So today, as a special guest, I have Miss Jane Austen, who has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about romance, her view of marriage and her writings, using her own words. I hope you will welcome her warmly.
So many people have come to love and admire Mr. Darcy, your creation. What do you think is the main attribute of the romantic hero?
There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.
In your opinion, what is the best way to win a gentleman’s heart?
In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels.
What about all the enhancements a young lady has at her disposal? All the fine Regency gowns we love so much?
It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone.
Elizabeth Bennet’s lively manners and intelligence are an important aspect of why Mr. Darcy loves her. Do you think this is true generally in romance?
A woman, especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can. However, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance. A good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man.
In Pride and Prejudice, you write about failed proposals. What do you think is the essence of a successful proposal?
Is not general incivility the very essence of love?
But Elizabeth accuses Mr. Darcy of being uncivil, yet he fails in his proposal.
Angry people are not always wise. Besides, he surprises her. Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.
You are fond of portraying selfish, self-centred people in your novels. Take Mary Elliott in Persuasion, Lady Catherine and Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey and many others. Yet even if they’re villains, you never condemn them fully. Why is that?
Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.
Some would even go so far as to say you favour your villains over your heroes and heroines. Would you agree that is the case?
Very possibly. I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. Besides, pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked.
One thing that puzzles me about your novels is how many ineffective clergymen there are in them. Even the hero of Mansfield Park Edmund Bertram succumbs easily to temptation. Why is this the case?
It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.
If you will permit me, Miss Austen, I would like to ask a question of a personal nature. Have you ever been in love yourself?
No. The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love.
Do you think marriage is an important part of a lady’s identity?
It depends. It is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! -- the proper sport of boys and girls -- but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else.
What do you think is the foundation of a good marriage?
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.
Do you believe in marrying your soulmate?
There is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry.
But you do have some happy relationships in your novel -- Darcy and Elizabeth, for example. What do you think is the reason for the success of their relationship?
A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.
Finally, Miss Austen, what do you think of the Romance genre?
I could not sit down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life.
Thank you, Miss Austen, for your timeless words.