“I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”
“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.
“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Every thing nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”
Let’s all just take a moment to consider this. Elizabeth’s not advocating for a lack of romance in a relationship. Without romance, wouldn’t it just be a marriage of convenience? Or just a friendship if the two are unwed? She is advocating for a man to wait until the opportune moment (to coin a Jack Sparrow phrase from Pirates of the Caribbean) to deepen that affection, not to scare her off by his early, premature attachment.
I have personal experience early attachment gone awry, with the cute blonde farmer’s market guy, Elliott (see “The Story of Us Looks a Lot Like a Tragedy Now”). On our first official date, he wanted to slow dance around his apartment, and then abruptly began to serenade me with Frank Sinatra. I mean, six months to a year into the relationship, I probably would have swooned. (He did have the dreamiest singing voice.)
But one date in? I got squirrely, and the whole performance came off as…well, a performance–very rehearsed; I was clearly not the first girl he’d done that with (and probably not the last)–that obvious fact detracted from the effect he was trying to have on me, to make me feel special or something like that. Instead, I felt like just another girl he was going through the motions for.
When I asked him to crank it back a notch, he took that as me friendzoning him. Clearly, he’d never had someone call him on his crap before. And honey, if I friendzoned you, you would know it. It’s a very explicit conversation. The advanced friendzoner knows not to leave behind any loose ends that could still be open to interpretation for the friendzonee.
I had a follower mention John Willoughby from Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, so I’m trying to think how I would react if a guy I just met pulled out Shakespeare’s sonnets and started in deep. I guess I don’t have to totally imagine it; I can just watch the movie. John Willoughby appeared to be Marianne Dashwood’s absolute dream, right down to rescuing her in the pouring rain.
The movie version with Kate Winslet looks right out of a damn fairytale–the pouring rain, her injured ankle, the beautiful green moor…I’ll admit, I’m a little jealous (of the meet-cute, not the man). Willoughby quickly becomes a favorite in the Dashwood household, and as many of you know, Marianne fell pretty hard for him–it seemed like they fell pretty hard for each other actually.
John Willoughby: (in my imagination) probably over six feet–wild guess–dashing good looks, to inherit his aunt’s large estate, who just so happens to carry around a tiny edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets (in the movie, at least). In the beginning, he is all romance, except for his open disdain for Colonel Brandon–sound like another of Austen’s men? Willoughby the original Wickham, considering Sense & Sensibility (1811) preceded Pride & Prejudice (1813) by two years. (And you all know how I feel about the Wickhams in the world.)
When I originally watched the movie, I was like Yes! She found her soulmate at long last. Until, he ran off to become engaged to some other girl, leaving a terrible note as his only explanation. What a frickin’ Wickham, right? Such grand attentions from Willoughby, the private carriage tour, Shakespeare’s sonnet reading to Kate Winslet, it all seems a bit much (when put in today’s context).
I adore the idea of chivalry and grand romantic gestures. But the days of letter writing and eloquent professions of love are slowly winding to an end. Romance in these complex times turns out the be evident in more simple, thoughtful things: baking his favorite cookies for him, or sending her flowers “just because.” (I have yet to receive “just because” flowers, in case anyone feels like remedying that situation.)
It’s a different time. It is not the extent of the romantic gesture that is the true measure of affection; it’s whether or not the guy sticks around. Colonel Brandon stayed with Marianne through her illness, even wished her happiness with Willoughby, though knowing Willoughby would never deserve her.
As I wrote in “The Grande Romance Package,” such attention so early on in a 21st century relationship can come off as phony. I think Willoughby’s youth and charm immediately capture Austen’s readers. Colonel Brandon, being an older gentleman (though not actually old by any true meaning of the word), was less desirable in young Marianne’s eyes.
Who could blame her? We often forget Colonel Brandon was there the entire time, originally rejected and friendzoned, to become the hero we all knew he was, and hoped he would be for Marianne, if she would just let him love her. She had no reason to believe Willoughby to be insincere. If circumstances had permitted, perhaps she and Willoughby would have ended up together. But fortune and fate are not always kind–though Austen’s characters do seem to meet more or less happy ends.
It is Colonel Brandon who is worth celebrating (RIP Alan). We celebrate Mr. Darcy time and time again–rightfully so, I might add. But sometimes we neglect praise for Austen’s other leading men: Colonel Brandon and Mr. Tilney, to round out my list of Austen’s top three most chivalrous men.