"I am not romantic, you know"


Yet they keep dragging poor Jane and her poor book through the briar patch of romanticalness. At this point we think it’s just carryover from Valentine’s Day anyway.

Examiner.com declares Pride and Prejudice The Most Romantic Book Of All Time! And then goes on to say why it is so perfect, which seems to have more to do with Colin Firth than it ought. Well, we’re used to that, aren’t we?

Garrison Keillor mentions P&P in passing in his Writer’s Almanac earlier this week. It’s a nice mention, nothing that will make anyone cringe! Thanks to Alert Janeite Carol for the link.

Much better is an article by Helen Elliott (!) in The Age, in which she regards Romance with a more gimlet eye. You have to read pretty far to get to the Jane Austen part, but it’s worth it.

The phenomenon of Austen popularised as a writer of romantic love novels is the result of brilliant spotting, of capturing the zeitgeist of the commercial viability of period costume, pretty people and a well-plotted story rather than honouring the actual novels. Colin Firth, wet or dry, is not the Darcy Austen wrote or could possibly have imagined.

If the first five novels are a series of scintillating cotillions danced by the coolest quartets, Austen’s last novel, Persuasion, a Cinderella fable like all her novels, has a different tone. It’s this tone, elegiac and grave (Austen was in constant ill-health with the Addison’s disease that was to shortly kill her), that turns it into something more than the others, perhaps a great love story where the intellectual and emotional power bear equal weight.

Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth have had eight years to contemplate their earlier chaste and failed love affair. If Wuthering Heights is the novel for starry young lovers, full of hope, Persuasion is the novel for those with some prior knowledge, and sorrow about the subject.

Austen shows her hand with regard to romantic sentiment when Anne, after accepting Wentworth, returns home again, “happier than anyone in that house could have conceived … she re-entered the house so happy as to be obliged to find an alloy in some momentary apprehensions of its being impossible to last. An interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective of everything dangerous in such high-wrought felicity”.

If ever there was a heroine whose individual power comes from self-control and self-containment as much as from a tender heart it is the charming Anne Elliot.

Nicely done.