Two hundred years ago today, a little novel called Pride and Prejudice rolled off the presses for the very first time.
Here we are, still talking about it. We’re still thinking about it. We’re still getting new things from it.
In Pride and Prejudice, we have humor and romance. We have family life, and a much-beloved set of nerves. We have walks in the countryside, and a marriage based on genuine love and mutual respect. We have muddy hems and fine eyes. We have two nice people falling in love. We have accomplished ladies who improve their minds by extensive reading. We have Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins, Missed Connection extraordinaire. We have Charlotte Lucas, who does what she has to do. We have Lydia. We have Kitty, who turns out okay, we think. We have Bridget Jones. We have Colin Firth as two good men named Darcy. We have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and all the rest. We have you—we have this community of funny, thoughtful people.
When I look back on my younger years—O ye olde era of the Apple IIE!—I think how nice it is that we have the internet now. Responsible grown-up things like online bill pay aside, where would we be without netspeaking cats and inane music videos? What kind of cool-stuff threshold did we even have before Tumblr and BoingBoing and whole weird osmosis of the collective digital consciousness? Seriously, people. I think we had to play outside. And do work! It’s amazing we all turned out as well as we did.
Friends, the future is now, as seen in these cool Janely things we’ve picked up around the Web. Enjoy!
The Fug Girls, exemplars of all that is great and good on the internet, take on the Darcys (Mr. and Mark), as well as one impressively plaid dress.
Mansfield Park makes it into the Guardian‘s listing of 10 of the Best Balls in Literature. So to speak.
Now that our Southern California bureau is up and functional, we’ll expect our invitation to this aaaany day now. No, really. We’ll wait.
You tell ‘em, Vic: on the same old, same old of lady-fiction bashing. If ONLY romances were as diverse and innovative as the stories men tell themselves! Sigh.
And finally, for the conscientious early-bird holiday shoppers among us (surely nobody around here, but we hear this is a thing), Jane Austen stuff for dudes. For the skateboarding Jane aficionado who has everything!
So, how can I put this? Let’s see. Okay, so. Sometimes, it seems to me that Austen adaptations are…shall we say, remiss in failing to offer a satisfying ending? Failing to seal the deal, if you know what I mean? Sure, Lizzy and Darcy end up in the Carriage of Loooove at the end of the 1995 adaptation, but what’s with the little peck as they’re driving off (frozen for effect, even—what, BBC, do you think we didn’t see what you did there, you dirty cheaters)? And, really, nothing for Jane and Bingley? They’re going to get a complex, people. Even Emma Thompson’s Elinor promptly explodes with emotion when Edward turns out not to be married—but does she sweep him off his feet and carry him away, complete with soaring music and distracting crane-shot camera work? Spoiler alert: she does not. And oh, sure, maybe it’s not in the book, exactly, but then neither is a thirty-six-year-old Elinor, a Jane Bennet that looks vaguely like a Greek statue, or that awesome cake on a pedestal (with ribbons!) at the end of Sense and Sensibility. I stand by what I say: more kissing, please! Jane won’t mind.
Thankfully, there are some recent Austen adaptations that seek to remedy the situation, and I think this sort of thing requires some, uh, research. Or, more specifically, a poll. Here are seven ending scenes from relatively recent Austen adaptations, all of them containing some sort of kissy-kissy true-love moment. Inquiring minds want to know: Austenacious readers, which is your favorite, and why? If there’s one that isn’t listed here, what is it (and why couldn’t we find it)?
Pride and Prejudice 1995
Mansfield Park 1999
Pride and Prejudice 2005
Northanger Abbey 2007
Mansfield Park 2007
And cue two young women in front of a TV. (Miss Osborne would have joined them had her health permitted it.) Due to technical difficulties (curse you, Comcast!), Miss Ball and Mrs. Fitzpatrick arrive on the scene ten minutes in. Please supply your own witty dialog for that period.
[Jane Fairfax leaves Donwell secretly.]
Miss Ball: I think Emma’s been running around Salzberg in nothing but some old drapes . . . from 1988. That dress is appalling.
[Mr. Knightley says that Emma might be mistress of Donwell, ha ha ha.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Hint, hint.
[Emma rants about Miss Bates.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: A bit of foreshadowing, is it?
Miss Ball: For the awkwardness that is to come. Sure.
[Mr. Knightley makes a rude comment about Frank Churchill, but it falls flat.]
Miss Ball: I love how Switzerland is the ends of the earth, instead of . . . the middle of Europe. I feel like, instead, he should backpack through Nepal with like six sherpas (because it’s not like he’s going to carry his own stuff) and listen to a lot of Dave Matthews Band.
Miss Ball: I know beer and cold meats do wonders for my constitution. Especially . . . together?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse just isn’t right. He doesn’t strike the sort of kindly silliness of Mr. Woodhouse.
Miss Osborne, there in spirit: The real Mr. Woodhouse wouldn’t have pterodactyl arms.
[A green blob—continued technical difficulties, we hope—appears on Mrs. Fitzpatrick's TV just as the party arrives at Boxhill.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: It’s THE BLOB!! From original Star Trek! It’s going to EAT THEM!!
[Frank Churchill inadvertently and singlehandedly chases the entire party away (therefore saving them from a green and blobby death, v. difficult to explain to the pre-NASA set).]
Miss Ball: Frank Churchill, Captain of Awkward Conversation.
[Mr. Knightley yells at Emma.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He just seems like a blustering schoolboy to me. No dignity. No style!
Miss Ball: I think he sounds like he’s yelling at a pet. Like she’s been scratching on the couch again.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: FAIL, Jonny Lee. FAIL.
[Emma converts to thoughtfulness and grace.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Look, she’s stepping into the light! I can’t stand it!
[Emma goes to the Bates's.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I swear Mrs. Bates is a zombie.
Miss Ball: I believe you could write a book about that and make some serious money.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That is SO five minutes ago, Miss Ball!
[Mr. Knightley thinks about kissing Emma's hand, but doesn't. Miss Ball thinks he was shaking it.]
Miss Ball: The 2005 P&P did that so much better.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They didn’t do that very well. Especially since you didn’t even get it!
Both: Clearly, we have moved past the time when a man taking a woman’s hand = HE’S GOING TO KISS HER HAND!!! [spontaneous flaily jazz-hands duet]
[Emma wants to reupholster Mr. Knightley's chair (or whatever the kids are calling it these days).]
Miss Ball: …with angels and unicorns, perhaps?
[Mrs. Churchill dies; everybody pretends to be sad while actually forming an emotional conga line.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That was actually pretty well done—that pretty much sums it up.
[Baby Frank Churchill rides away in his carriage in the past. Again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Flashback attack!
[Frank and Jane Fairfax are reunited.]
Miss Ball: I’m sort of disappointed in Jane now. He’s such a douchebag. You can do better, Jane Fairfax! (Governess-hood notwithstanding.)
Frank Churchill: Now for the first time in our lives we can do anything we want!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: That isn’t a Regency thought in the least—or at least not a Jane Austen thought.
Miss Ball: That’s a relief. Ugh.
[Emma hides behind a shrub, poorly, when Mr. Knightley arrives in the garden.]
Miss Ball: Don’t worry, Emma. . . we’ve all been there.
[Emma and Mr. Knightley walk and chat.]
Miss Ball: Are her long sleeves attached to anything, or are they just. . . sleeves? Because that’s sort of brilliant.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I actually don’t know. I do know Mrs. Bennet liked them! Kind of a punk look, you think?
Miss Ball: Just add safety pins. I like it.
[Mr. Knightley tries to propose.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He’s squinting. Why is he squinting?
Miss Ball: No room in those tight pants for his sunglasses.
[Emma bursts into Donwell crying, says she can't marry Mr. Knightley because of her father, and then bursts out again.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: What is this, a French farce? She’s not Lucille Ball, for goodness’ sake!
Miss Ball: A little abrupt, sure, but I think it’s okay. We’re running out of time.
[Mr. Knightley volunteers to move to Hartfield.]
Miss Ball: Mr. Knightley, you’ll never make it with the ladies if you keep telling them your heart is at your house.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: No, no, he means his heart is with Emma! He’s pointing at her!
Miss Ball: Ah, his heart—her—is at his house. Currently. But not forever. Riiiiight.
[Frank Churchill apologizes to Emma.]
Miss Ball: I do not forgive you, Frank Churchill.
[Mrs. Bates speaks.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: GASP! The zombie speaks!
Miss Bates: Mother has recovered her voice!
[Emma says goodbye to her father pre-honeymoon.]
Miss Ball: That is one yellow dress. Lucky for her she’s a summer.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Wait—they’re going on a honeymoon? So they must be married? These quick cuts are making me dizzy!
Miss Ball: I had the same question. Harriet and Robert Martin get married, and Emma and Mr. Knightley take a honeymoon? That’s some set-up.
[Emma rests her head on Mr. Knightley's shoulder.]
Miss Ball: That looks really uncomfortable. Much better after the carriage era.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They must be going to the seaside.
Emma: Oh! It’s the seaside!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I’m freakin’ prescient!
The Curmudgeonly Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Well, it had its moments. When they just let the actors speak and feel what Jane Austen wrote, it was fine—though really none of the main parts were convincing to me. But the additions were SO cheesy (Slow-motion flashbacks? Children torn asunder in the rain?) and the transitions were SO film-school (Look, there’s flowers now, it must be spring!), that I couldn’t really believe I was in the story. It’s a hard novel to adapt, but . . . they should have tried harder. Or less hard? It was too forced, and too sloppy for this purist.
The Happy-Go-Lucky Miss Ball: I agree with Mrs. F’s assessment of the hilariously melodramatic editing, but in general, I liked the whole product pretty well—it was certainly modern in feel, but not in a way that generally offended my not-very-strict sensibilities. I especially liked Romola Garai: she makes some fabulous faces, and her ability to both play and acknowledge awkward moments served her well in this particular instance. So, they certainly played fast and loose with the text, but I didn’t mind too much. Also, I sort of like Jonny Lee Miller in hero mode. (Less so in scoldish pet-owner mode.)
Miss Osborne: I ended up watching the rest of Emma this morning, and it almost made up for the earlier installments. With the exception of the sun rising over Emma and the unnecessary flashback of Frank Churchill leaving as a child, this installment was more thoughtful. I finally found myself rooting for Emma—for her emotional growth and the love between her and Mr. Knightley. Knightley, of course, is wonderful (though I think Jonny Lee Miller looks like a muppet when he’s not smiling). Unlike Mrs. F, I didn’t find him blustery in the Box Hill scene. He has every right to scold Emma, and I felt her pain. Hasn’t everyone been scolded at one point or another for doing something they knew was stupid? It hurts when someone you love is rightfully giving you the smack down. Overall, this mini-series was uneven, but the last hour was enjoyable.
We open on three girls, a couch, and Laura Linney looking oddly solemn.
[Frank Churchill proposes a ball]
Miss Osborne: Oh, I do love a ball! (TM Lydia Bennet)
Miss Osborne: Does she not have a ballroom or a dining room in her house?
[Frank sweeps Emma up for an impromptu dance]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: They would not have been doing that.
Miss Ball: “I would much better be married than right”: words to live by?
[Frank acts like he's going to propose and then doesn't]
Miss Osborne: Why can’t people tell the truth? This is annoying.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Like you tell the truth all the time?
Miss Osborne: Well, he’s acting like he loves her.
Miss Osborne: And he has a man-ring.
[Harriet bawls her eyes out]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Harriet’s such a modern teenage girl. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the internet or TV to distract her with a massive gallery of males.
[Mrs. Elton arrives]
Miss Osborne: Ohhhhh, it’s THAT girl. She plays the bitch in everything!
Miss Ball: Like?
Miss Osborne: Like What a Girl Wants, which I only saw because of Colin Firth. And, um, Amanda Bynes.
Miss Ball: No, I saw that, too! With the leather pants! Amanda Bynes is my hero(ine), and I don’t care who knows it.
[Mr. Knightley brought Emma a library book]
Miss Osborne: It’s Twilight.
[Misses Osborne and Ball and Mrs.Fitzpatrick pause to discuss crooked ears, including but not limited to Stephen Colbert and Victor Garber. Mrs. Fitzpatrick has perfect, delicate ears. She's the only one.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think I’ll start calling Mr. Fitzpatrick “Mr. F”, like Mrs. Elton does.
Miss Ball: Like he’s a substitute teacher with a difficult name?
[Misses Osborne and Ball and Mrs.Fitzpatrick pause to discuss the technical term for Emma's face-framing curls, which Mrs. Fitzpatrick calls "scare curls" but thinks she made that up. Google tells us this.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Now, this is weird, because in the book, Mrs. Elton suggests the whole Box Hill expedition, and Emma doesn’t seem particularly sad about being stuck in Highbury.
Miss Ball: It’s a modern take on the situation, certainly.
[Mrs. Elton has quite a horror of finery.]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Too matchy-matchy?
Miss Ball: Bridesmaid quality, definitely.
Miss Osborne: The voice-over is worse than Superman.
Miss Ball: I do miss the choreographed group dancing.
[Frank disses Mrs. Elton's hairstyle]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: He is a little…dickish.
Miss Ball: Catty.
Miss Osborne: A douchebag.
[Mr. Knightley asks Harriet to dance]
Miss Ball: Mr. Knightley! You’re the dreamiest man the world right now! Such a mensch!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Isn’t he?
Miss Osborne: I like the idea of wearing gloves. That way you don’t get sweaty hands.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: Plus, it’s more sexy.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think they’re doing the Congress of Vienna waltz.
Miss Osborne: I can do the polka!
Miss Ball: Me, too!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I wonder how authentic the dancing in this really is?
Miss Ball: We’re totally ruining the mood of this very romantic dance.
[Harriet gushes about Frank's rescue of her from the scary scary gypsies]
Miss Osborne: Harriet’s so pale, she could be a vampire.
Miss Ball: Don’t say that out loud.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: There’s already going to be Emma and werewolves.
Miss Osborne: Um, did she just faint?
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: I think Jane had a thing against fainting—it never really works out in her books.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: If this were a murder mystery, Harriet would be shot dead now.
[The camera cuts, inexplicably, behind Mr. Knightley's coat as he reminisces about Emma's hotness]
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: SIGH.
[Mr. Knightley walks away from Emma and the too-hot fire]
Mrs. F: Well, I definitely liked this chapter better—now that she’s not so incredibly bouncy.
Miss Ball: And now that the story’s picking up, minus Exposition City.
Miss Osborne: Augh, when he yells at her, he’s so right, and it’s so horrible, because we’ve all been yelled at by somebody we care at like that. So terrible.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: And they’re…following the book. Such a concept!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: It’s weird how little Mr. Woodhouse is in this version. Usually, he’s in the background of everything.
Miss Osborne: Maybe Michael Gambon’s pterodactyl arms wouldn’t fit in the picture.
First of all…huh? This woman wants to dance with Obama/Darcy instead of a husband? Is this a War on Husbands? Yeah, man. HUSBANDS SUCK.
Second, what’s with people who use the men of Austen as a shorthand for exotic romantic heroes?
As I see it, there are two options here: either people who do this have not read Jane Austen, or they have read Jane Austen and then had their memories wiped by aliens. Take your pick.
It’s not that the Austen men aren’t romantic; they are. I think we can all (mostly) find common ground in the notion that our heroines’ love interests smolder on at least an occasional, private basis. But Jane is nothing if not consistent: nice guys finish first, and guys with wicked notions of sweeping ladies off their feet finish in disgrace (and, in my imagination, duels). Yes, Darcy scours the countryside in the dark of night, looking for Lydia and Wickham, but he does so because he cares for Lizzy, not because he’s into midnight scavenger hunts—and I wouldn’t call him “dashing” so much as “painfully awkward, yet rich.” Captain Wentworth is a sailor, but he’s been pining for nearly a decade and is ultimately just looking for some monogamy. Both Knightley and Henry Tilney like giving advice to the flighty. Colonel Brandon wears—wait for it—a flannel waistcoat! He’s practically Mr. Rogers! So: romantic, yes, but maybe not quite Romantic in the technical sense.
Furthermore, Jane warns us of the dangers of dashing young men to a degree that borders on silly: in each novel, any man who seems like fun from the get-go, is a hit with the ladies (on purpose), or otherwise seems too good to be true, gets pegged as a scoundrel—by Jane and by the reader, if not by the characters in the novel—at a hundred paces. In Jane’s world, sweeping the ladies off their feet (without a very impressive show of loyalty and/or self-sacrifice, at least) isn’t an indicator of hero status; it’s a giant red flag and a cue to go looking for the faithful guy on the sidelines.
Perhaps this is part of Jane’s point: the difference between romance—true romance—and being swept away by a good horseman with an eye for pretty hat ribbons. It doesn’t lend itself well to use in unthinking literary allusions, but then, Jane probably wouldn’t mind that so much.
So where does this leave us? With a grudging understanding that people don’t understand the difference between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Rhett Butler? With a campaign for public education on the actual, and not assumed, characters in Austen’s novels (please send poster ideas to missb at austenacious dot com)? With a call for a national discussion on the nature of romance? Or maybe just a polite request and a library card. I don’t know.
But if anybody starts equating the President to everybody’s favorite cousin/suitor, I’m writing my representative.
Let’s begin with a story.
Once upon a time, a young man (we’ll call him Shmitzwilliam Farcy) and a young woman (Belizabeth Shmennet) hated one another. Only, over the course of time, they actually came to love each other—go figure—and to overcome the personal barriers standing between them and a life of deep mutual respect and affection. Wonderful! Too bad poor Shmitzwilliam was obligated to marry his sickly cousin and too much of a weenie to stand up to his crazy rich aunt! He ditched Belizabeth, and they both died unloved and unfulfilled.
I love a good love story. Don’t you?
I’ve been reading lately about Jane’s happy endings. Verdict: there are a lot of them. As far as her star couples (I’m tempted to say “ships”; thanks for that, Miss Osborne) are concerned, Jane deals exclusively in true and lasting love between the people that deserve it most; any hints of final sadness are relegated to side-dish relationships (Mr. Collins/Charlotte Lucas, for example; possibly also Lydia/Wickham) and not much mentioned in the first place. How does this consistent promise of happiness play in our postmodern culture, where we often doubt the depth of stories where everything works out well? Can we trust the truth of all this happily ever after?
I’m currently re-reading Persuasion (because it’s wonderful, and because there’s nothing like running an Austen website to remind you of all the Austen you don’t remember), and let me be clear: Persuasion requires a happy ending. The expectation of Anne and Captain Wentworth’s love resuming after all these years gives the novel shape; without it, there can be no passage of time or change of cirumstance, only chapter after chapter after chapter of resigned pining, forever and ever, amen. In that case, it’s not so much a story as a meditation on grief and on unmet needs—we have to believe that Anne would continue to soldier on, but this is a woman still mourning (at heart, if not publicly) after eight years. Something has to change; the sadness and the tedium of all that pining, without the relief of a happy ending, would kill the reader if not the characters. Certainly people do write novels meditating on lost love, on loves that are never found, but even they have more going on than Persuasion minus the final, happy reunion.
It’s unclear whether any of Jane’s other novels would do any better with a sad or ambiguous ending—if Emma Woodhouse were required to work further to earn Mr. Knightley’s love, for example, or if Bingley and Jane never quite got their timing straight. Perhaps, after all, none of Jane’s novels can have ambiguous endings. Perhaps there’s no such thing as an ambiguous ending with Jane—considering the emotional and sometimes practical stakes that her heroines face, maybe anything less than a happy ending must be considered a tragedy. (In Jane’s time, anyway, ambiguity was not a popular choice for endings—emotionally mixed finales wouldn’t come into vogue until the advent of the Modernists and their fragmented, topsy-turvy ways. Until then, the choices are pretty much Austen happy or Hardy crushing.)
In any case, happy endings aren’t totally the point for Jane—her best work is not in the end (delightful though it may be), but in the means. She’s an observer and a cataloguer of love and its power to change people, and happy endings provide some security for that study—a safe place from which to examine the psychology of love. (She could, of course, have written about the psychology of sorrow instead—of loss and permanent loneliness. After all, Jane herself never married. But would this have shown more depth than a consistent observation of success in love? Doubtful; also, far less fun to read.) If Jane’s heroines don’t end up with the “right” guy, the entire tone of her work–of all her works, collectively—changes; if Anne, for example, finally recovers from her original attachment to Wentworth and learns to love herself for the capable and independent woman she is, then it’s not a study in love and strength of character anymore. It’s a coming-of-age story. If Mr. Knightley moves on, unable to handle Emma’s consistent brattery, that‘s a cautionary tale, not a meditation on love and personal change. They might be fine stories, and they might appeal to our modern sense that everything shouldn’t wrap up so neatly, but they lack the basic frame for observing the human heart, as Jane does.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…I’m going to go read the end of Pride and Prejudice, just to make myself feel better.
If we in the twenty-first century have learned nothing else from Jane’s works, I like to think we’ve picked up a few things about the silent connection between a man and a woman—namely, that the wink wink nudge nudge telepathy route never, ever works. Romance by osmosis sounds good, sure, but the pitfalls (and the casualties) are many and varied: What? You think he likes you? You think he wants to marry you? Too bad you accidentally scratched your nose at the wrong moment, and now he’s scamming on your rich-but-dumb-as-a-brick cousin. Off to the poorhouse with you and your male-heir-less family!
If only the denizens of Austenland could learn a few communication skills—say, a few well-known (if nonsensical and/or blatantly sexist) phrases to start the conversation and get everybody on the same page. Not enough to betray real emotion or actual devotion, of course—what kind of sap do you take me for?—but enough to signal clearly the moment when a young man’s fancy turns to love (or at least an appreciation of those surprisingly low-cut gowns). What these people need is a healthy collection of pick-up lines.
“You must be tired—you’ve been doing laps around my brain all night in an attempt to show off your figure (but, you know, you can’t do that and appear secretive at the same time).”
“Did you clean your gown with silver polish? For I can see myself in your muslin.”
“Pardon me, miss. Do you enjoy balls?”
“Do you believe in love at first sight, or shall I rescue you from another thunderstorm?”
“Would you care to come back to my place and see all the furnishings so graciously provided by Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”
“I’m sorry, but I seem to have misplaced the calling card I send before arriving at friends’ homes for unannounced social visits. May I borrow yours?”
“I may be a retired sea captain, but you should see my telescope!”
“I haven’t seduced any very young women, refused to marry them, and left them disgraced and penniless.”
And the all-time most successful (or is this just us?) pick-up line in all of Austenland:
“Hello, I’m Mr. Darcy.”
What do you think, readers? Hit us with your best (and by “best” I mean “worst”) shots!
Well, Charlotte, you’ve won.
The Brits—who, of course, invented romance, what with all that sweeping around the moors, plus Charles/Diana and the classy trysts we see in Hello! magazine—have voted Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester the most romantic man in literature, bumping our Mr. Darcy down to number-three status. In an impressive display of gracious victory, Andrew McCarthy of the Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth called Darcy (and everybody else in Jane’s world, which is a nice touch) “irritating.” We love you, too, Bronteites!
They’re not wrong, of course. As a romantic hero—and especially as a Romantic hero—Rochester’s brooding and breathy ways wipe the floor with Darcy, who is only awkward and devoted and does not lie about keeping a crazy wife locked in the attic. Rochester, after all, has the choice of wealthy and accomplished ladies, and turns his back on all of them to marry the plain and earnest governess—and acts as if she’s everything he’s ever wanted, singlehandedly turning her from dreary and dutiful orphan to love-story heroine. Darcy comes around eventually, but the grand gesture and love for the sake of love (flying in the face of social convention) isn’t what he’s about—and I’d propose that Jane (Austen, not Eyre; this is getting confusing) wouldn’t have him any other way, not being one for the Brontes’ brand of gushiness in the first place. In any case, does Lizzy hear Darcy’s supernatural voice echoing through the Lake Country, calling her back to her true love when she’s homeless and sleeping under a bush? No. No, she does not. So case closed, really.
Incidentally, Jane Austen’s contemporary Lord Byron comes up a lot in these conversations, which I suppose is all well and good if you want a “mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know” Sixth Baron poking about in your love life. Personally, I’m on the fence about this.
What I’m not sure about is whether they should be asking us about romance at all—if this list is any indication, we sure know how to pick ‘em. Clearly, we like the bad boys, and not without—let’s just say it—a bit of a masochistic bent. Rhett Butler? Heathcliff? I’m almost surprised Darcy’s ranked so highly–the good guys, the ones you’d eventually take home to meet your parents, are most definitely towards the bottom of the list (this, of course, being the crux of the issue—if they’d do okay at brunch with Mom and Dad, to paraphrase Harry Burns, perhaps “humpin’ and pumpin’ is not [their] strong suit”). What do we think about this, readers? Does romance generally equal a certain sense of choosing to be dominated? Is our love of exotic literary men our safe way of indulging the desire for a romantic (but not particularly kind or respectful) hero in our lives? Do we really think Heathcliff is that hot?
In any case, Bronte fans, congratulations—truly. But if we catch you outside our windows, moaning our names in the night, we’re taking the trophy back. You’ve been warned.