See above re Lydia and Maria, plus, I think I’d kill my parents if they named me Wickham. At least Willoughby could be Will.
Darcy: As a girl’s name there’s nothing wrong with it except that it’s so . . . 80s. Isn’t it?
Grey: I know people can get used to virtually anything being someone’s name, and can forget its original meaning. But Grey, especially for a girl? Why not name her Dreary or Grim and be done with it? Also, small point, but Miss Grey in Sense and Sensibility was not exactly a nice person.
Price: LOL, think of the emotional scarring! Poor girl, branded as a prostitute from birth. “The Price is right!” The jokes are really endless.
Tilney: More random than anything else, I guess. But, Tilney? Really?
For the record, Ms. Miller, I love your other suggestions. Isabella: a nickname of mine, actually; Emma: a name I’ve considered for my own (strictly potential) daughter; Georgiana: just plain awesome! And considering some of the actual names people have actually named their actual children, I know it could be worse. But, please, think of the ramifications before you suggest these things! And, we’d love to hang out sometime and talk Jane Austen with you. You can even call me Isabella.
With the return of Glee to the weekly TV schedule—finally—I think we’ve all been reminded of a new truth universally acknowledged: everything would be better, Austen novels included, if everybody had at least the option of bursting into a well-chosen pop song from time to time. You know, revealing their places in the collective consciousness, choreography optional (but encouraged). Lizzy belts out a girl-power ballad—ill practiced, of course—at the height of her emotional turmoil? Knightley takes the edge off with a few bars of air guitar and a phantom drum solo? I’m telling you: Jane Austen might roll in her grave, but Jane Lynch would make a fine Lady Catherine.
Am I right?
Here are a few Austen characters and their likely anthems:
Captain Wentworth: “I’m on a Boat” – The Lonely Island
Anne Elliot: “I Will Always Love You“* – Dolly Parton
*The original version with the sad monologue in the middle, because that speech is exactly the gracious and heartbroken speech Anne would make to Wentworth—complete with poignant pauses every few words—and nobody can convince me otherwise.
Mr. Bingley: “Mr. Brightside” – The Killers
Mr. Collins: “Hell No” – Sondre Lerche & Regina Spektor
Charlotte Lucas: “The Sound of Settling” – Death Cab for Cutie
Mary Bennet: “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” – Cat Stevens
Catherine Morland: “Miss Teen Wordpower” – The New Pornographers
Isabella Thorpe: “We Used to Be Friends” – The Dandy Warhols
Marianne Dashwood: “I Feel It All” – Feist
John Willoughby: “It’s Raining Men” – The Weather Girls
Readers, who are we missing?
It’s a quiet weekend night at Austenacious HQ (East). Miss Ball sits in silence, embroidering her Mr. Darcy Che Guevara chair seat covers and dreaming of men in top boots with well-stocked trout ponds and a passion for the working man.
F1rthygdness129: I’m so annoyed right now! I’m finally almost finished re-reading Sense & Sensibility, and the ending is ridiculous!
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: How so?
F1rthygdness129: They’re all totally pimping out Marianne to Colonel Brandon!
F1rthygdness129: “They each felt his sorrows and their own obligations, and Marianne, by general consent, was to be the reward of all.” The freakin’ REWARD of all. They all want Marianne to marry Brandon, and he deserves to have the girl he wants; therefore, of course she should marry him. WTF, mate?
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: Yeah, somehow my entire memory of the end stops with Elinor’s freak-out. Is that really how it goes down? Way to mentally fanfic a happier ending for Marianne, self.
F1rthygdness129: And it goes on: “With such a confederacy against her—with a knowledge so intimate of his goodness—with a conviction of his fond attachment to herself, which at last, though long after it was observable to everyone else, burst on her—what could she do?”
F1rthygdness129: WHAT COULD SHE DO? She could make up her own mind and heart and think for herself!
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: Somehow I think that if somebody had said that to Jane herself, there would have been words.
F1rthygdness129: (Totally unrelated, I just took a ginger cake out of the oven, and I’m dying for it to cool down so I can eat some. Mrs. F is going to be lucky if there’s any left for her when she comes over tomorrow night.)
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: This is like the world’s worst diet. “There’s cake…three thousand miles away. If you want it, WALK FOR IT.” Heh.
F1rthygdness129: Eventually, she really does fall in love with him, so it’s not like it’s TOTAL crap. “Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.” But still…this wasn’t how I remembered the ending.
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: Me, neither, but I…kind of like it? I mean, not the practically arranged marriage part, but the part where she learns the subtleties of love through a slow-burn relationship. Especially if Colonel Brandon doesn’t suddenly take off his unsexy glasses, shake out his hair, and become somebody he clearly isn’t.
F1rthygdness129: Heh. Did you ever watch Smallville? I was all about Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor. But mostly I watched because the TWoP reviews were HI-larious! But I digress. At least Austen reminds us that Willoughby is still a big douchebag.
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: …Apparently the great Internet spell-checker in the sky doesn’t think “douchebag” is a word.
F1rthygdness129: When he shows up and talks to Elinor (as Marianne is on her death-flu-bed), Elinor finds herself feeling sorry for Willoughby. And eventually everyone sort of softens toward him. But on the last page of the book, we’re told that Willoughby—despite knowing that he screwed it all up—still finds plenty of enjoyment in his activities, marriage, and life in general. So despite his sort-of redemption, Austen takes him down a peg. Yay for that!
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: And that’s really all we need: to rightfully hate the douchey guy.
F1rthygdness129: That, and cake.
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: And cake.
F1rthygdness129: Speaking of which…
LadyCatherinedeBlerg: …Yeah. Priorities. I’ll see you later.
Come one, come all, to the Jane Austen Fight Club, where the very best from Jane’s world and the very best from…well, everywhere else…duke it out for all to see! The prizes: pride, honor, and the adoration of Jane fans everywhere, or a “Mr. Darcy Fights Like a Girl” t-shirt and some quality Regency-era medical care!
Today’s contestants: John “Yes, I Really Am This Much of a Tool” Willoughby, dashing and dastardly bad boy from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and Edward “Sparklepuss” Cullen, Twilight teen heartthrob/kindly vampire/stalker. They’re handsome! They’re flattering! They like teenaged girls lacking in common sense! Whose sensitive yet lustful stare will prevail? Only time and raging hormones will tell!
In their corners:
John Willoughby is handsome and lively and beloved by young girls and income-scouting mothers alike. He gives horses as gifts; he cheats at cards, but only for his girl; he rescues young ladies from tumbles down hills, and doesn’t track mud all over the house when he’s done. Salient quotation: “It’s okay; I’ve never done this before, either…”
Edward Cullen is a sparkly vampire, the blood-sucking monster of the Lisa Frank universe. He’s prone to rescuing fair damsels (from werewolves, so suck it, Mr. “Let me save you from the rain and your weak joints“). He likes baseball, though he only ever wants to play when it’s a rain-out. He has never, as far as we know, had an affair with or a child by a fifteen-year-old (…he waits until they’re eighteen. AT LEAST!). Salient quotation: “You take a nap. I’ll just sit here and listen to the Police and, you know, keep an eye on you.”
Willoughby is…how do we put this? Oh: a skeevy, on-leading, non-responsibility-taking, child-abandoning bastard. Is that a problem?
Edward has the ability, with an unfortunate slip of the mouth, to turn the lady in question into an immortal (yet undeniably sexy, because really, she’d better be, after all this) creature destined to suck the blood of living organisms for all eternity. Apparently.
Edward, obviously. He’s a vampire. Does Willoughby carry Marianne Dashwood home with his super strength? Does he sparkle in the sun during long, romantic walks on the downs? Does he eventually raise up an army of like-minded bad guys and father a half-vampire baby named after his and Marianne’s dead mothers?
I didn’t think so.
He may be a) ridiculous and b) a stalker, but c) your argument is invalid.
Knockout for Mr. Cullen! Ding ding ding ding ding!
Before any Austen heroine brings home the right man to Mother or Father, she always brings home the wrong one! The dashing libertine, the suavely dangerous man who seduces all the women in the household to some degree. Did Austen have a thing about libertines? Because sometimes, you know, they’re a lot more interesting than her good-boy clergymen heroes. Just saying. These men don’t make good rest-of-life fodder, but oh, I think she felt their charm. And of course, what better villain than one who can ruin your life?
So here I present a completely unbiased rundown of the Austen bad boys. Ladies, gentlemen, are they believable? Would you fall for them/let your friends date them? On a scale of 1 to 10, now. 1 = “no, what a dork! I never liked him.” to 10 = “sign me up here and now!”
Mr. Willoughby: A classic, truly, Mr. Willoughby recites poetry at the drop of a hat, rides to any damsel’s rescue, and carelessly seduces innocent young girls. He’s funny, irreverent, and, the kicker, we learn he really does love Marianne after all. Without this touch of heart, I don’t think modern audiences would give him a second thought, but remember, in the book Colonel Brandon is pretty boring. It took all Alan Rickman’s Alan-Rickmanness to make him into a mysterious romantic figure, and satisfy us that he’s a fitting mate for Marianne. With this touch of heart, I’m always left with the vague dissatisfying feeling that Marianne will never be happy without Willoughby.
Mr. Wickham: Chatty, flattering, sly Mr. Wickham. He gets at Lizzie by taking her into his secret and making her feel smart and special. We can all fall for that from time to time. After his unmasking, he’s so annoying I always find it hard to believe I liked him at the beginning of the book! (Lydia, of course, would run off with anyone.)
Henry Crawford: I always do fall rather for Henry Crawford, and regret him his fate. He’s the opposite of Wickham—he starts out bad, obviously and proudly bad, and so gradually becomes good. In fact I think Jane Austen rather liked him too, and had so convincingly reformed him that she didn’t know what to do but have him run off with Maria Bertram AKA Mrs. Rushworth. Do I believe he’d do that? I’m never sure, that’s the thing.
Mr. Elliot: He’s a bad boy, all right, but thoughtful Anne is never in any real danger. Her own Captain Wentworth is dashing enough to satisfy all that. Even more than with the others, with Mr. Elliot Jane Austen really seems to be pointing out how someone can say all the right things and look proper, and not mean a word of it. Mr. Elliot is suave and flatters Anne’s intelligence and looks, but he never caught my eye. Like Jane, I like guys who sometimes act without thinking. (Just ask Mr. Fitzpatrick!) Mr. Elliot is too measured—and more truly a villain than any of the others.
Non-starters: I haven’t included John Thorpe, Mr. Elton, or Frank Churchill in the running. Sure, they deceive people, but either not us, or not much, or they aren’t really bad when you get right down to it. Feel free to differ, of course!
I’ve just realized what separates the charming Austen men from the boring ones! The charming ones, good or bad, sometimes say or do an unconsidered thing—they are natural. Even the bumbling gentle heroes achieve charm when they do that.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick knows a lot of stuff, useful and useless alike, and Miss Ball and Miss Osborne are fond of asking for her scholarly opinion on all sorts of things. Now you can too, using the contact form on the About page. Send us your questions! Ask Mrs. Fitzpatrick will answer anything related to the world of the books, the books themselves, P.G. Wodehouse, math, or Star Trek. Jane Austen (deceased) will comment on your personal problems in What Would Jane Do? We’d love to hear from you!
Miss Osborne: Miss Ball’s recent Jane Austen Fight Club post got me thinking about duels in the Jane Austen world. Duels were going on during that time period (the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel was in the early 1800s), so why didn’t Mr. Darcy call out Wickham for a duel? Clearly, Darcy had the right. Were most duels just between equals? Or are there other reasons why dueling would not be an appropriate response to Wickham’s treachery? (It’s not like Darcy had to worry about looking like a dork—á la Mark Darcy versus Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’s Diary—when all he has to do is walk a few paces and pull a trigger.)
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Ah, dueling. I was once hailed by a passing stranger as “the swordsman’s girlfriend,” so I’m well-fitted to answer this. And the swordsman himself dumped five books on the history of dueling in my lap the instant I mentioned this query. The romance of the sword lives to this day, even when the sword is a gun (if you follow).
By the time Jane Austen was writing, dueling in Europe was an upper-class game of machismo on its way out—it was a game only among equals, though, yes, and taken seriously as a show of honor among them, though ridiculed in the press. In America, actually, dueling was much more serious (we had the Old West to prepare for, remember), and people died a lot more, like poor Hamilton. As Alexis de Tocqueville put it in 1831, “In Europe one hardly ever fights a duel except in order to be able to say that one has done so. . . In America one only fights to kill. . .”
In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon fights just such a European duel with Willoughby over his seducing Miss Williams (Col. Brandon’s not-daughter). “‘I could meet him in no other way. . . We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.’ Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.” Some people have seen this duel as the crux of the plot, and it is part of the 18th century side of the novel, along with the seduction itself, Marianne’s dramatic illness, and Willoughby’s drunken declaration of love.
In Pride and Prejudice, remember, there is a question of somebody fighting Wickham, but it isn’t Mr. Darcy—it’s the ironical Mr. Bennet, framed nicely by his adoring wife: “And now here’s Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?” Nine pages later, “Sure he will not leave London before he has found them. Who is to fight Wickham, and make him marry her, if he comes away?”
Mrs. Bennet’s always so silly that I don’t think we’re supposed to take either proposition seriously. Pride and Prejudice has much less of 18th century flavor than Sense and Sensibility. Yet I really can’t tell whether Mr. Bennet himself would have wanted to duel Wickham or not, though I’m inclined to think not. He was too sensible, and the whole idea was to hush the thing up, anyway.
And this, I think is our answer to why Mr. Darcy doesn’t challenge Wickham over the honor of Georgiana. He did have the right, and he was of the class (and, I imagine, the temperament) to be dueling, but, he tells Elizabeth, on discovering the proposed elopement “You may imagine what I felt and how I acted. Regard for my sister’s credit and feelings prevented any public exposure. . .” Unless this is a coded indication that they did fight (as the fanfic authors no doubt go off on), his love for his sister overcame his ideas of his station in that way, just as (guess what!) his love for Elizabeth later overcomes his ideas of his station in another way.
Plus, imagine the scandal if it all did come out—too shocking! Mr. Darcy never revealed anything to anyone if he could help it.
For more on dueling, see The Code of Honor, by John Lyde Wilson, 19th century governor of South Carolina and avid duelist.