Love in the time of Austen and Bronte sisters

I reread Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for the third time last week. As always, could not help but fall in love with Mr Darcy for the third time. He is not perfect; handsome and rich yes, but not perfect.

Yet, when he confesses to Elizabeth Bennet:

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

your heart skips a beat. You want to say, “Oh boy, me too.”

Why is it that we continue to fall in love with fictional characters? Is it because of the ideal they represent, an honest hero hopelessly in love and a knight in shining armour when heroine needs him to be?

No, I do not think so. If that had been the case, cunning Rhett Butler of Gone with the Wind and ruthless Healthcliff from Wuthering Heights would never have made the list. I can only come to the conclusion that it is the imperfections that they wear with confidence makes us fall in love. We women fall in love with them despite the imperfections.

I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was 19. The pace of the story was slow and Mr Darcy does not really make a good first impression. He comes off as a rich snob of the Victorian era. But he gains favour of women and Elizabeth as the story progresses. Romance builds up very slowly. It starts with asking your fair lady for a dance, at least twice in a ball, amidst numerous other ladies to let her know that he is interested. When it is someone like Darcy, who is as reserved and prideful as nobles come, it sure is a big deal. That aside, lending your lady a hand now and then, accepting her obnoxious family as they are and going beyond his comfort zone to help them. Man, who cannot help fall in love with him. No wonder Elizabeth fell for him and could not wait to say yes when he proposes the second time.

“You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.”

When he utters these words it is not only Elizabeth but people like me wanted to shout: “Yes. Please marry me.”

Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Source: Catalogue Magazine
Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. This is where he proposes to Elizabeth the second time. Source: Catalogue Magazine

That was all about Mr Darcy. Now is our American civil war hero the handsome and cunning Rhett Butler of Gone with the wind, written by Margaret Mitchell. I read this book when I was working in Infosys. The story is about selfish, manipulative and impulsive heroine Scarlett O’hara and Rhett Butler, who is her second husband. Rhett is a businessman and playboy. He is attracted to Scarlett and falls for her despite her nature and her unwillingness to hide it. 

GONE WITH THE WIND, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, 1939. Source: The Red List

GONE WITH THE WIND, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, 1939. Source: The Red List

Unlike Darcy, who was awkward, Rhett is very smooth. The way he woos and makes her agree to marry him are calculated yet very romantic.  He charms her with expensive gifts like ornaments and clothes, as he knew Scarlett is a sucker for anything obnoxious and glittery. He convinces her to marry him knowing it is his wealth she loves more than himself. He says to her as he pursues her: “Frankly, My dear. If I leave you alone anymore, before I see you the next time you will be married to someone remotely rich It might as well be me.”

What a confidence. I loved his confidence and his way with Scarlett, who could never manipulate Rhett. 

Cathy and Healthcliff from Wuthering Heights.
Cathy and Healthcliff from Wuthering Heights.

I’m saving my favourite for the last – dark and broody Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. The story is set on moorland farmhouse in Yorkshire, whose raw beauty matches the undisguised and explosive emotions of two protagonists Healthcliff and Catherine.  Healthcliff was first introduced as an orphan who the master of the house brought home on a whim. Master’s daughter Catherine aka Cathy takes a fancy to him and they spend a lot of time together in moors and eventually falling in love. It was a kind of love that did not need poetry or words. They knew in their hearts they were meant to be together and that was it mattered. It was raw. It does not make you feel warm, but your pulse race. 

But there are shortfall too, as Healthcliff does not talk much, he is broody, has bad temper and possessive. This comes in the way of their love, as a neighbour takes fancy to Cathy. Of course the twisted fate separates them, until they were united in death.

In the course of the story you learn more about Healthcliff, Cathy and the kind of love they shared. It centres around Healthcliff, who mourns the death of his beloved every single minute of his life until it consumes him. Until he wills himself to die if it could reunite him with Cathy. It was the kind of love that scares you.

May be that is why even though this tale of tragedy talks about the kind of love that is so painful that death is the only panacea, I love it.

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