Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Nice Guys™

She seriously does not want to be dancing with this dude.
Here at NWF we are divided in our opinions of good old Jane Austen. Jess would like to "dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone," a la Mark Twain, whereas I genuinely enjoy many of her books despite an admittedly increasing frustration with the extreme limitation of the characters' lives. This post is not, however, a defense of Jane Austen.

Rather, I'd just like to point out something kind of interesting I noticed in Pride and Prejudice. Now, this novel is basically the chick lit prototype. Rare1 is the woman who has neither read the book nor seen its adaptations. And dear lord are there a lot of adaptations. Clearly the book continues to resonate with large -- very large -- numbers of women.

Simultaneously (and this is relevant, I swear), straight women are frequently accused of choosing partners poorly. And by "choosing poorly," I'm referring to our supposed collective love of bad boys. Of course, this is ridiculous; genuinely nice men don't come in last, it's just that creepy, manipulative men tell themselves that the reason they have romantic difficulties is because they're "too nice." Blecch. But don't take my word for it, let's take a look at one of the best-loved pieces of chick lit from the last couple hundred years.

As everyone knows, the book details the interaction between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Basically, Mr. Darcy quickly falls in love with our protagonist, because she is pretty and spunky in a socially-sanctioned Jane Austen kind of way. But he's rather an ass to her in the first half of the book, and she is having none of it. When he begrudgingly proposes marriage to her halfway through the novel (he may love her, but he's not thrilled about it) she tears into him with a speech that is shockingly blunt, particularly after half a novel of antiquated etiquette. The lady is not playing hard to get, she's not secretly in love with him, he's been an ass to her and she's pissed off.

Frankly, the novel could end there, as it's immensely satisfying. But Elizabeth's words hold up a mirror for Mr. Darcy, and he doesn't like what he sees. He then sets about changing himself, and reappears in the second half of the novel with vastly improved social graces. Elizabeth Bennet also finds out about some generous acts he's performed, and, depending on the adaptation, sees him in a rather wet shirt, and the net result is that she obtains both first and second-hand information that dude is not a total d-bag, and can actually be a pretty stand-up guy. Then she falls in love with him.

And, y'all, it's not all about him changing for her, either, because a lot of what changes her mind is finding out about nice things he's done for other people. It's just this: when she thinks he's a bad boy, she has absolutely no interest. When she finds out he's actually a pretty nice man, she develops an attraction for him. There you go, that's the whole plot. Hopefully this is one more nail in the coffin of the idea that nice guys come in last.

1EDIT: I would like to point out that by "rare," I meant in the U.S., and probably within the white population of the U.S. As a commenter has pointed out on our Facebook page, the appeal of this book is demographically limited, and that's good to keep in mind. It certainly does not represent the hopes and fears of women collectively, but is rather a reeeeeeeally popular piece of chick lit that provides a great counterexample to the "we're into bad boys" stereotype.

1 comment:

  1. This is somewhat tangential to your overall point, but a friend of mine wrote an interesting blog post a couple months back which touched upon, among other things, the appeal of Jane Austen and her contemporaries to feminist readers. Behold: