What Jane Austen’s heroines taught me about love

My mom sat me down in front of Pride and Prejudice when I was a very young age, and I haven’t stopped loving Lizzie Bennet since. She became one of my idols: I loved her defiance, nonconformity, and risk-taking attitude. I became obsessed with Jane Austen and proceeded to read all of her books, falling in love with the heroines (and their male counterparts) one by one. As I grew up, each woman’s story stuck with me and meant something different to me, revealing new lessons to me about love and life. Here’s what six Jane Austen heroines taught me about love.

You can’t always trust a first impression

Pride and Prejudice was originally named First Impressions, a fact truly understandable for readers – after Elizabeth Bennet takes a strong dislike towards her first impression of Darcy, she is stuck in her belief that he is completely undeserving of her attention. She refuses to give him another chance, and she views every encounter she has with him thereafter through the already ingrained biased perception she has of him. Despite being sure that she felt only hatred for him and is appalled after he proposes first, she slowly comes around to the idea that he isn’t actually that bad of a guy. Her declaration of love for him cements the point that sometimes, we can’t trust how we feel: she says she was “in the middle” of falling in love with him “before [she] knew [she] had begun.” Love is funny like that. It’s not always at first or second sight: Sometimes it’s something that simmers slowly over a long period of time.

Ultimately, how you feel is most important  

Persuasion beautifully explores the sometimes negative consequences of being too easily persuaded by others not to follow your own heart, as Anne Elliot’s parents talk her out of marrying her dream man, Captain Wentworth, because they feel his career is too unstable and the couple will be penniless in the future. Leaving him heartbroken, she decides that her parents know better than she does and gives up her love. After eight and a half years, she discovers how wrong she was. Wentworth is now a successful bachelor, back from the war with plenty of money. Anne realizes that perhaps she should have listened to herself rather than taking the advice of her family so faithfully. This taught readers to always put their own emotions first. While it can certainly be helpful to ask your family and friends, you alone should make the decision that you believe is best for you.

Love can make people do crazy things

Emma Woodhouse is probably the most disliked of all Austen heroines, and for good reason: Jane Austen willed it to be this way. She once said that she expected herself to be the only person to actually like the character of Emma. I, however, find her charming. While she can be hot-headed at times and fails to put her friends’ happiness over what she thinks will make them happy, she has a kind heart and wants the best for everyone. This said, it’s obvious that Emma fails to see how she is affecting people until the end, when she realizes the pain she has caused. She was for the most part inconsiderate of how she was hurting Mrs. Bates by being so intolerant, how she was only decreasing Harriet’s chances for happiness by interfering so much, and unaware that she had turned into a snobbish person until Knightley points this out. This serves as a gentle reminder that mistakes are easily made out of love- Emma was driven by her care for Harriet to set her up with men Emma herself found suitable, not realizing that Harriet wanted someone else the entire time. Despite her good intent, her actions only led to misery.

A successful relationship means sharing—or at least overlapping with—each other’s values

Fanny Price is the sweetest and most timid of our heroines. In Mansfield Park, she is shown growing up with the man she ends up falling in love with, Edmund Bertram, but does not end up with until after a series of unfortunate events. Fanny and Edmund are plagued by the problems of this time period, including a woman’s desire for a wealthy husband in order to survive. This means that Fanny is pressured by her family to marry a man who is well-off, while Edmund is often pursued by women who are drawn to him by his hefty future inheritance money. As Fanny is pursued by Henry Crawford, a man with charm, lots of money, but a total lack of morals, and Edmund gets involved with Mary Crawford, a woman who is interested in his wealth, both are seemingly in relationships that fit societal expectations of the time—love is shunted to the side and people are encouraged to make marital decisions that are economically responsible. Surprisingly enough, the same thing ruins both Fanny and Edmund’s relationships: their values. Fanny is unable to accept Henry’s adulterous acts with a married woman, and when Henry ultimately elopes with the married woman, Edmund is taken aback by the tolerance Mary shows for Henry’s immoral actions. Ultimately, Fanny and Edmund unite, both coming to terms with the love they’ve always had for one another and aware that they simply cannot be with people who have such different morals than they do. Part of what is important in a significant other are their values, as they might prove to be more important than you think.

The wrong guy sometimes looks like the right one 

Marianne perfectly illustrates the pains of being tricked by a man with bad intentions in Sense and Sensibility when she falls madly in love with Willoughby, a man who rescues her during a rain storm. She lets go of control of her emotions and becomes dedicated to her flirtation with him, despite the fact that he neither promised her his love nor proposed (which was the only way to really know a guy’s intentions in this time period). When he takes leave for an undisclosed period of time and does not respond to any of Marianne’s letters, she begins to realize that his charm and flirtatious nature might have been less of a sure sign than she thought. He breaks up with her in a cold, detached manner, telling her he is engaged to someone much wealthier than herself. She is left heartbroken, a state which too many readers have been in and can relate to. Love, in addition to all its greatness, naturally comes with pain, because sometimes the wrong guy seems like the right one.

Love isn’t the same IRL as it is in your imagination

In a satirical look at the classic Gothic books of the time, Austen paints the beautifully and deceivingly haunting Northanger Abbey, where protagonist Catherine Morland is taken by the ideas of adventure, heroism, and mystery. She meets a charming man named Henry Tilney as well as his family. When she discovers that he lives in a Gothic castle, she suddenly imagines herself as the girl in distress in one of her beloved Gothic novels and that she had stumbled across a family that had secrets and murder and everything juicy. She goes so far as to think Tilney’s father murdered his wife and explores the castle, excited to find secrets, but is soon called out by Henry for her overactive imagination. Let’s face it—we’ve all treated life like it was a romantic comedy sometimes, or even a soap opera. It’s important to remember that in real life, love is not usually as it is portrayed on television or in movies, much as we sometimes wish it were. Love is usually a lot simpler.

Linsha Qi is a dog lover, religious foodie, and a late-night television show aficionado. She currently attends UC Berkeley and is studying Political Science and English. She has worked for the Daily Californian and EmpowHER. Her hobbies include working out to Blogilates, attempting to eat healthy, and knitting while re-watching her favorite comedies. 

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[Image via Becoming Jane]

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