Wednesday, November 11

An Austen Man is Hard to Find

I'm pretty sure Jane Austen was a time-traveler.

How else could her stories be obviously 18th century and yet still so accurately reflective of our modern-day dramas?

Consider Mr. Elton from Emma. Haven't we all known that I'm-God's-Gift-To-Women guy who just can't imagine why you wouldn't be honored – no, indeed, flattered – to go out with him? were just being nice? What? You're not interested? Oh well, no big deal, he'll just keep hunting until he finds a female desperate enough to accept his – Oh look! He's already changed his relationship status on Facebook.
And surely we've all known a Lydia Bennet – she is the 18th century definition of a basic white girl. I can guarantee if Pride & Prejudice (to ampersand or not to ampersand?) were set during modern times, Lydia would have an on fleek Instagram feed covered in the latest Starbucks fraps and just crawling with adorable officers for every last #mcm. And heaven forbid she would EVER miss Selfie Sunday.

I often find myself relating to Knightley when he learns of Frank Churchill's happy situation after playing with everybody's emotions and being dishonest to all: “He has used every body ill – and they are all delighted to forgive him. He is a fortunate man indeed!”

Sigh. Life seems really unfair sometimes, doesn't it, Knightley?

The list goes on and on.

I don't know if this is just me (I certainly HOPE it's not just me), but every time I read an Austen novel or watch one of the film adaptations, I find myself comparing all of the characters' conflicts and squabbles and relationships to ones that I know in real life, and vice versa. The closeness of the comparisons is sometimes almost scary. Normally I do it just for entertainment and I'm able to keep it fun and harmless. However, in one aspect I have discovered that comparing my life to a Jane Austen novel can be very, very dangerous.

Because what do you do when Darcy turns out to be Willoughby?

One of the things that makes Jane Austen's novels so enjoyable is her ability to create most excellent male protagonists – the heroes (or villains, in some cases).

Austen men are ruggedly handsome, chivalrous, kind, well-dressed, eloquent in speech and writing, and most importantly – single and in possession of a good fortune. (Or at the very least, some combination of at least two of those qualities.)

Unfortunately, my bestie Jane apparently had her share of encounters with boys who are just downright not nice. From the players to the snobs to the even worse snobs, she has all these guys pegged.
Fitzwilliam Darcy is possibly the most famous of all of Austen's male heroes. I'm honestly a little confused as to why he's so popular, because obviously Frederick Wentworth is far superior a man. But I digress; either way, Darcy is considered to be sort of the ideal brooding stoic. So I'm not sure if all the girls who go on and on about how wonderful he is are just blissfully ignorant of that or what, but let's just say that I doubt Darcy would deal well with “Babe, we need to talk.”

But at least Darcy realized his mistakes and fessed up to them. He managed to set his pride aside and admit that he was wrong and that he had used Elizabeth ill. Even though Darcy's first priority initially appears to be himself, it soon becomes clear that his duty is to honor first of all. He may have made some mistakes, but he made them while trying to do the right thing, not while trying to further advance himself.
Let's switch books for a second and go to Sense and Sensibility and John Willoughby. Willougby was once described to me as simply “a cad.”

I couldn't possibly come up with a better description.

Willoughby swoops in on Marianne, who is the epitome of naive romanticism, and woos her with sweet words and promises of a future together. But then, out of nowhere and with no explanation, he disappears, abandoning Marianne and breaking her heart. Eventually we find out that Willoughby's family was unhappy with his attachment to Marianne and forced him to break it off so that he could find someone with a larger dowry. True to form, Willoughby fails to acknowledge his wrong to Marianne, choosing instead to avoid her, leaving her confused and questioning if he still has feelings for her, if he ever had feelings for her, and what she could have done to change his feelings so drastically. His situation finally becomes clear when Marianne unluckily happens to see him being romantically associated with a silly and foolish – but rich – girl at a ball. Apparently Willoughby's family is less concerned with the actual character and depth to a person and more concerned with outward appearance of good status (when really they haven't seen the true form). A lot of people feel bad for Willoughby because they think he felt like he was stuck and had no choice. Personally I feel bad for Miss Grey, his betrothed, because she thinks she's getting a prize, but sooner or later the truth about Willoughby will come out, and she's going to feel like a fool.

One positive thing about Willoughby is that it cannot possibly be denied he truly did care for Marianne at one point. However, he really had no business pursuing her when he knew that it couldn't work out, so that really only shows his immaturity and a lack of self control. Willoughby's actions show his true character, and it becomes clear that his dashing demeanor and grand speeches of romantic adoration and old-fashioned chivalry were just a facade to cover up his inner cadness.

Marianne should take heart though, because as Mr. Knightley so wisely said,

Willoughby clearly has no sense.

As bad as it is just to have had to deal with Willoughby alone, it's a whole lot worse when you think you're dealing with Darcy – someone who might appear arrogant and condescending but is really noble and honorable and can be trusted to do the right thing – and you end up dealing with Willoughby – a selfish, pathetic cad with no backbone, easily turned by shallow distractions when things get hard.

Talking about being honorable means nothing when you then turn around and compromise all those standards you claim to hold yourself to just so you can have some easy fun. Someone who will so quickly depart from things that are good and honorable doesn't deserve to have anything better.

So I've given up on Mr. Darcy, and heaven knows I'm not interested in Willoughby. Maybe there's still a Knightley or a Wentworth out there for me. Who knows? A good man - an Austen man - is hard to find.

One thing I know is true though, as long as I keep my holding myself to higher standards of character, there's someone out there for me who does the same for himself – truly and consistently, not halfheartedly just so he can fool most people.

Even if your Darcy turns out to be a Willoughby (or even an Elton, heaven forbid), hold fast and know that good things come to those who wait. Very rarely did the Austen heroines end up with their perfect man without much time and heartache.

And no matter what happens, we can all be glad that we don't end up with Mr. Collins.