So, first things first. Let us consider our model, the Jane Austen heroine. Who is she? What does she look like? How does she behave? And how can we all be a lot more like her, and thus attract Mr Darcy (or his twenty-first-century doppelganger, at least) into our lives?
There are two essential parts to the Jane Austen heroine (and, of course, to all of us): the external and the internal. The crucial take-home message from Jane on the external is this: appearance is not the most important thing. Oh, the relief! I hear you cry. Closely followed by: oh, the surprise! But it’s true. In radical opposition to virtually every tenet of our superficial, celebrity-makeover-be-thinner-getfitter-look-younger world, as a Jane Austen heroine the way you look is not of prime significance. It is not the reason people like you; it is not the reason you like yourself; and it is not the reason Mr Darcy will fall desperately in love with you.
For Jane, it’s what you’re like on the inside that matters. I hate to say it, but Jane’s heroines are genuinely nice people. Even when they’re occasionally excruciatingly annoying (ahem, Emma Woodhouse, Marianne Dashwood, Fanny Price), you like them, because they’re honest, kind and have a sense of humour.
I know. It sounds too boring – not to mention unfashionable and weird and just plain daggy – to be true. But if you are channelling Elizabeth Bennet (and, ergo, Mr Darcy) in your love life, it’s crucial to engage with this concept.
You need to try to be nice: modest, generous, and thoughtful of others. And, equally as important, you need to work on becoming nicer. Don’t just imagine that some lucky few are born paragons of virtue and the rest of us are stuck wherever we happen to fall on the universal scale of goodness. A Jane Austen heroine actively tries to better herself – and not because it looks cool or because people will notice or because gorgeous men will fall helpless in her wake as she tootles around in the meals-on-wheels mini-van. Being a nicer person is a universal good; you do it because you’re a civilised woman in a (supposedly) civilised society.
And, in fact, it will actually cause gorgeous men to fall helpless in your wake. And thus, it really will help draw Mr Darcy into your orbit.
A word of warning, however. Before Mr Darcy arrives to be amazed by your altruistic endeavours, you may need to brace yourself for an unexpected and apparently contradictory truth: becoming a nicer person will not get you more men. As a Jane Austen heroine, this is something you’re going to have to come to terms with.
Miss Mary Crawford, so overtly charming and flirtatious, is always going to get more men than Fanny Price, with her serious outlook and her penchant for intellectual discussion. Marianne, full of wild charm and drama, is always going to be more popular than her sister Elinor, with her sense of duty and self-control. Even Emma, with her fundamental kindness and wisdom (albeit hidden under a lot of nonsense), is not as popular as Jane Fairfax, with her blond beauty and (frankly, at times rather annoying) air of hidden tragedy.
But Jane’s is a model based on quality, not quantity. And, as a Jane Austen heroine, you do not want the thousand Mr Eltons or Frank Churchills of the world, after all. You want the one and only Mr Knightley. Being nice won’t get you more men, but it will get you a better class of man.
This is because being nice is actually a miraculous sorting technique for separating the wheat from the chaff, men-wise. Fuckwits and dickheads and bastards, surprise surprise, are not interested in girls who are intelligent, generous and kind. They are not interested in girls who will spend twenty minutes at a party talking to the daggiest person present so that they don’t feel left out while everyone else plays Strip Twister. Fuckwits and dickheads and bastards are interested in the girl shimmying between the red and blue dots, waving her bra in the air. So as you become more generous (Emma), more morally upright (Fanny) and more graceful under pressure (Elinor), you may find yourself shedding a lot of pointless blokes. This can be wounding to the vanity, but you’ve got to let it happen: you’ve got to have the courage of your convictions. It might even come as a relief.
This is a fantastic technique for everyone, of course, but it’s particularly excellent for women who find that they repeatedly attract ‘the wrong sort of man’. If you are such a woman, rather than undergoing extensive psychotherapy, just try focusing on being nicer, and calmer, and more accomplished in a quiet way, with no reference to men. Read better books, listen to some classical music, join a community project – and wait for the sorting process to begin. No bastard can withstand the combined weight of Barchester Towers, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program. He will simply vanish into the ether, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
Of course, you don’t have to revolutionise your entire life all at once. Nor do you have to go overboard. None of Jane’s heroines are paragons of virtue, thank God, and we wouldn’t love them if they were. Emma is vain and lazy, and makes wildly inaccurate judgements about people. Elizabeth Bennet is overly frivolous and lets her temper get the better of her. Anne Elliot lets herself fall prey to melancholy and depression, and Fanny is a boring old stick in the mud. We are none of us perfect (and it’s worth remembering that our heroes won’t be either), and that’s okay. The path of true love does not rely on perfection, or only saints and angels would ever get together. So, you know, if every now and then you do end up in the midst of the Twister pile, don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as you’re doing your best most of the time, that’s what counts.
So next time you’re at a party and there’s a person hovering on the edge of your group, draw them in. Next time there’s someone standing by the whiteboard who doesn’t know anyone in the meeting, introduce yourself. Next time someone tells a terrible, terrible joke, laugh anyway – at least enough to cover the deafening silence. And trust that virtue will eventually have its rewards. Genuinely kind, generous girls are incredibly attractive, and any worthwhile man (note the adjective) will eventually stop, and look, and take action. I have a friend whose boyfriend first told her he loved her after she’d taken the trouble to talk to his shy mate at the pub about paintballing; and Darcy falls for Elizabeth when he realises that her moral strength and sense of social grace are far superior to his own. ‘You taught me a lesson… You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased,’ he tells her. And we all cheer wildly from the sidelines.
Excerpted from Finding Mr Darcy by Amanda Hooton. Copyright © 2012 by Amanda Hooton.
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