Tag Archives: Pride and Prejudice

You Might Relate to Mary Bennett, but You’re Not Supposed to Imitate Her

The novels and letters of Jane Austen (1906) (14596328597)Mary Bennett gets a lot of good press. In Pride and Prejudice, she’s one of heroine Elizabeth Bennett’s three younger sisters, and she’s described as the bookish one. Maybe because readers of Pride and Prejudice tend to be bookish as well, we tend to feel the story overlooks her, and write multiple blog posts and articles and sequel novels bemoaning this. This is in spite of the plentiful evidence Jane Austen herself did not like her. Despite her being bookish, Austen did not mean to point to her as a character that we should imitate.

This is astonishing, as the bookish girl is a pretty strong stereotype for female heroines by now—just think of Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Hermione in Harry Potter, and Jane Eyre. All of them readers, some a bit know-it-all, but all with a heart of gold. The character of Mary Bennett is swimming directly against the current in this matter.

And readers relate to Mary Bennett—we know what it feels like to be ‘plainer’ than those around us, to feel less intelligent even though we’re desperately trying to appear smart, to be more than just a background character in someone else’s story. Who can’t relate to wanting some distinction of your own, even if it’s not beauty? We like books about bookish characters proving themselves because we’re reassured that our bookishness will not be our undoing, and that someday those that laugh at us in real life will agree our bookishness has value. But Jane Austen does not give us that satisfaction with Mary.

Evidence of dissatisfaction with Mary’s story can easily be found. Both The Guardian and The Atlantic wrote articles last summer about the proliferation of sequels about Miss Mary Bennett (including The Independence Of Miss Mary Bennet, The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, and of course, one called There’s Something About Mary, Bennett.) Many, many authors have seen potential in her character, and clearly many readers want to read about that potential.

So what are Mary Bennett’s faults, according to Jane Austen?

It’s not that she’s bookish and plain. It’s that she appears to read only in order to lecture others about what she’s read. She appears to practice music only in order to draw attention to herself with it. As a result, neither her speeches on the books she reads nor her performances on the piano avoid sounding ‘affected.’

“Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached.”

And despite in other places defending the reading of books and applying oneself to improving oneself, Austen never vindicates these aspects of Mary. She really doesn’t do much with her character plot-wise, and appears to argue her way of being is just as ‘silly’ as Kitty and Lydia’s way of living. Mary does not get a character arc or much development at all. She has no romantic events come her way either.

I don’t think Jane Austen was against bookish girls. I don’t think she was subtly fighting against education for women, or against women having an opinion. I think she had a more complex idea here.

In reality, what Jane Austen is trying to show is how one trait, overemphasized and over-developed, can be ridiculous. You can’t have a personality that relies on only one characteristic—you need to develop your whole personality.

It’s kind of amazing how, despite all of Mary’s deficiencies in beauty and intelligence, her self-absorption is still derided as vanity by Austen. This is an important point! We like to think if we haven’t been given all the advantages other people have, we’re protected from vanity. We’re given a free pass to focus on ourselves, because after all, we aren’t as advantaged as everyone else. People should recognize and encourage us in what we do have.

However, this very lack of humility can prevent improvement in the areas we might have relative strength in! It’s Mary’s air of condescension and pedantry that makes her sisters dislike her speeches more—no one likes to be talked down to. Her piano-playing, while better than some, is less pleasant to listen to because of how conceited she makes it sound—she all-too-aware she is more skilled than Elizabeth. Her vanity in these things prevents her from using her gifts in a way that would actually give pleasure to other people (as Elizabeth proves you can give some pleasure to a listener even without being the best piano-player ever). And her vanity likely prevents her from even seeing the ways her gifts fall short of what she thinks they are. She doesn’t improve in the areas of attitude and mannerisms because she doesn’t think she needs to.

Does this mean she deserves to be laughed at by her sisters, or shamed by Mr. Bennett at the Netherfield ball? Of course not. I think Mr. Bennett’s treatment of her, in particular, is meant to short his shortcomings as a father and his insensitivity to what might improve his daughters’ characters. As he has with his wife, he’s basically given up on them, and endures their silliness instead. Now, if Mary actually is meant to have a character arc, perhaps one of Elizabeth’s or Jane’s attempts to rein in their younger sister’s vanities would sink in. As it is, we as readers as only left with the impression her vanity leaves on us, with the implication it is a warning—do not get so consumed in creating your own space for your own gifts that you blind yourself to how useless they are to anyone outside yourself. This is basically the opposite of every ‘find yourself’ novel released today.

So perhaps for us bookish types, we can take the message that there’s nothing wrong with being bookish, but it’s our attitude to others as a result of that can be the problem. Even if others don’t understand us, it doesn’t give us justification to feel superior to them. Even if we are actually better in one area than someone else we know, rubbing that in everyone’s faces will not help anyone else, and can even be destructive to ourselves. And I don’t mean this to lecture everyone else–I know I am prone to rely on my own intelligence and knowledge as my number one characteristics when relating to other people.

But then again, this is not meant to be the main message of the novel—Mary is merely one of dozens of Austen side-characters that demonstrate how one over-developed characteristic renders one ridiculous. It’s Darcy and Elizabeth who get character arcs, and who change throughout the novel. Austen uses their story to tell her message. Though if you look at how Austen takes down her main character’s characteristics of ‘pride’ and ‘prejudice,’ maybe Mary Bennett’s characterization does support the overall theme of the novel after all.

What about you? Do you find yourself with a lot of sympathy for Mary Bennett, or do you find her tiresome (as her sisters did)? Was Jane Austen too harsh on her?

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A Few Classics That Are Not Hard to Read

Classics are usually heavy reading. Even if they’re short, the language is unfamiliar enough that they take a long time to get through. But every once in a while you find one that surprises you, and here are three that surprised me.

Note: I’m not including any classics described as ‘children’s literature’ in this list.

'Around the World in Eighty Days' by Neuville and Benett 22
Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne

I just really enjoyed the very punctual and methodical Phileas Fogg racing around the world with his comic French servant, Passepartout. They get into preposterous adventures of all sorts, some of which strain believability but are incredibly fun to read. It gives a wonderful picture of travel before airplanes were invented, with railroads and steamboats. Verne is known as a science fiction author, but this was a contemporary novel for him—and so for us it’s a nice view in on the past. Also, I loved the sudden revelation of Fogg’s tender side in the end.

As a side note, Jules Verne’s novels have historically received poor English translations, which led him to have a higher reputation in his native France than in the English-speaking world. This is the only sample of his work I’ve read, but I quite enjoyed him. In addition, I’ve noticed publishers give this novel nonsensical cover pages – one edition had a hot air balloon, but hot air balloons failed to appear in the story. Another recent edition has a daredevil racing in an old-fashioned car, but this does not happen in the novel either.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

This remains the only Dickens novel I’ve read cover to cover. It’s short, so Dickens’ verbosity won’t put you off. The plot is easy enough to follow. I actually read it because I knew nothing about the plot and wanted to find out what this Christmas carol business everyone always went on about at Christmastime was all about, but I’ve reread it since without boredom. I’ve heard complaints about the opening paragraphs, where Dickens goes on about different types of nails and why the doornail should not be considered the ‘deadest’ type of nail out there, but personally I found it humorous. If you find it tedious, it’s a short novel, so it’s soon over and the rest of the plot begins!

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

This was my introduction to Jane Austen, and I still believe it’s the easiest one to start with (though none of her novels are too difficult for the modern reader, aside from the formality of the language). This novel gets right into the action and humor, with Mr. Bingley arriving in town and Mrs. Bennett nagging her husband to go meet him. It does not start with family history, like Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park. The heroine is lively enough that it’s not a chore to follow her through the story, and the story is shorter than Emma. There’s a few lulls in action, but overall it’s a very satisfying romance and shows off Austen’s talent very well.

 

 

These are my recommendations—your mileage may vary! After all, I thought Lord of the Rings and The Iliad were surprisingly easy to get into, and I know many people who didn’t. And I just struggle with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, while others just love them. But if you’re meaning to read a few novels that have stood the test of time, these are a few places to start!

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Writing Reality – Or Escaping It

A quick thought for today:

Writers write what’s real. They try to connect with some reality in the readers’ experience, and inspire emotions that complement the work they write. They try to represent the world as it truly is. That is one theory of writing’s purpose, anyway.

The problem is, reality really bites.

I wanted to improve as a writer this year. I gritted my teeth and tried to dredge up something of reality – bad experiences as well as good (though I’d be the first to admit my own real problems may barely phase anyone else.) I wrote down some stuff that for me was ‘dark.’

Then a lot of awful stuff happened in the world (some of which is obviously in the news, and some of which is just learning things about people you never wanted to know.) Then my ability to capture the true darkness in words falls so far short.

Because it’s so hard for me to face the depths of darkness. And I don’t want to do it.

Some writers can – dive into the depths of evil and show it for what it is to the world. And this is important. But is it what I – who shrinks from true evil and know its true strength is far beyond my own- am meant to do?

Then I escaped into the movie Casablanca – a fictional world which pretends to represent reality but in actuality stereotypes and simplifies it – and was drawn in. The story took me away. It ended on hope.

And now I believe there can be two types of creators/writers – those who don’t flinch from portraying problems and showing the ugliness of reality. And those writers who help escape from reality, and use fiction to remind us what it’s like to hope.

In real life, Harry Potter may’ve never escaped his cupboard. He may’ve been abused his whole young life, or been so psychologically scarred he could never function in any world. Frodo might’ve never gotten out of Mordor. Elizabeth Bennet would’ve end up penniless and husbandless, dependent on the mercy of Mr. Collins in her old age.

But, instead, these stories provide hope and escape, and show me a way to touch on reality without giving into the full terribleness of it.

 

What do you think?

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How to Catch a Man 101: Show More Affection Than You Feel

AKA Dating Advice from Dear Jane Austen

Bingley&Jane_CH_55

Bingley and Jane, by C.E. Brooks. {PD-US}

“There are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement,” [said Charlotte]. “In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 6

Here’s the trouble with romance!

Let me start off by saying this is not true in most books and movies out there. If you took the romance advice of most plots, you’d begin to think the way to fall in love with someone is to be as deliberately antagonistic as possible. Insult him to his face! Slap him! Try to avoid him as much as possible – if he’s really fallen in love with you during that half second that you met, he’ll keep coming back for more. Beyond any reasonable expectation, he’ll keep coming back again and again and again, no matter how much you insist you don’t want to see him. He’ll wait for you to change your mind.

Isn’t that ridiculous?

So – more evidence Jane Austen is a cut above (many) other romance writers out there! She’s dealing with reality here. She’s dealing with the reality most people aren’t masochistic enough to keep chasing someone who keeps pushing them down. Most people aren’t that good with rejection.

But I said this was the trouble with romance, didn’t I? Why is this a reality a problem?

Well, mostly because you have to show a lot of interest before you even know you’re interested, logically.

Most people aren’t going to hang around forever while the person they just felt a flash of attraction to makes up their mind, especially if that dithering looks a shade too similar to rejection. Move on. Plenty of fish in the sea. No time for this.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this – it’s just reality! Just the crazy system we have to live in. It makes us appreciate the true romances that actually work out, that’s all.

And in case you think I’m reading too much into Jane Austen, I don’t think she completely disagrees with her character, Charlotte Lucas (the character I’m quoting up at the top). After all, Elizabeth’s sister Jane does lose Bingley because she is too guarded and he can’t tell how much she likes him. Neither can any of Bingley’s friends.

Elizabeth argues to Charlotte that Jane is just taking her time to get to know Bingley (which seems to be quite sensible). Charlotte doubts whether this is a good strategy for the situation.

Here is Charlotte’s very practical (perhaps cynical?) solution:

“Jane should therefore make the most of every half hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.”

Here’s where I (and perhaps Jane Austen) part ways with Charlotte’s logic. Making someone else fall for you first, before you decide to fall – that seems little self-centered. A little too self-centered.

What’s the solution then?

There isn’t one. That’s why romance is a mystery. That’s why it’s beautiful when it sprouts mutually for two people at the same time, and miserable when it only sprouts for one of them. That’s why we eternally write books and movies and plays about it. Because we can’t figure it out.

There’s my thoughts on it, anyway. Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Oh, and stay tuned to this blog in the upcoming weeks! There may be some exciting changes and experiments in the new year!)

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Learn From the Pros – Read Like a Writer (Not A Reader)

quotables button When I teach literature I always tell them, these would-be writers (we don’t do workshops, we just read great books), I say, “When you read Pride and Prejudice, don’t if you’re a girl identify with Elizabeth Bennet, if you’re a boy with Darcy. Identify with the author, not with the characters.” All good readers do that automatically, but I think it’s helpful to make that clear. Your affinity is not with the characters, always with the writer. You should always be asking yourself, if you want to become an expert reader or perhaps a writer, you should always say, “How is this being achieved?” “How is this scene being managed?” “How is this being brought off?” Because the characters are artifacts. They’re not real people with real destinies and I know that feeling, when you’re reading Pride and Prejudice even for the fourth time, you feel definite anxiety about whether they’re going to get married, even though you know perfectly well that they do. There’s a slight sort of, “Come on, kiss her!”

Martin Amis

Writers are generally told to do two things – write and read. But here is lovely advice from Martin Amis (whose work I’ve never read, and who I don’t know much about, but whose advice here is spot on). There is a difference between reading as a reader and reading as a writer. I’ve always done both, but if I want to learn why some books are classics, I should do more of the latter.

Because there are so many lively, witty young women in romance novels, and yet Elizabeth Bennett stands above them all. How does Jane Austen make us care about her? It’s easy just to straight-up identify with what Elizabeth is feeling, and more difficult to dig through the layers and figure out how the writing helps you identify with her.

So – something to keep in mind next time you read!

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When You Identify With the Antagonist Instead

Lizzy's nemesis - and the rest of Mr. Bingley's party - arrives at the ball. {PD}

Lizzy’s nemesis – and the rest of Mr. Bingley’s party – arrives at the ball. {PD}

You usually know who you’re supposed to cheer for in a book. Miss Bingley is not the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. Inspector Javert is clearly in the wrong, clinging to an unworkable view of good and evil, in Les Miserables. Gollum is twisted and pathetic, and his better side does not win out in the end. But sometimes, we know we’re not Elizabeth Bennett. Our darker side is sometimes stronger, and we don’t really appear like a heroine to others. And the thought occurs to me that though I don’t like the antagonist, though I know I’m not supposed to be like them – all too often, I am.

Take Miss Bingley. She uses all sorts of manipulative feminine wiles – putting down other females, putting herself in the best light, flattering males she is interested in – which are clearly condemned by both Jane Austen and Elizabeth Bennett. But what female has not been tempting to use stupid tactics like this when faced with other female competition? I’ve certainly let a snarky comment or two escape my lips – and immediately known it was a very Miss-Bingley-ish thing to say. Because the reality is that being Elizabeth, being the character that attracts the interest of very desirable young men despite doing nothing to invite such interest, and despising the young men in question, is very rare. Most men are not brave enough to show interest without encouragement, and so women compete to show interest – often in sad and petty ways. And when you’re not the character of Elizabeth yourself, you often feel tempted to resent the characters that are.

Ugh, I always do wonder what happened to Miss Bingley after the events of Pride and Prejudice, as her characters sort of slides out of the story towards the end. She was driven by circumstances that fortunately we females today don’t have to experience – all of her womanly identity at the time depending on her making a good match. If she didn’t, she was nothing, and possibly poor as well, as she couldn’t work for a living. Would any of us really be more well behaved than she? Which of us, upon discovering a guy we have a strong interest in and whom we thought may return the interest in time, actually be at peace when he suddenly showed signs of interest in some random female he has just met? Miss Bingley showed her resentfulness strongly, and did not look better for doing so. But she really had no way of winning in that situation.

Inspector Javert – I’m treading on shaky ground here, because I have no actually read the gigantic tome known as Les Misérables, but only seen the movie. But from what I know of the character, he has a very black-and-white version of right and wrong. Which I do as well, unfortunately. This, I heartily agree, may not be a failing of many of the readers of this blog, but it is something I struggle with. In theory, I can see the arguments for both sides of morally gray areas (for example, I once wrote a nursing paper on the benefits of safe injection sites, though I know many people who oppose it), and think I feel comfortable reserving judgement on such things. But then, when faced with making a choice in reality – when actually having to take actions that indicate I am comfortable with leaving things in morally gray areas – I struggle. I feel like my soul is torn. Sometimes I snap, and make harsh judgements. Would I, if I had been an inspector at the time the numerous revolutions in France, have acted far more like Javert than Jean Valjean? Maybe I would have, and the thought scares me. If the world was easily divided into black and white, this would be a valid way to think. But it’s not.

And then – there is Gollum, who is probably the most human of the antagonists in Lord of the Rings (well, at times he functions as an antagonist, anyway). Tolkien did not believe in trying to relate to evil, which is why Sauron is always such a far-off and mysterious figure. But Gollum, in a rather relatable way, struggles with trying to be a better version of himself, and falling into his old, sneaky ways. He fails at overcoming his faults – the pull of the ring is too strong. But the beauty of Lord of the Rings is that – Frodo, the hero, fails at this too. He claims the ring at Mount Doom as well, and no character is able to defeat the worst part of themselves on their own. It was only through a providential force stronger than any of the characters (which, Tolkien being Catholic, is likely similar to how he viewed God worked in the world, but probably would’ve resented anyone equating this concept in Middle Earth to God) – a force which worked so Sauron overlooked the weakness of hobbits, and provided Frodo with the pity to save Gollum’s life in the first place – that prevented the end of Middle Earth.*

All too often I am like Gollum, pulled by the same old struggles, and making no progress in improving myself. And I know, on my own, I will not get much better, and likely will just become more selfish, judgemental, and resentful. (But maybe, just maybe, there is more to my story than this… grace and mercy do exist, after all).

I’m not the person I want to be. Literature holds up a mirror to both the best parts of myself, the best parts of what I could be – and also sometimes the worst parts. Sometimes it is important to face up to your worse parts, and admit that they exist. That Jane Austen might not have liked you if she’d met you. That you, too, might’ve claimed the ring as your own.

The power of literature is just this.

* Tolkien talks more about how he worked out this idea in Letter 246, if you’re interested.

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Ranking Jane Austen – Is It Possible?

Emma
Mansfield Park
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility
Northanger Abbey
Persuasion

 Is this a sensible way to rank Jane Austen’s books? As far as I can discern, this is how Adelle Waldman ranks them, in “I Read Everything Jane Austen Wrote, Several Times: Here Are Some of the Many Things I Learned.” Fans of Jane Austen, of course, can argue for hours about which of her novels are best, and non-fans are probably just surprised she wrote more than Pride and Prejudice. But this particular ranking is unique enough that I feel compelled to comment on it.

 In general, most of these choices are justifiable, and while I would rank Pride and Prejudice just a little higher than Emma, they are both of such good quality that they could both be at the top of any list. I did not think Emma was well-plotted the first time I read it, because it was so long and it felt like the action dragged out forever. But it is well-plotted, if you know many of the little details will add up to something in the end, and reveal how blind Emma was at certain point, or how blind you as the reader were about what was really going on.

 Uniquely, Waldman looks down on Persuasion. I have often been confused as to why so many critics think it is one of Austen’s best works, though I would not be as hard on the novel as Waldman is. It is not as funny and sparkling, true, but there is something sweet about it. I have the most amount of sympathy for Anne Elliot, because I know what it’s like to be overlooked.  Depending upon which novel I am reading, I would probably rate Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey all pretty close to each other, and so I’m not going to quibble about which one should be rated higher than the others. I just have to stick up for Persuasion when it is stuck dead last.

 But she puts Mansfield Park far too high up the list. While the complexity of the characters do make the novel a more mature work, I cannot forgive the deficiencies of its plot. It does not leave the reader with any feeling or satisfaction, or ending in the right spot, even though it ends with the expected happy ending. (I ranted more about Mansfield Park here).

 However, I can’t help but thank Waldman for the observation that Austen is not merely about romance and marriage, but primarily about people and how they should behave. Romance and marriage tends to act as a reward for the right sort of behaviour, which is why Austen’s work often comes off as intensely moralistic. But it is also why Austen’s works have endured so well. We all know vain and pompous fools (Sir Walter Elliot), scoundrels who lead women on (Wickham), jealous and competitive women (Caroline Bingley), and foolish and vindicative women (Mrs. Elton). We want to see people like that learn a lesson – though Austen realistically never forces a vile character to change as a result of the lessons a reader can glean from the action. As Waldman states, “She gives us a cast of characters and then zeroes in, showing us who and what is admirable, who is flawed but forgivable, who is risible and who is truly vile… Austen wrote stories that show us how we think.”

Yes to that.

As a postscript, my personal ranking goes like this:

 Pride and Prejudice (as the best paced and best plotted one of the bunch, with highly entertaining characters who go through believable character development)

Emma (almost as good as Pride and Prejudice, upon second reading, but a little too long to be thoroughly enjoyed on first reading – as I discovered here)

Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion (both entirely serviceable and charming novels, and I’m not sure which one rates above the other)

Northanger Abbey (which is enjoyable but somewhat flawed – understandable considering it was one of the first she wrote, as well as one she later revised, though it was published posthumously and therefore it’s hard to say it she would’ve been satisfied with its finish published form)

If you include Lady Susan as one of Austen’s novels, though it is more of a novella, I would stick it last on the list. If it had been longer, I would’ve liked it more (more of my thoughts on Lady Susan here).

And then… I can’t decide where Mansfield Park fits in. I think that novel will annoy me for the rest of my life. Is that a mark of great literature?

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Advice for an Introvert in Fiction

Darcy proposing to Elizabeth, by Hugh Thomson. {PD}

Darcy proposing to Elizabeth, by Hugh Thomson. {PD}

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault — because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

 – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

 I did one of those “What Jane Austen Character Are You?” quizzes the other day, and my answer was that I was Elizabeth. Which made me laugh, because I am far more like Mr. Darcy than Elizabeth. Not in the handsome and rich sense, of course – more in the “I don’t always know what to say in social situations” sense. As I wrote about before, that’s part of what makes him such a good romantic protagonist for Pride and Prejudice. I love Elizabeth, and would certainly love to be as witty as her, but my clever remarks tend to occur to me long after the conversation is done. Especially if it’s a conversation with someone I’d like to impress, of course.

But this quote is a good one in another way too. As an introvert, it’s easy just to say, “This is the way I am,” and give up on people. To excuse yourself from making the effort to talk to people you don’t know. To just stare at the floor and back away from all the people, and not even think there might be other people in the room who feel just as awkward as you. I’m not saying every introvert should try to act more like an extrovert, not at all. I know how excruciating that can feel. But to practice – well, I really do get better at socializing the more I socialize. Sometimes I need to break out of my inward-focused bubble and think about other people more. And refusing to always use introversion as an excuse is a good first step in that.

So is advice that’s good enough for Mr. Darcy good enough for me? Why, yes, it is – thank you, Elizabeth!

 

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Why Some Girls Like Mr. Darcy

Mr Darcy {{PD-US}}

Maybe this post should actually be called ‘why I like Mr. Darcy,’ but I flatter myself these reasons might be shared by other females.

Mr. Darcy gets a lot of flak from guys. He’s just some woman’s imagination of the perfect guy, no real guy acts like that, women in general should just grow up and settle for reality (etc., etc.) And, well, some reasons for liking him are a little flimsy. He’s good-looking? Well, he’s a literary character, so you get to imagine him as good-looking as you like (and while the novel does describe him as handsome, the bad boy of the book, Wickham, is called more handsome). You could point out he’s rich, or that he’s well-mannered, but run the risk of being called mercenary, or looking like you want every guy to throw his coat over a puddle for you. No, there’s several very good reasons for enjoying Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and I shall list them below.

He’s Bad at Talking to People

When I first read Pride and Prejudice, I really had no idea what it was about or what exactly was going to happen, but this part is what first gave me some fellow feeling for Mr. Darcy in the novel. Elizabeth is teasing him for being so quiet at the dance she first met him at (she accuses him of pride, which was partly the reason.) And he replies, “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

Oh, Mr. Darcy, you too? A man described as handsome and rich, who still fumbles around in conversations with strangers? Well, then, I feel a bit better at possessing this flaw myself. If you can’t think of anything to talk about, why should someone so much less interesting as myself, ever be good at it? You don’t know how many times I’ve stood across from someone for many long, awkward minutes, with my mind going a mile a minute and still not having a word to say. While everyone around me can strike up a conversation without any effort at all.

I’m afraid I come off rude sometimes too, without meaning to be. Hopefully I don’t come off as proud. That’s what everyone Elizabeth knows first thinks of Darcy.

Yes, Jane Austen gave me something to relate to in her hero, and this is one big reason I can get on board with the whole Pride and Prejudice fan bandwagon.

He Actually Makes a Move

Mr. Darcy does not wait around ninety percent of the book, too scared to find out what the heroine thinks of him (which too many romance novels do). Jane Austen is not fumbling around for some device to drag out her plot, and does not decide to make him get this close to saying something to Elizabeth, before being frustratingly interrupted. No, he actually gets up and walks over to where Elizabeth is staying, and asks her to marry him. (Okay, it’s be a bit strange if a guy who liked you just straight-up proposed to you nowadays, but at least Elizabeth isn’t in the dark about how he feels). And – take note of this, guys – he does get brutally shot down. But at least he took the risk. And the plot moves on!

When females try to explain to males what Mr. Darcy’s attraction is, they don’t often explain this, but I think it plays a role. None of this ‘secret admirer for years’ stuff. He’ll actually tell you to your face how he’s feeling.

He’s Flawed

This might be a point for the writer in me, but I love how Mr. Darcy is not a perfect paragon of virtue, and it is his very flaws that separate him from Elizabeth for most of the novel. They always tell writers that heroes that are too perfect are boring to read about. Yet, for some reason, romance novels still keep pulling out endlessly romantic and caring dudes with rippling abs. Even when the heroine gives the guy ample reason to throw in the towel! But no, this guy is sincere and loves the girl for who she is… blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, this point directly contradicts the charge that Mr. Darcy is “too unrealistic.” I’ll admit finding a good-looking, virtuous guy who also happens to be rich is stretching things a little far, but the fact he has flaws makes him more believable. He can’t quite take a joke, not even by the end of the novel. And he is proud. He tones it down a bit by the end, but he has pride in spades. This gets toned down a bit in the movie adaptions, I think (at least in the Keira Knightley one), but for a long time he was not ashamed at all for breaking up Jane and Bingley because he really thought Jane was beneath Bingley. He actually, while proposing to Elizabeth, spends a long chunk of time describing how he’s lowering himself to do so (you wonder why she shot him down, huh?) In his letter to her, he still insists he did right by Bingley. And by the end, he still can’t quite take all of Elizabeth’s teasing, as I mentioned before.

At least he’s consistent. “Love” doesn’t turn him into the opposite of everything he’d been throughout the book before – unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen in too many novels before too.

Anyway, there’s my two cents on that. Are there any more reasons you can add?

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Filed under Jane Austen, True Romance

Happy Endings vs. Sad Endings

Darcy and Elizabeth. {{PD-US}}

And Everything In Between

Endings are one of the hardest things for me to write. Obviously, I feel the weight of the readers’ expectations—hey, if anyone is reading this, they’re trusting me to end this satisfactorily! And I’ve read so many books where a so-so ending kept the book from becoming great.

But both happy endings and sad endings have pitfalls. Happy endings can come off too unrealistic and gushy. But do a sad ending badly, and no one believes your tragedy. Even done well, a sad ending can be rather—depressing. Really, does nothing good ever happen in life?

As a reader, I’d probably pick the happy ending every time if I have a choice. I can skim over glurge, and have many times, but a sad ending to a book or even a movie can leave me stuck on how it ends for weeks. That’s the point of most sad endings, of course. But I can’t handle every book I read to impact me that much. And, of course, I like to believe that though there are so many terrible things in life, sometimes people end up being happy.

One example of a good happy ending is, I think, (spoiler alerts ahead!) Pride and Prejudice. Yeah, the couple does end up getting together and getting married and all those other cliché happy-ending tropes, but Lydia is still married to Wickham. Her mother is still a fool—endings that are too happy change everyone’s characters into unrecognizable versions of their previous personalities—and her father still has to put up with her (or hide in the library). And as for Elizabeth and Darcy themselves… well, Austen makes it very clear that Darcy has a way to go in managing his pride, so their marriage will not be heaven. But I think it’s exactly those kinds of shots of reality that keep happy endings from becoming, well, too unrealistic.

How shall we call those endings? Gritty-yet-happily-ever-after?

But I think the best compromise between a happy ending and a sad one is a bittersweet ending. When things in life are happy, they’re never completely happy. The best book example I can think of this is Lord of the Rings. The One Ring is destroyed and the Dark Lord is vanquished forever, but Frodo is never the same again. Most characters go on to become leaders or get married, or do something great, but there is something about the world that is changed forever. It’s probably the best mix of the readers’ hopes andcynicism that a novel can achieve.

 

Now, I should go study for exams again. Comment below on what type of ending you prefer!

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Prince.CharmingLookin' GoodLooking for a story with an ending that won’t devastate you for days? I can promise you that if you find yourself mulling over my ebooks, Prince Charming or Lookin‘ Good, it won’t be because they leave you feeling gloomy on the inside. You can decide for yourself if the endings are happy or bittersweet!

 

Update: Lookin’ Good–a short, five-minute read–is now free at Smashwords.

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Filed under GENERAL Bookish Thoughts, Jane Austen, Lord of the Rings, On Writing