Though I was born centuries after you, you’ve become a rather large part of my life—much larger than I ever could’ve anticipate when I first watched the 2005 adaptation of your novel Pride & Prejudice. Yes. My first exposure to your work was not between leather bound covers of a book, but on a screen. I know. I’m riddled with shame, and I sincerely apologize. Nevertheless, ever since the first moment I touched your world—a world filled with grandeur, civility, and whirlwind romances—I must admit I felt myself lost in the modern world.
Tell me; where’s a girl supposed to find her Mr. Darcy in a world filled with Wickhams? I’m being entirely serious. You and your gorgeous prose and your carefully structured plot points and your gradual character development have left me disgruntled, discontent, and dissatisfied with most twenty-first-century guys. Your fiction has made it rather difficult to accept the reality of living—and more specifically, dating—in the twenty-first century. Is Mr. Darcy to blame for my high expectation of men, as so many Pinterest posts would have me conjecture? No. It’s you, Jane.
I am an incorrigible romantic, and it’s all your fault.
And, if I’m being completely honest, I love you for it.
I grew up on books, but more often than not, the trashier, beach reads—the kind that most people are ashamed to admit that they’ve read. Nicholas Sparks. Sarah Dessen. Jennifer Weiner. Sure. They’ve given us some great stories over the years (AKA The Notebook), but I can honestly say I don’t really yearn for any of their characters’ lives. Sparks’ books typically end in tragedy—death for the most part. I don’t want to live in a Nicholas Sparks novel the same way I don’t want to live in Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.
I think many people read for years, looking for that one book that will change their life forever. Dorian Gray of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray found his forever novel and was, from that moment on, haunted. Don Quixote of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha gradually found himself slipping deeper and deeper into a false sense of reality until he quite literally lost his mind. In Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert’s character of Emma found herself so enraptured with her romance novels and so terribly dissatisfied with the reality of her rather unromantic marriage that she succumbed to adultery and eventually committed suicide. I, too, am haunted, haunted by this wonderful, timeless book; haunted by a delusion forged from fiction; haunted by this very abstract idea of finding my very own Mr. Darcy.
I mean, where does one even begin? Elizabeth Bennet wasn’t looking for Mr. Darcy when he waltzed into her life at the Meryton ball. (Or rather, he didn’t waltz, for as we know, Darcy was not fortunate enough to possess Elizabeth’s ability to converse easily with those he does not know—because no one can be introduced in a ballroom.) Austen wrote perhaps one of the greatest love stories of all time—a novel that has truly stood the test of centuries. And it’s because of this completely unrealistic, but somehow simultaneously realistic love story between Elizabeth and Darcy. In all honesty, we really should be looking at Jane and Bingley’s relationship for inspiration. The two fell from the beginning, so simply, so honest, so charming. But theirs is not the story of a great romance for we are not destined to desire such simplicity. No. Authors know we readers want something more convoluted, something unlike our everyday lives that provide a much-needed escape from the monotony of real life. No. We need the drama, the obstacles crossed, the near miss of marital happiness that we only receive in the very last moments of the book.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we, again and again, choose to emotionally cut ourselves by selecting Pride & Prejudice from our shelves? And why continue to reopen the wound?
Simply? We just can’t help it—or more specifically, I can’t help it. I look around the world and the other 20-somethings that inhabit it, and I’m left unsatisfied by the creeps in the bars, on the bus, and in the grocery store. I’m not completely delusional—I don’t believe I’m going to stumble upon the fictional Mr. Darcy from 1813 in the middle of downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. But still, I find myself searching for someone with his attributes: his honesty, his surprisingly large heart, his intellect, his ambition, his fashion sense, his absolute and ardent admiration for the woman he loves. I don’t believe any of us are out there looking for a fictional character. No. We’re looking for our Mr. Darcy.
So, rather than blame you for my never-endingly single relationship status, Jane, I want to thank you. Thank you for bringing the concept of a man like Mr. Darcy into my life; thank you for raising my expectations of men (perhaps beyond what reality can give me, but that’s for another day); thank you for reminding me with every reread to never settle for anything less than my very own Mr. Darcy. It’s thanks to you, Jane, that I haven’t succumbed to peer pressure and lowered my expectations, as many others have just for the purpose of having somebody. And sure, it does get lonely from time to time. But when I have you to keep me company, the waiting for my Mr. Darcy doesn’t seem quite so lonely.