Have you ever heard a phrase similar to this, “Jane Austen ruined my life. She gave me an unrealistic expectation of men and love”? I have. More than once. To be perfectly honest, I’m sick of it. Why? Because it’s false.
Recently I read a book entitled Jane Austen Ruined My Life.
In this book, the protagonist had the same mindset spoken of above. She had bad luck in love and was angry with Jane Austen, to say the least. She had stopped believing in happy ever afters entirely. Aside from a couple of things here and there, it was very well written, and I enjoyed it very much… until the end. At the very end of the book, Emma, the main character, has the opportunity to get the happy ending that she had stopped believing in… and she threw it away. In other words, the author does very little to refute the lie that the protagonist had began to believe: that they didn’t exist. More than that, she uses Jane Austen as a basis for her point. For example: In the plot, Emma has access to some of Jane Austen’s letters that she thought did not exist (and don’t, in reality). In one of these fictional letters, Jane Austen had told Cassandra that not finding love was her happy ending. The Author, Beth Pattillo, uses this to make her point that Emma didn’t need a happy ending, thus the reason she didn’t take it in the end. While Pattillo has every right to do this, I find it a bit unfair. In how it comes across, she uses Jane Austen’s influence as a classic author to prove her own point, rather than the one Jane would have wished to prove, and, If I may go so far as to say, put words in her mouth. Allow me to explain: By giving all of her heroines love and marriage, Jane Austen insinuates that this is what she would wish for anyone she cares for… including herself. Had she felt that it was not desirable, she would have made at least one of her heroines single in the end. And yet, she didn’t. Maybe it’s just me, but I find this to imply that she would rather have had that happy ending. My opinions in regard to Jane Austen Ruined My Life are strictly my own, and I said all that simply because Jane can no longer defend herself, so I feel I must. Please, don’t think me resentful toward the book or its talented author. She may not have intended it that way.
Swaying from that topic, let’s discuss the “unrealistic expectations” people are always referring to. Again, I feel I must take a stand in Jane’s defense. Yes, all of Jane Austen’s heroines get a marriage for love. Yes, they all find “ideal” men. Yes, both of these can be hard to come by. But, unrealistic? No. In each and every one of the novels, both hero and heroine are far from perfect. They have many flaws. Mr. Darcy and his pride, Catherine Morland and her naivety, Marianne and her immaturity. What if your Mr. Tilney’s father disinherited him because he didn’t approve of you? Edmund Bertram was in love with another woman for most of the book, and poor Fanny was “sister-zoned”! Colonel Brandon was rather boring in Marianne’s eyes, but then her ideal man wasn’t what she thought he was. If anything, I believe with all my heart that Jane Austen gives us one of the most accurate and realistic portrayals of love. Sometime’s what we may think is our “ideal man” is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sometimes, it takes us a ridiculous amount of time to see that that one person, whoever it may be, is someone we would want to spend forever with. Sometimes, Mr. Darcy may be flawed and Emma Woodhouse may have to learn to get over herself. There are always going to be things we have to work through, and the other person isn’t going to be perfect, but we can help them become the best version of themselves, and we can work through those things together. Love is more than a feeling or inclination. As Marianne learns, it’s more than flirting and a kiss. As Elizabeth learns, it’s changing our point of view, and moving past our first impression. As Elinor and Anne learn, it’s patience. As Emma learns, it’s friendship and realizing that we’re not always right. As Catherine learns, it’s growing up and putting childish things behind us. As Fanny learns, it’s being supportive, and knowing when to speak up and when to stay silent. It’s putting others needs before our own… it’s a compromise every now and then… it’s being able to admit when we’re wrong… it’s forgiveness… it’s acceptance… it’s being the other half of someone else. These and so many others, are the things that I’ve learned from Jane. This is why Jane Austen gives me a truly realistic expectation of love… and while she may never have had that for herself, she had a marvelous understanding of such things.
We may have a hard time finding a 19th century British gentleman that wears cravats and kisses our hand in greeting, but if you’re patient and looking in the right places, you can find a gentleman in today’s world… The question may be: are you being the lady that they’re looking for? The same can be asked of men: Are you being the gentleman that the best of the ladies are looking for?
Shall we return to happily ever after? You can’t tell me that it doesn’t exist. It may not be Cinderella style, but then, happiness isn’t the absence of hardship. It’s the ability to charge right through it, side by side, with smiles on your faces, and joy in your hearts; even in the midst of the struggle, when it doesn’t make sense. It’s Jane Austen style.