There are many romance novels that make our blood rush faster through our veins and tighten the grip on the opened book. But I’ve always felt this distinct atmosphere oozing out of classics written more than 200 years ago, such as Jane Austen’s works. From the many themes explored in these two novels, Emma and Pride and prejudice, I decided to focus on love.
I always sense a bit of controversy when I read love stories by Jane Austen. This might come from the fact that romance was perceived differently back then combined with the tender soul of the writer, who wants to present love as a valuable thing that must be cherished. At the beginning of the 19th century, people in love did not touch. They didn’t hold hands, didn’t hug, kissing was a big deal and other kinds of physical validation of attachment were out of the question. Marriage was mostly nothing more than an agreement, because women were only expected to marry and have children. Even so, the mentality of both Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet is quite different.
On the one hand, Emma first claims that she shall never marry, because she, a “handsome, clever, and rich” 21 year old, would not benefit from such a commitment and would only lose her independence. She looks for the perfect match for her friend, Harriet, judging after the social status of men, and only then tries to convince Harriet that she is in love with the ones Emma approves of. We may have mixed feelings about Emma at first, but we are the lucky witnesses of a fine transformation that helps her understand the power of love, which becomes the only reason for her engagement. Lizzy, on the other hand, is determined to keep her integrity intact, in her own way of understanding integrity, and refuses both Mr. Collin’s and Mr. Darcy’s proposals, convinced she is in love with neither of them. Again, we get confused and end up having mixed feelings about Elizabeth too, the ruthless and proud judge. Or was it Darcy who owned the pride and her – the prejudice? We may never know. The point is that she realizes she had mistaken (kind of badly, who wouldn’t want a Mr. Darcy?) and she marries for love.
All right, we have the ones for whom marriage is just an arrangement, the ones who also have love – as a bonus – and Emma, who marries only for love and nothing else. For those placed in the first category, a lack of physical intimacy is totally understandable. But the lovebirds have no excuse for such unsatisfying behavior just because they lived in the 1800s… I mean, love always wins, over everything, am I right? Just kidding, this isn’t the problem. Back then it was totally fine to jump from agreeable conversations to marriage. But what really startles me every time I talk to Jane Austen is that, paradoxically, this very distant and formal attitude makes love even stronger. Why do I feel this way? Maybe because the somatic restrictions of the period lead to a deeper comprehension of ones feelings and made them blossom in a more spectacular, overwhelming and sincere way. Love is contained on the outside, but that means the same amount of it will grow as much as it can on the inside, and only a look or a hand touch is enough to create a genuine storm of feelings.
Those social restrictions were too much, but because of them love had a more profound meaning than it does nowadays, which probably lead to a higher appreciation of the physical expression of such feelings. Even though love used to be a rather rare feeling, it surely was authentic and priceless.