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“To you I shall say, as I have often said before: Do not be in a hurry. The right man will come at last.”

That’s what Jane Austen told her niece Fanny Knight in a letter.

Well said, Jane!

Waiting for the right man is the theme of all of her novels. She has provided us with great examples of true heroines: women who wait for true love — and work on becoming better women while they wait for Mr. Right.

Through her witty plotlines, Jane Austen gives us deep insights on courtship and marriage. She champions marriages that foster the development of love, such as those of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Jane and Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice.

That’s not to say there’s no courtship strife. Romantic comedy, Jane Austen style is the best. But the drama gives way to love — and self-improvement.

 

No more pride & prejudice

For example, Lizzy and Darcy, as their opinions of each other change, try to better themselves for the other. After Lizzy’s rejection of him, Darcy is compelled to explain his motives for dissuading Bingley’s attachment to Jane and his behavior toward Wickham. His search for Lydia and Wickham proves beyond a doubt his love for Elizabeth. The utter contempt he feels for Wickham (rightly so, given the scoundrel’s attempt to seduce his sister) would have ordinarily kept him in a silent, unresponsive stupor.

But his love and esteem for Lizzy lead him to take action. As he tells her, “That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. …I thought only of you.”

When Lizzy accepts his second proposal (which is much more romantic; thanks, Jane!), Darcy pours out his heart, rejoicing in her love for him. For Darcy, love helps him become a better person, more attuned to his own feelings and those around him.

She softens his pride, as his actions help her overcome her inclination to prejudice. Elizabeth comes to see those around her in a new light, particularly Darcy. Her love for him deepens when she reads his letter, visits Pemberly, and learns from her aunt the complete account of his role in Lydia’s marriage to Wickham. She is overwhelmed when she realizes she had grossly misjudged Darcy and Wickham. This revelation prompts her self-discovery: “Till this moment I never knew myself.”

 

Virtue rewarded

Austen emphasizes that virtue and character help that “right man” become interested in the right heroine. Jane Austen’s novels are good reads because her characters are rewarded for being moral and having character. Having virtue wins them the heart of a gentleman: a true fairy-tale ending. I think it’s fair to say that Jane would be most shocked to see today’s society of hook ups and couples living together.

One of my favorite scenes is at the end of the book, when Lizzy and Darcy declare their love for one another. Their love was based on virtue and character, not some fleeting feeling. Yes, Lizzy thought Mr. Darcy was attractive, but more than that, she admired his character, character which prompted him to come to her sister’s aid: “Her heart did whisper that he had done it for her.”

And when she refuses to say she will never marry Darcy when his intrusive aunt, Lady Catherine, asks her, he says that news “taught me to hope as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.”

In contrast, there’s Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, who declares, “Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.”

But our author shows us the error of this thinking. Marianne falls head over heels in love with Willoughby, only to discover he’s a cad who abandoned a girl he got pregnant. She is so heartbroken she almost dies! But later, the steady love of Col. Brandon awakens her to what real love is.

Although Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel, Mr. Knightley from Emma is my favorite Austen hero, not Darcy (gasp!), because he’s a good guy throughout. Handsome and gentlemanly, he also exhibits another trait important to love: He corrects Emma. When she is unkind to a poor neighbor, he is the only one willing to point it out. He wants her to be the best person she can be. And she follows through, apologizing to the neighbor and deciding that she should be more charitable.

That’s love.

Knightley’s constant goodness and care for Emma and her family (even her quirky father) — and the thought of losing him forever to her friend Harriet — makes her realize she’s in love: “It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!”

 

Worth the wait

Then there’s Persuasion, which is perhaps the most romantic Austen novel. Well-off Anne Elliot is persuaded to reject the proposal of poor Frederick Wentworth, but neither stops loving the other.

Their patience pays off. When they are reunited years later once he is Capt. Wentworth, it is a beautiful testimony to the power of love — and the grace of second chances. “A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman,” he tells her in a letter. “I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it. …I have loved none but you.”

Anne’s quiet delight is charming: “It was overpowering happiness.”

Single women worldwide long to find a Darcy or Knightley of their very own. Why else are there so many movie and TV versions as well as literary spin-offs and retellings of these classic stories?

Besides, how often do we see knights in shining armor in the world today? Very little.

That’s why we cannot help but cheer when Edward tells Elinor he still cares for her in Sense and Sensibility, when Emma realizes that Mr. Knightley feels the same affection for her that she feels for him, and when Lizzy and Mr. Darcy overcome their pride and prejudice to love one another.

Jane Austen gives us hope that our own story will achieve the happily ever after that’s meant for us. Austen does what she always does: Everything works out for the right couples in the end. Hooray for happy endings!

 

 

Editor’s note

This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register and is re-published with permission. Our thanks to Amy, the Register’s talented associate editor, who also contributes to “Faith, Hope & Love.”

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11 Comments

  1. Michaela-426347 June 10, 2011

    I love this article. It is so true.

  2. LB-717953 June 10, 2011

    Please remember; Jane Austin never married! She was a novelist, and could shape her characters as she willed. She could create the outcome she wanted. Real life is not so; it is much messier and unpredictable. The right man (or woman) may or may not come along. We cannot base our lives on that fantasy no matter how appealing. Rather, we must subject our will to God and understand that, “Thy will be done.”

  3. Meesch-691047 June 11, 2011

    Very lovely analysis of Austen’s hero!

  4. Jim-397948 June 11, 2011

    Which woman should I say AMEN to….When I meet my last first date.

  5. Carole-11018 June 11, 2011

    I’d have to agree with LB. This “fantasy dream” always thinking “the right man will come at last” just leads to (inflated) false hopes. Real life is not always that way, unfortunately. This probably explains why I never read so-called “Romance Novels” ! Day by day, I’m learning to live with and accept what God wills for my life.

    • Rebecca-152968 June 13, 2011

      I always enjoy reading Jane Austen’s books – she has such a gift in writing… I can understand what LB and Carole are saying – but really, what women find attractive in the characters (Darcy / Knightley…) of Jane Austens books are the virtues they posses or grow in! I also believe there ARE Mr. Darcy’s / Mr. Knightley’s out there too (and I still hope to find mine : )

  6. Lynn-189934 June 14, 2011

    Jane Austen explores interesting character relationships, and I believe she does explore feelings and emotions accurately. . . however, the Cinderella aspect of Elizabeth’s relationship (marrying the wealthy, and now kinder D’Arcy), make the story a little less believable.

    I find this to be an example of movie love, but don’t necessarily discredit the notions of Austen. The right young lady may be “tolerable I suppose, but not so handsome as to tempt me,” and go unnoticed either by the social antics of her family or her own refusal to promote herself. . .

  7. Robin-75878 June 15, 2011

    I love Jane Austen’s books – her style and wit, especially in Pride and Prejudice, is unmatched. I think that there are men out there in character like Darcy and Mr. Knightly, but not to the degree of possessing ALL of the characteristics of Austen’s male heroes, i.e. extremely handsome, rich, powerful, gentlemanly, and of exceptional character. That is why her books are called “romantic novels.” She herself died single, and I agree with some of what LB and Carole said.

    It is evident that she believes a good relationship should include mystery, attraction, friendship, and compatibility – where that so easy to find!! In real life, relationships and the people, situations, and circumstances surrounding them tend to be a lot less melodramatic. This was true even in her day when money and peerage were primary considerations in the choice of marriage among the genteel class. But it’s fun to read her novels and strive for similar virtue in our lives, and hope for that special relationship with Mr. Darcy! As long as we realize that her work was fiction, and not to pass up the good guys that may pop into our lives.

  8. Kelly-582304 June 17, 2011

    Very enjoyable! Thanks!

  9. Peter-44842 June 18, 2011

    Austen is an astute observer of character. Yes, smart dating asks for patience, standards, and self-honesty. But I’m also glad several posters pick up on the fantastical quality of her novels, as any model for our own expectations of romance, which are not often in need of fictive encouragement.

  10. Ramona-652361 June 24, 2011

    I’ve read these stories over and over. I’ve watched the movies many times. The right man will come at last is a dream come true for many. But I’m sorry to pop the bubble. Miss Austen died……as Miss Austen. I l like the dream & I’m still holding onto the message from her books.

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