Blame it on Jane (Austen, that is)

A great deal of literature thrives on conflict.  This is especially true for the romance genre.  You really don’t have much of a book if the entire plot is “boy meets girl, boy gets girl.”  To engage the reader, the plot has to be “boy meets girl” and then something happens for the middle part of the book that keeps boy and girl apart, until the end of the book when “boy gets girl.”

Since the time of Jane Austen, one of the most frequently used devices for filling the middle of the book is to create a plot in which the boy and the girl don’t like each other.  Jane set the template:  although he was a very good and honorable man, Mr. Darcy presented himself to the world, and to Elizabeth Bennett, as an unfeeling jerk.  Elizabeth also had her failings, insofar as she jumped to conclusions, but she was charming and personable from the get go.  Had Darcy not been a jerk, she would not have wandered off the path of fact and into the realm of assumptions.

And so the template was set:  jerky guys with hearts of gold.  In the almost two hundred years since Pride & Prejudice was published, movies and books are filled with jerky guys — arrogant guys, pushy guys, snotty guys, aggressive guys — who become charming princes thanks to the heroine’s incredible charm.  And really, it does make for fun reading or movie watching.  It’s enjoyable following characters as they finally get it right.

The problem, though, for real girls in the real world, is that jerky guys tend to be . . . well, jerks.  If you want a nice guy in this life, you should find someone who is nice from the start.  Life isn’t fiction, and if your jerky guy refuses to turn into a handsome, caring, kind Prince, you might find yourself in a world of hurt.

Anyway, that was my advice to my daughter, who loves to read and who, I am afraid, will fall into jerky guy syndrome based upon the plot-line of way too many enjoyable books, both quality and trash.

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  • Danny Lemieux

    Good advice!

    This post should be required reading for every girl entering Middle School and once again when they enter High School.

  • Michael Adams

    It is my understanding, from snippets here and there, that Mr. Book, (Dr. Worm?) for all his Lefty irrationality, is anything but a jerk. For this reason alone, I seriously doubt that Sissy B.Worm will fall for jerks, certainly not after the first one or two. If her daddy is nice to her Mama, she’ll expect no less from any suitors. Also, while Dad may strive to be non-confrontational, she has a Mama Grizzly who would set his a** straight in short order, and Uncle Charles and Uncle Quixote may be called upon as a citizen militia, at need. (Oh, yeah, there’s a Viking in the Chicago suburbs who comes to town from time to time. )Frankly, I pity da foo.

  • Ymarsakar

    You see, the entire half of the book was about two people misunderstanding each other. All they had to do was have a little adult conversation and air things out, but because they didn’t do that, half the book was taken up in the process.

    Sound familiar to you, Book? 

  • Gringo

    ]In the almost two hundred years since Pride & Prejudice was published, movies and books are filled with jerky guys — arrogant guys, pushy guys, snotty guys, aggressive guys — who become charming princes thanks to the heroine’s incredible charm. 
    Along with the theme from novels and movies  that the heroine turns a jerk into a charming person, and thus a potentially good marriage partner, there appears to be a similar theme among some married women: change your spouse. It appears that there is a greater tendency among women than among men to want to change their married partners. Some call this nagging. 


    Gringo, thanks for the giggles.

    Never understood why or how one chooses a partner (wisely, hopefully) and then becomes hellbent on changing them into someone else. 

    Might as well go square dancing a few nights a week …’change yer partner do-si-do’.



  • Libby

    You can credit Austen for the making a jerk seem attractive in Pride and Prejudice, but she was better at illustrating how one shouldn’t act on first impressions. Most of her books include men (like Wickham, Willoughby, Crawford. Mr. Elliot) who are charming and seemingly perfect, but upon getting to know them better we discover they are jerks. These jerks don’t get the girl.
    Where romantic comedies stray today is that they make the jerk charming, and then have him win the girl despite a huge lie or sordid past. Can’t blame Austen for that – that’s just bad writing.  

  • Ron19

    Gringo:  I’ve noticed over the years that men marry a woman that is already a perfect wife and she doesn’t need to change; women marry a man that they think they can change to be the perfect husband.

    Sadly, both are soon disappointed.

  • Simplemind

    Jane Austen didn’t make women like jerks. Women liked jerks before Jane was born let alone learned to write. 

    Why do Women like jerks? Not sure, maybe because they dislike wimpy sycophants more. Best way to make a woman mark you as not interesting is to fawn all over her constantly.   Women want to be courted, but not by a man who has (at least in her mind) a lower status. So if you worship the ground she walks on, she will enjoy it, but will walk on you in the end. 

    Also, what is it you mean by jerk?  I’m not talking wife beating that’s obviously a non starter. If you can’t control your emotions then you are a jerk – if you punch people out or chase them around like a puppy fawning for attention that is polar opposites of the same root problem – insecurity. Jerks tend to project security and self confidence, if you can do that without being an actual jerk then you are doing it right.

    The jerky guy as love interest goes way back – shakespeare, the romans, greeks.  Old as time. Its real.
    Is the taming of the shrew about a man who tames a woman or a woman who controls a man . . .
    Ah marriage — some people think its boring. Hah.

  • jj

    Jane was careful to make sure that her heroes were actually not jerks.  “Jerky guys with hearts of gold” are in fact not jerks, and Jane’s heroines didn’t make them into princes – or anything else; the hearts of gold did that.