“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more”– Jane Austen, Emma
Valentine’s Day, a day filled with love, appreciation and the celebration of romance. Typically it is associated with gifts of red roses, chocolates and hearts in all colours and shapes. While these traditions are fun and romantic, I love to cycle back to literature on this special day.
Growing up I was never really fond of having any trace of romance in my books and I would immediately put them down if they did. This only changed when I discovered the works of Jane Austen which would deeply influence my future perception of literature. If I remember correctly I was just interested in reading again when entering year 10 because of my English teacher who helped me improve my English skills at the time and she recommended Pride and Prejudice. At the time it was an extremely scary project to pick up a Jane Austen Classic and understand anything but I am glad that I fought and pushed myself through it and incredibly grateful to my teacher for believing in me. Finishing the novel changed the way I approached literature altogether, it was no longer a task that had to be done but I started to read because I wanted to, because I wanted to dive into those fictional worlds, simply because the love Jane Austen described in that one book deeply enchanted me.
The story revolves around the Bennet family consisting of Mr and Mrs Bennet and their daughters Jane and Elizabeth, our protagonist who is also called Lizzie, Mary, Lidia and their youngest Kitty. With the arrival of a new neighbour, the rich young gentleman Mr Bingley, a party is thrown in his honour where the reader first meets him and his best friend Mr Darcy. Darcy’s pride is noticeable from the very first moment which unfortunately causes him to insult Lizzie and strangle their relationship as it and several other events only fuel her prejudice and hate. After a rejected declaration of love from Mr Darcy he writes Lizzie a letter explaining himself which changes her view completely and she eventually accepts his proposal after his second confession.
Lizzie Bennet is the second oldest of five daughters and her father’s favourite child. She portrays a typical Austen female lead, a witty and smart young woman who is independent and not afraid to speak her mind, who desires to marry for love rather than social status and convenience, which was not the standard of the time. Throughout the whole book, it becomes clear that she portrays the “prejudice” part of the title as she judges people from the beginning based on her perspective, whereas Fitzwilliam Darcy on the other hand portrays pride, which he calls his greatest weakness. This pide changes the way he is perceived throughout the whole novel, not only by the characters, especially Lizzie, but also by the readers.
The novel’s themes make its love story rather bewitching¹ by showing that marrying for love is possible even in a time where marriage was all about social status, it showed that love could defy everything and that if people were meant to be, they would find their way to each other.
Talking about the great love story of Pride and Prejudice…
Having difficulties reading Jane Austen’s works, or other works from authors of the time, seems to be what TikTok would call a canon event. However, to still bring it closer to younger generations who might be intimidated or overwhelmed by the book’s length or language, especially as an L2 learner, YouTube offers the perfect solution. In 2012 the first episode of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, a web series in the form of vlogs, aired. The series shows a modern, digital take on the classic from 1813, translating it into modern language and also modern problems. It is an easy way to understand the storyline and the characters before or after reading the novel itself. I watched it during the lockdown in 2020, purely for amusement but I soon realised that even though I had read Pride and Prejudice several times at that point, the YouTube format always opened up new perspectives and discussions about the literary work.
But do the romance books of our time have the same effect Austen’s work had? This is a question that everyone has to answer for themselves. Personally, I prefer reading her love stories over popular romance books from our time. Many books are rather similar in their plot and love story, whereas Austen created something revolutionary at the time, something new defying the social norm. In my eyes, Romantasy novels come closer to such classics than romance novels because of the complexity that accompanies them. But this is just my take as I read more fantasy novels than romance.
What do you prefer- Austen’s Classics or contemporary Romance Novels?
What is your favourite love story? What book do you think about or would you recommend when asked for love stories for Valentine’s Day?
Further Recommendations for the romantic feeling:
- Emma (1815)
- Emma (dir. Autumn de Wilde, 2020)
- Persuasion (1817)
- Persuasion (dir. Cracknell, 2022)
- Pride and Prejudice (dir. Wright, 2005)
- Sense and Sensibility (1811)
- Sense and Sensibility (dir. Lee, 1996)
- Mansfield Park (dir. Rozema, 2000)
- Becoming Jane (dir. Jarrold, 2007)
- Divine Rivals (2023)
- Red, White & Royal Blue (2019)
- A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015)
- Fake Dates and Mooncakes (2023)
¹ “You have bewitched me body and soul. And I love… I love… I love you.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!