This week, Melville House released The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love by scholar Sinéad Murphy. It’s a dating advice book culled from the Austen oeuvre, with chapters entitled things like “Dress Up,” “Find a Man, Not a Guy,” and “Be Quite Independent.”
This witty, brief new guide is part of an “Austen advice” mini empire, coming on the heels of Elizabeth Kantor’s rather conservative The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After and William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education and many other books of similar intent.
Certainly, there is infinite wisdom to be culled from Austen (she remains my favorite author). But if we’re continually going back to only one Regency-era authoress for all of today’s dating advice, we’re neglecting the rest of the canon! There’s so much solid, applicable romance advice to be found in so much literature.
So without further ado, I present a sampling of other dating advice gleaned from classic books. The following morsels of insight will be very useful in many kinds of romantic situations. See if you can guess the literary sources to the following aphorisms for the amorous.
1. Going big to impress is tempting, but can backfire.
Young romance is full of heartbreak. Say your first lady-friend up and marries a local heir while you’re off at war, studying abroad or crafting a mysterious persona. At this point you’re probably going to be all like, “I should totally use my mob connects to buy a huge mansion across the Sound from her place, throw lavish parties, and thus lure her away from this cretin.” Reasonable as this course of action may seem, spoiler alert: she’s never going to leave him. You might do well to find yourself a nice companionable type who is ace at ironing crisp colorful shirts, instead.
2. Lasting love is tough, and requires commitment for the long haul.
Even the happiest marriages hit rocky ground at some point. For instance, if your wife grows resentful because you moved back to your hometown, then suddenly goes missing and then there are all kinds of crazy clues around the house that weirdly implicate you in her death, even though you swear you don’t have a violent bone in your body — well maybe just, like, your right tibia — you are probably going to wish you had an easy way out. Unfortch, you’re in too deep, bro. You made a vow, and you’ve got to stick with this not-so-cool girl for life. Find a way to deal.
3. Don’t hang around if he or she is just not that into you.
It can be tempting to carry a torch. Particularly if you’ve lost your “get up and go” down below because of the damned war, but your former girlfriend still encourages you to hang around, get “tight,” and follow her as she flits to various European watering holes and cavorts with bullfighters and (even worse) new-money Jews. At this point, you should take look in the mirror: what you see is a lame, lame human being. It’s high time to cut the cord.
4. Forgive infidelity, but only if you really love the cheater.
Again, a lot of bumps occur on the long road of a relationship. So what to do about cheating? For instance, what if your wife has been cuckolding you with her manager, and all day long you wander the streets of Dublin, reveling in various forms of mental expression, masturbating by the seashore, and taking a route that weirdly parallels the Odyssey? You know she’s stepping out on you, but somehow your humanity compels you to go back to her at the end of the day. What can one say? Obviously, there’s real love there. You’re a good dude, and she is perhaps just overfond of the word “yes.”
5. Make sure you know all his secrets before the wedding day.
A time may come when things in the old love-life department are really swinging your way. Like maybe your sardonic, cruel, yet weirdly attractive employer/master has finally admitted that he loves you back and wants to make you his forever. You’re over the moon with happiness, but there is the matter of the frequent low laughter coming from the locked garret chambers (which often occurs just when you’re yearning most to be free). Girlfriend, here’s a hint: you might want to check out the source of that laughter a bit more carefully before you walk down the aisle.
6. If he likes you, he needs to publicly own it.
Modern life is alienating. Perhaps you’re feeling a little alone recently due to your time in prison, your perch on the scaffold and being consigned to a low hovel on the edge of the woods — not to mention and the giant red patch you have to wear each day. Your baby-daddy keeps swearing he’s gonna confess and share your inhuman burden but he’s delaying. Meanwhile your baby is acting preternaturally wise, almost symbolic. It’s a rough patch in your life, for sure. Here’s the thing, sister. He may have it gnawing, digging at his chest, but if he didn’t confess that he knocked you up initially, he’s never coming around. At this point, you just have to rely on your feminine strength. You are a goddess.
7. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts.
Life can be tough for a gal just trying to make her way. Now and then you might feel like you’re living in a dystopian future where women are relegated to biblical roles based on their reproductive capabilities. In the course of navigating this misogynist superstructure, there may come a time when a mysterious man comes into your life and starts making out with you above the garage, risking public flogging or worse. He seems like a good guy, but the countryside is crawling with spies. And yet, you feel like someday this dude could rescue you in an unmarked van and take you to a safe house where posterity might even be able to hear your narrative on tape. Go with your gut.
8. Settling for Mr. “Right Now” is not such a terrible thing…
Yes, society is very fixated on finding “the one.” But isn’t pragmatism important, too? Let’s say you were raised with one aim: to do well on the marriage market. You’re a stunner, but you have no dowry. You’re attracted to penniless journalists while eligible bachelors are bewildered when you stand them up for church, and your friends get annoyed when you accept loans from their faithless husbands in exchange for your being “nice to them.” Now, you’ve even been thrown off a yacht! So yes, you can wait around all day for the perfect situation to come around, or you can shut up, stop whining, and find a dude with a decent income, stat. There’s sticking it out for true love, and there’s the alternative: just doing your best to not end up in a squalid boardinghouse, addicted to laudanum. Girlfriend, take a good hard look at your choices.