There is just something about stories set in the early 19th century English countryside that appeal to me. In my mind, I can see the setting: large manor homes with walking paths through well-manicured gardens (despite some areas being overgrown). I can hear the birds in the trees and the horses’ hooves beating on the ground, a perfect orchestra of nature.
My imagination runs wild when I read Jane Austen or other books set in this era. The intellectual discussions, the structured society, the occasional flame of passion that sparks between two people. It just makes me happy when I read these books, escaping back in time to an era that feels so rich with romance.
But despite the image of a dashing man strutting across the field, a morning mist rising beneath his boot-clad feet, I have a confession: I am glad that I did not live during that time.
Quite frankly, the restrictions placed upon women and the limited amount of choice that they had, especially in regard to their future, are two of the main reasons I feel that way.
You see, we love Elizabeth, Emma, Anne, Eleanor, Marianne, and Fanny for the unique stories that Jane Austen creates. But so often in these stories, we forget about the unfortunate women who try to display some level of independent decision-making and wind up with limited or even no future because of it: Lydia Bennet, Mary Crawford, Lucy Steele, Augusta Elton. There can only be a limited number of heroines like Elizabeth Bennet or Marianne Dashwood because there can only be a limited number of Mr. Darcys and Colonial Brandons.
*Disclosure: OK, I know someone will comment that Marianne almost wound up in as much of social pickle as Lydia Bennet. Well, she managed to escape unscathed. Besides, my partiality to Colonial Brandon puts him second only to Mr. Darcy when it comes to romantic heroes in Jane Austen’s books. 😀
It is, indeed, the unusual circumstances of Jane Austen’s heroines that make them so popular. In reality, would Mr. Darcy have married Elizabeth Bennet? Such a defection from the social norms of Georgian Regency period England would have tarnished his name and reputation. But if Darcy and Elizabeth did not find their love, what fun would that be?
I write many books that are set in Lancaster and Holmes County, Ohio, the principle characters being Amish. Many times people write to me and ask if the reality shows about the Amish are true. I always respond, “Of course not! Filming actual Amish reality would make a very boring reality show in comparison to the Amish Mafia or Breaking Amish series.”
In my opinion, the same holds true for Jane Austen’s books. We love her books because we cheer on the heroines, urging Jane Austen to make right the typical wrongs of the day. We need Elizabeth and Darcy to wind up together because they belong together, at least in a literary sense. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that Jane Austen’s books have become timeless classics—her characters find their happily ever after in a period of time when practicality often won out over sensibilities. And, just like a novel without Darcy marrying Elizabeth, I really wouldn’t want to read that type of book. I much prefer reading about Jane’s heroines who pave the path to a world where, despite the pitfalls and stresses of life, we have the choice to make our own decisions…good, bad, or indifferent.