A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
I must confess that as I read selective portions from a princess story to my daughter recently, with yet another damsel in distress, and in need of a savior prince, I jokingky said to myself, “Sarah Palin was right about one thing. Some books should be banned.”
Looking back, I think for this reason, growing up in a developing nation was a godsend. My parents could not afford to buy books; much less read me bedtime stories. So, I missed out on the yearning for fairy tale weddings, and the idealistic view of a prince charming, coming to sweep me off my feet.
However, I did not really escape or miss out. As an adult, enter Jane Austen and these words, “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The novel, Pride and Prejudice was written 200 years ago and is primarily the story of the wealthy, unmarried 28-year-old, Mr. Darcy, and the less affluent Bennets, who happen to have five unmarried girls looking for husbands. It is Elizabeth, the second oldest who will be the “lucky” girl.
Some of us might scoff at the ways in which courtship, love, marriage and social class were presented in 19th century England, but two centuries later, have we really changed that much in some of our inclinations? Today, there is probably no greater public admiration than for the love stories of the Obamas (the equals), and Kate and William (the girl who gets the prince) across the Atlantic Ocean. And many of us were witnesses to the outpouring of grief when the world lost the most beloved, Princess Diana. The truth is many women – and their parents – still harbor views of finding the right partner that will secure their financial future. While that in itself might have been the source of happiness in 19th century England, our generation of women have many more opportunities to succeed and empower ourselves, and change our fortunes. That being said, we still revel in a fairy tale story of a princess finding her prince, and living happily ever after.
For those beset by “Austen mania,” finding the right mate can become all consuming, obsessive, and an end in itself. Backed by a powerful wedding industry, our culture spends more time planning, preparing and getting ready for the awesome day, than we do for our marriages. And yes, the wrong partner and marriage can wreck us, but for more than the reason Jane presented.
But there is nothing wrong with a good love story; we all have an innate desire to be loved, feted, waited upon, and even adored. Because romance is enticing, intriguing, and if even for a brief moment, it pulls us away from the mundane, the ordinary, the average, and make us all dreamers.
So on the 200th birthday of Pride and Prejudice, I salute a visionary, a witty and humorous writer, and a pragmatic believer in love. Grab your bonnets and happy hunting!