Four Things Jane Austen Actually Teaches Us About Love


Yesterday, we stumbled upon this rather horrible opinion column at Fox News (was that redundant?) in which the author explains how women are hormonally destined to like Jane Austen, and imparts four important lessons supposedly gleaned from the writer’s oeuvre, required reading “if you’re a woman who’s looking for Mr. Right and getting nowhere.” Those are: “play hard to get,” “wait for sex,” “make your guy feel important,” and “put down your sword” (because “despite what you’ve heard, men don’t love b*tches”). Wait, we think we might have been reading different books. After the jump, we clarify what Jane Austen actually teaches both men and women about love in the modern age.

1. Don’t get stuck on your first impression — whether positive or negative.

You can’t trust your first impressions. Elizabeth Bennet thought the patently terrible Wickham charming when she first met him, and as we all know, neither she nor the famous Mr. Darcy was too fond of the other at first blush. Same goes for Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon. As William Deresiewicz, author of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter explained, “For Austen, love came from the mind as well as the heart. She didn’t believe you could fall in love with someone until you knew them, and then what you fell in love with was their character more than anything else — whether they were a good person and also an interesting one. So I guess that means, date someone for a while before you commit, and don’t get so carried away by your feelings that you forget to give a good hard look at who they are.”

2. Don’t settle.

Austen’s ladies are constantly winding up in less than pleasant situations after settling for a husband because of his wealth: Mansfield Park‘s Maria Bertram marries Mr. Rushworth because of his fortune, and because she just got snubbed by Henry Crawford — she winds up living in sin, then divorced, then stuck shacking up with her Aunt Norris “in another country.” Likewise, in Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas marries that dummy Mr. Collins because she doesn’t think she’ll get another offer (much to the disapproval of our heroine Elizabeth), and winds up organizing her life around seeing him as little as possible. Sigh.

3. Be honest, and tell your crush how you feel.

There’s no need to pull an Isabella Thorpe, but you can’t be too shy either. As Rebecca M. Smith, author of Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas explains, “Jane Bennet almost loses Mr. Bingley by being so reserved. He has to know that her feelings for him are more than lukewarm. Similarly, you must be sure to show what Mr. Darcy called ‘symptoms of peculiar regard.’ Don’t embarrass yourself or act out of character, but ensure that he or she can see that you really care.” So, don’t play hard to get, then? That’s what we thought.

4. Think for yourself.

If the exploits of Austen’s heroines will teach you anything, it’s to go with your gut (once you’re past that tricky first impression, of course). Persuasion‘s Anne Elliot breaks off her engagement with Frederic Wentworth on the advice of Lady Russel, to the effect of years of heartache. Emma‘s Harriet Smith is totally into Robert Martin until Emma intervenes. Harriet had it right the first time, though — and both ladies end up pretty happy that she figured that out.