Dating Techniques of Pride and Prejudice

Amongst my friends and acquaintances, the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice is well-liked. This is not, contrary to how I sometimes come across, because I only associate with literary types who pontificate on the meaning of sentimentality and the use of dialog. And not even, surprisingly enough, because all my friends and acquaintances are big readers (although a large portion of them do read on a regular basis; by the way, in my ten years as a secretary, I've noticed that many more secretaries read--for fun--than professionals; weird but true). In any case, the popularity of Pride & Prejudice doesn't seem to be based on any particular yen for literary fiction or, if one wants to be cynical, for Harlequin Romances. I've determined that in Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen caught something that is so basic to the human experience (and in particular, the female human experience) that the book almost couldn't help but be popular and more popular now than when it was published.

I came to this conclusion while listening to Pride & Prejudice on CD. It is an incredibly funny book, although it helps to have it read rather than to read it. (Some people hear language when they read; I do not so the experience of reading something to myself and of hearing it read can result in two different reactions.) Close to the beginning of the book, Eliza and Charlotte Lucas have a discussion, and knock me over with a bonnet, it's a discussion that you could plunk into the middle of any group of women. I've had this discussion myself. It's all about dating. How well do you have to know someone in order to form a long-term opinion of their character? At what point in the relationship should you express interest? Who is responsible for carrying the relationship forward to the "next stage"? Can you be "just friends"?

Charlotte argues that getting to know someone is pointless; it's all so superficial anyway. You might as well just express a ton of interest. Eliza argues that you can't express a ton of interest unless you feel a ton of interest. Charlotte points out that expressing a ton of interest is the best way to retain the man's attention. Eliza rolls her eyes over that. If the man has any hutzpah, he'll wait around to see if a ton of interest might be heading his way, won't he? Charlotte contests that men may have hutzpah but they are also kind of stupid. If you want a boyfriend, Charlotte says, you've got to go out and get yourself one. But, returns Eliza, I (or Jane) don't want the WRONG boyfriend. At which point, Charlotte gives up. I mean, if you're going to get all idealistic . . .

Charlotte ends up with a good living, a house and a pompous (but absent) husband. Austen rewards Eliza with true love. It is not to Austen's discredit that Charlotte was probably right and in real life, Eliza would end up with nobody. Austen, after all, had Charlotte's opportunity and forsook it for the sake of her integrity. That is, even when she ended up with nobody, Austen still opted for Eliza's point of view.

And despite Charlotte being mostly right, we still root for Darcy and Elizabeth because their relationship is founded not on flirting techniques, "twenty ways to amuse your boyfriend" and "what women really want" fluff but on themselves. Although they undergo personal revelations about their own characters and each other, neither of them has to jump through dating hoops for the attraction to work. Darcy is attracted to Elizabeth from the beginning because of her personality. Elizabeth realizes she is attracted to Darcy when she is visits his estate. (You can't tell me Austen didn't understand men and women. To generalize: women like to be found attractive because of who they are; men like to found attractive because of what they do.) It is what Darcy & Elizabeth already are that eventually brings them together.

And that, I think, is what we all want. We want to have a relationship without having to put on a front or practice dating techniques or play the rules' game or whatever. And speaking from personal experience, I have found those romantic relationships that have emerged naturally and effortlessly from a meeting much more satisfying than those relationships that emerged through concentrated effort. (Am I flirting? Should I call? Should I e-mail? What's he thinking now?)

But the former relationships are harder to come by. Hence, the plethora of Women's Magazine articles entitled, "10 Ways to Hook Your Man."

Pride & Prejudice is so much more preferable.


1 comment:

Kim said...

Did you know there is a BBC adaptation of P&P as well? I love it as much as I love the book. It's a mini-series of 5 hours, with Colin Firth as Darcy. Excellent casting, lovely settings. I'm not sure about the DVD version, I bought the videobox on holiday in England.
Thought you might like to know, since you enjoyed their Jane Eyre :).