This evening I decided to watch Austenland, the movie where the regency comes to life and lifelong Austen fan Jane, played by Keri Russell, is swept up in her own Austen storyline, but ends up wondering what is real and what isn’t. I really enjoyed it – as I do with anything that concerns Jane Austen, my all-time favourite author – and it made me wonder… if I could be in an Austen novel, which one would I pick?
Ever since I first read it, Pride and Prejudice has been my favourite book. Like most people, I think this was enhanced by Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, but there is something in the pages that I love. I like how strong-minded Lizzy is, I like what a nice man Mr Bingley is, I like how sarcastic Mr Bennet is, I like how simultaneously likeable and unlikeable Mr Collins is, I like that there’s scandal and I like the fact that Mr Darcy is the ultimate gentleman underneath it all. Even if he is exceptionally proud. There is nothing better than a character which you are desperate to like throughout the whole story becoming the very essence of goodness, and is modest about it – and Mr Darcy embodies that completely.
However, my second joint favourites are Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Mansfield Park has that lovely story of somebody who is in love with their best friend (though in this case, as was more conventional in the Georgian period, Fanny is in love with her cousin Edmund) and then eventually, that love becomes no longer unrequited. I always wanted this to be the case for me, not that I was in love with my best friend, but because it just seemed so romantic. And in Persuasion, when love is given a second chance to Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth? Although when Mr Darcy declares how “ardently” in love he is with Lizzy makes my heart melt, Anne’s words to Captain Wentworth send shivers down my spine: “you pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope”. This is to the point that I have memorised it because I just love that moment. Both seem to have this perfect fairy tale where unrequited love is solved, but in different ways; somehow making the agony worthwhile.
I spent the whole of Sense and Sensibility praying for Edward and Elinor to get together, and hoping that Mr Willoughby would be nice. I love how Jane Austen lets the nice men win in the end and become the heroes of her novels. That would make me incredibly happy to live in any of her novels, knowing that my Mr Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Edward Ferrars, Edmund Bertram, or even Henry Tilney or Mr Knightley, would look after me. But at the same time, I would want the independence and determination of Lizzy, the sweetness of Fanny Price and the hope and faith of Anne Elliot. There is something special about each of the novels – even Emma and Northanger Abbey, which I haven’t really mentioned but are captivating – which makes not only me but countless other Jane Austen fans return to the novels over and over again. The love and the manners capture the polite society of the Regency perfectly and have also set the models for many other stories and films that followed. Bridget Jones becomes enchanted by her own Wickham and Darcy, Daniel Cleaver and the aptly-named Mark Darcy. In Clueless, Cher Horowitz is as enamoured with match-making as her Georgian inspiration, Emma. The list goes on.
Austenland combined parts from the different novels, and ultimately left Keri Russell’s character stuck in a similar situation to Lizzy Bennet, with somebody who looks genuine and someone who appears aloof, who end up being completely different to the first impression. And when I watched this storyline unfold (simultaneously enjoyably but predictably) and was so happy to see what happened at the end, I think it answered my question about which book I would choose to live in. If I couldn’t live as Lizzy Bennet, I’d make the same move as Jemima Rooper’s character in Lost in Austen and take Mr Darcy for myself. Because who wouldn’t pick Mr Darcy? Although aloof and proud at the beginning, he becomes the hero of the story, looking after Lizzy and her family and changing his own pride, whilst causing her to change her own prejudices.
This is me trying not to sound Austen-mad, but now spending the evening daydreaming about Mr Darcy and desperate to start the novel again.