Lost in Austen




I’ve never really felt like a romantic person. As a teenager I had no idea about any of that stuff, perhaps because my friends and I were a very special brand of feral – spending all day running around on the Northumbrian moors, stalking sheep or throwing rocks pinched from Hadrian’s Wall in to cowpat to see who could make the biggest splash (yes, I’m afraid you read correctly, I said teenager, I clung white-knuckled to my childhood pastimes in defiance against my physical and hormonal upheaval). So when young ‘love’ did blossom, I suppose I dipped my toe into the sickly-sweet-Hollywood-teen-movie pool of romance to see what all the fuss was about. And I did so wholeheartedly, I was well and truly swept away with it all to the point I assumed that this would be it – marriage, babies, happily ever after…

It didn’t work out.

Aside from us being far too young and emotionally green, I think the relationship spontaneously combusted because I needed it to. The romantic and doting girlfriend didn’t feel like a good fit for me, but hey, at least I gave it a go. Since then I have tried several variations on this theme for size, each time becoming incrementally more cynical (a point my mother believes to be very sad, but I readily disagree), and increasingly more true to myself. It’s not that I don’t believe in love, I know it exists in scientific terms – the result of pheromones, neurotransmitters, and all that – I just don’t believe that romance really applies to my life. And that’s fine by me.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t read about it. My word do I like a good romance novel! Within very strict parameters, of course: if it wasn’t written by Queen Austen, chances are I’ll have an allergic reaction to it (if anyone, though, wishes to accept the challenge of finding a romance that won’t make me lose my breakfast, I’d love to expand my horizons. Come at me). Having only recently discovered the magnificent wit of Jane Austen’s writing after a lifetime of enjoying film and television adaptations of her works, I’m still steadily working my way through her oeuvre; so far, I think Emma just clinches the number one spot for me and I must have about five glorious copies of it. I’ve actually already written an essay on class subterfuge via conspicuous consumption in Emma to the tune of 8,000 words, and aside from needing a bit of light relief, there is some subtle nuance to Elizabeth Bennet’s and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s relationship that I believe makes Pride and Prejudice a more poignant fit with the general thread of this post.

I shan’t bore nor patronise you with a synopsis of the narrative, it’s one of those that if you haven’t either read it or seen a film version (I’m thinking specifically of Colin Firth in a pond, but the ITV’s modern twist with Jemima Rooper from which I have purloined this blog’s title is also excellent), then you’ve probably absorbed the story through osmosis – and if not, then I despair! What I will do is try to tease out an issue that may or may not be the result of my own misguided interpretation of the text.

Darcy was not of a disposition of in which happiness overflows in mirth; and Elizabeth, agitated and confused, rather knew that she was happy, than felt herself to be so…

As I have already said, I’ve spent many hours immersed in Miss Bennet’s world via my television screen; have read people’s gushing, sycophantic words about hers and Darcy’s love; and watched some very brilliant documentaries upon the subject, so when I finally began reading the novel which is universally accepted as the archetypal love story I of course expected to be (pleasantly) overwhelmed by the intensity of Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s romance.

But I wasn’t; expectations did not quite live up to reality. Aside from finding the character of Mr Darcy strangely underdeveloped – the result, no doubt, of his being belligerently reserved – in such a way that I found almost uncomfortable, I could never quite believe Elizabeth’s professions of love and found them to be as stunted as Darcy’s character. I never believed her to be truly happy whilst I was still granted privileged access into her psyche through the omniscient narration, and her predictions of future happiness were marred by her current angst. For me, Miss Bennet had to do more than convince her sister, Jane, and her father of her feelings for Darcy, she had to convince herself in equal measure. Is she not just talking herself into this? Is she just trying this on for size? I constantly drew parallels between Elizabeth and my teenage self, she more intelligent and scintillating than I but perhaps just as naïve, and possibly about to enter into a lifetime’s commitment that I had managed to escape.

And yet still I found myself inwardly cheering for the lovers at the novel’s culmination, not because it felt right but more because that’s the way it was written – it was meant to be this way, it always had been this way, and always will be this way. It was expected. Perhaps a little too simplistic in its final stages (let’s face it, that proposal was a little naff, was it not?), and despite my misgivings about the authenticity of Lizzy’s happiness, I still adored this novel. What isn’t right for me, might just be right For Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy.

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7 thoughts on “Lost in Austen

  1. I came upon you mid-blog and the word ‘shan’t’ popped out at me. Hello fellow Brit!
    Have you read The Bridges of Madison County? That got me straight in the heart, and I’m happily married, to a Yank. Not sure if you would get such a rush; I grew up in the US (my father worked here) until I was 13 so have a bit of trans-Atlantic in me. Love to know what you think.

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    • Oh no, busted, ‘shan’t’ is such an outrageous giveaway! I’m glad it reeled you in, hello there! No I’ve not read it, thank you so much for the recommendation I’ve been too squeamish to try a romantic novel – especially a modern one – ever since I had to study ‘My Lover’s Lover’ a few years ago, it was ghastly. I have committed your suggestion (in very official fountain pen) to my ‘To Read’ list, I look forward to it and thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your letter. I’ll keep an eye on your blog.
        The thing that gives me away is my English ‘a’, and words like motorway instead of freeway, or ‘actually’ – but most of the time the Americans can understand me!

        Liked by 1 person

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