Archive for the ‘Jane Austen Novels’ Category

In this series, we’re exploring Jane Austen’s novels and identifying the romantic themes used in each one – with the goal of proving that Jane Austen not only used romantic themes ingeniously but also played an important role in developing several key plot devices that are still used in modern filmmaking today.

Last month, I wrote about the “Enemies-to-Lovers” theme in Pride and Prejudice. This month, I’m delving into Emma and looking at the romantic themes it continues to inspire in modern romantic movies and shows.

Emma 1996

Enemies to Lovers in Emma

In “The Rom Com Explained” on TheTake.com, we read this humorous definition of the popular enemies-to-lovers trope that I discussed last month in regard to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy:

“The two love interests probably start out at odds. They may come from different worlds, have competing goals, or simply get off on the wrong foot. But as the rom-com wisdom goes, there’s a very thin line between love and hate, and the story frames all this friction as kindling for sparks to fly.”

What about Emma and Mr. Knightley? In Emma, some have said that Mr. Knightley and Emma fit the rivals description as well because of their witty banter and playful digs, but their delayed love interest seems to be much more about their age gap, their family history, and their comfort level with one another that comes from being brother- and sister-in-law.

Emma 2009

Defining the Relationship

But if they aren’t rivals-to-lovers, what makes the romance between Emma and Mr. Knightley so irresistible? What techniques does Austen use to cleverly draw us into their world? What causes the slow burn that builds between them?

Are they boy/girl next door lovers? Possibly.

Friends-turned-lovers? Probably.

While Emma falls into both of these categories, if we want to narrow it down even further, the romance between Emma and Mr. Knightley best fits the “It Was Right In Front Of You All Along” theme.

In Emma, the relationship between Emma and Mr. Knightley sizzles because it’s so unexpected—at least for the two main characters. We, the readers, watch it slowly build (and hope that it will happen), but the characters themselves don’t recognize their own feelings for quite some time. It takes Emma the longest to realize, which adds to the charm of the story.

Emma 2020

The Red Herring

In a red herring love story, there is usually at least one misleading love interest or storyline to keep readers off the trail. Jane Austen obviously sets the bar high for the red herring theme in Emma, but here’s a definition from “The Rom Com Explained” article:

“Rom-com leads often start out with a red herring love interest who seems very appealing but turns out to be all wrong. Meanwhile, as the protagonist spends time with someone they aren’t actively trying to impress, they can be their unfiltered self and get to know the other person in a real way.”

Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility all have at least one red herring love interest. In each, there’s a man who seems charming and agreeable at first but turns out to be quite the opposite. In PP and SS, the red herrings turn out to be villains (yes, I’m looking at you Mr. Wickham and Mr. Willoughby), but in Emma, Frank Churchill, an immature and obnoxious man who think it’s funny to play with other people’s emotions, acts as the red herring. These red herring lovers keep audiences busy trying to figure them out so that they don’t notice the real love story brewing beneath the surface.

Emma 2020
Emma 2009

Reading Emma like a Detective

Unlike most modern romantic comedies, Jane Austen’s plot in Emma is anything but obvious. She outdoes herself with several misleading storylines. She keeps us so busy figuring out what’s happening between Emma and Frank Churchill, Emma or Harriet and Mr. Elton, Harriet and Frank Churchill, and even Harriet and Mr. Knightley that the majority of first-time readers never even notice the Frank and Jane Fairfax storyline until later in the novel.

In fact, Emma is so cleverly written that many scholars believe it reads more like a detective story than a romance. If you’d like to delve into this fascinating topic, click to read David H. Bell’s brilliant article, “Fun with Frank and Jane: Austen on Detective Fiction” in JASNA’s Persuasions.

Emma 1997 (Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill)

Hidden in Plain Sight

The other side of the coin with a red herring love story is that the false-love interest helps hide the true love interest—the one the heroine’s known for a long time and has never thought about “in that way.”

In the red herring plot line, this “real” love interest hides in plain sight. Sometimes, like in the situation with Mr. Darcy, he’s cloaked in some kind of mystery, misunderstanding, or perceived arrogance. Other times, as with Mr. Knightley, the hidden male lead is considered “off limits” because he’s a cousin, a step brother, a friend, or a co-worker. Most of the time, we (the audience) know he’s the real love interest rather quickly, but it takes most of the movie for the heroine to figure it out.

This is where Mr. Knightley really shines. He’s “the one,” hiding in plain sight. From the start, Austen casts him as the “big brother-type.” As a neighbor and friend, and the brother of Emma’s sister’s husband, Mr. Knightley is the perfect “off limits” hidden love interest. Emma has never looked at him in “that way.” It has never crossed her mind that he could see her as anything other than an annoying little sister.

The Aha Moment

“This long-developing chemistry leads to a moment of epiphany, where the character suddenly realizes the feelings that have been crystal-clear to the viewer all along” (“The Rom Com Explained”).

In this type of plot, usually one lead character realizes his/her feelings first, while the other takes longer to wake up to what’s going on between them. In Emma, Mr. Knightley sees Emma as much more than a neighbor and friend early on, but Emma is busy chasing other love stories and doesn’t see her own true love story blossoming right in front of her nose.

It’s only later in the film that Emma finally realizes that she loves Mr. Knightley. It’s always been him. This realization comes when she finds out that Harriet has feelings for Mr. Knightley (and that her feelings might possibly be returned). Startled by the powerful feelings of jealousy that come over her, she finally awakens to the deep love she’s felt for Mr. Knightley for quite some time.

Emma 1996

Modern rom-coms patterned after Emma:

Ever since Emma, there have been countless stories of friends-turned-lovers and lovers-hidden-in-plain-sight.

Modern films that fit this category are 13 Going on 30, Always Be My Maybe, Love and Basketball, Just Friends, Made of Honor, When Harry Met Sally, and Yesterday. In television, there are several couples in The Big Bang Theory, Monica and Chandler on Friends, and Jim and Pam from The Office. While these romances also fall into the friends-turned-lovers category, they fit the themes in Emma because most include a love interest that is hiding in plain sight but also “off limits” for one reason or another.

The most obvious modern film to follow in Emma’s footsteps is Clueless. It’s worth discussing because it is considered by many as one of the best modern remakes of a Jane Austen novel. Though some say it’s just a silly teen romance, it’s also incredibly clever in its own right. I truly believe it belongs in the “It was Right in Front of You All Along” category.

Clueless 1995
Clueless 1995

Finally, while Bridget Jones’s Diary is most often connected with Pride and Prejudice, there are also plenty of similarities between it and Emma. Mark Darcy has many attributes that closely align with Mr. Knightley. He’s an older, wiser family friend who seems (and probably is) far too good for Bridget but actually finds her quite adorable and captivating. It takes Bridget a long time to realize that Daniel Cleaver is a jerk and Mark is the better, more mature man.

If you love Emma and Mr. Knightley as much as I do, what do you think makes their romance so charming? At what point do you think Mr. Knightley realized his romantic feelings for Emma?

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Now Available: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Read Full Post »

Inquiring Readers, 

Several news items about Jane Austen have piqued my interest! My friend Deborah Barnum, who oversees the excellent Jane Austen in Vermont blog, referred me to an article written in February by Catherine Bennet entitled Who’s going to be triggered by Northanger Abbey? It’s hardly Game of Thrones. 

Greenwich University’s Trigger Warnings Towards Northanger Abbey

Question: Does catering to students’ sensitive sensibilities and possible antipathy towards a gently humorous and ironic novel prepare them for a successful adulthood and working life? Northanger Abbey, originally titled Susan, was written by a 23-year-old author around 230 years ago. Inquiring minds want to know.

Catherine Bennet sums up the article in one sentence, “Greenwich University is warning students to prepare themselves for the ‘toxic friendships’ Jane Austen satirises in her novel.”

TOXIC?  I gasped as I read the reasoning this university gave for protecting students from gender stereotypes and toxic relationships so they won’t be upset. Do universities no longer teach classic literature in context of the historical times in which it was written? Do literature professors no longer supervise robust debates and healthy discussions? Or help their classes to understand how, over the course of her short life, Austen’s novels and her personal viewpoint changed and transformed her own understanding of the human condition?

Must our childrens’ tender sensibilities be given a safe space from a brilliant spinster writer who helped to revolutionize the novel? I’ll tell you what triggered me, Greenwich University, and forced my bosom to heave:  It was your pandering where none was needed.

To quiet my suffering nerves, I must now reach for my smelling salts, drink some elderberry wine, and rest. A handsome companion holding my hand would not be amiss. Hint: humor and irony here. (My friend and editor would have merely added a wink emoji, but yours truly desires to dramatize her feelings à la Marianne Dashwood!)

Steventon House for Sale

Screen Shot 2023-04-05 at 12.45.12 PMJust as this article surfaced, another one popped up! While Jane Austen is more popular than ever, which has me chuffed, this account does not quite describe the before and after differences of the Steventon House. Here’s the description of the sale of Steventon House today.

The Austen family’s house was actually demolished in the early 19th century, soon after the George Austen family moved to Bath. All that remains to this day of the old Rectory is a pump surrounded by a tiny fence. The rest of the house is gone. The current sale article describes today’s site/situation as such:

“Steventon House was the birthplace of the iconic author Jane Austen,” said Ed Sugden, director of Savills, the estate’s listing agency, along with Knight Frank. “Although the original structure has since disappeared, the Georgian masterpiece that currently stands, envisioned by her older brother Edward, perfectly befits the milieu that Austen captured in her writing.”

Well, no. Take a look at the link to these images. Can you see anything that resembles late 18th C./early Regency furnishings? One must applaud the mystery that our spinster Jane still holds over her admirers today. The new owners would not be living in her family’s historic house, but they could still  imagine trodding the same lanes that she and her family walked towards  Steventon Church, to friends’ houses, and to purchase goods in nearby towns. They can still experience the landscape that nurtured her childhood and budding writing career. These imaginings alone should be worth the cost of their purchase.

Here’s a link to Remains of Jane Austen’s Steventon House Unearthed by the BBC

My previous thoughts are a perfect segue to:

Jane Austen’s Little Book of Wisdom: Words on Love, Life, Society, and Literature, Compiled by Andrea Kirk Assaf. (Click on link.)

Jane Austen's Little Book of WisdomThis book provides the reader with a quote a day or the opportunity to devour swaths of her genius at a time. Be that as it may, let’s gauge how many of Austen’s sayings are as inspiring and witty as ever:

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” – Pride & Prejudice, back cover

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our  lives” – Persuasion, p140

“I think it ought not to set down as certain that a man must be acceptable to every woman he may like himself” – Mansfield Park, p 49

For a lady who was never married, she sounds modern and reasonable. This lovely book will provide a daily diet of Austen sensibility every day of the year. My vote: 4 out of 4 teacups.

A friend Discovers Jane Austen

A fellow board member who serves with me on a local board asked me out of the blue about the two BBC Jane Austen films he had watched. They were Emma, 2009 (he stood up and applauded the film at the end) and Sense and Sensibility, 2007, which he also applauded. When I asked him why he began watching the films, he confessed to reading this blog and being intrigued by my devotion to Jane.

He then asked if Pride and Prejudice was worth watching. After a short conversation, I realized he had never read Jane’s novels. I told him that P&P was regarded as one of the top novels in literature, and asked him which version he had borrowed from the library. It was the splendid 1995 A&E/BBC Firth/Ehle mini series.

He viewed P&P and within two days told me that this tale/movie version was his favorite. He then asked for more suggestions. I gave him a few, but he made it clear that he wanted to see the movies based on her other novels. What say you, fair readers? Which Austen film adaptations should he watch next in your opinion? And why.

Read Full Post »

Growing Older with Jane Austen by Maggie Lane: Review and Highlights by Brenda S. Cox

“A woman of seven and twenty,” said Marianne, after pausing a moment, “can never hope to feel or inspire affection again”—Sense and Sensibility, chapter 8.

“Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her [Charlotte Lucas’s] object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it”—Pride and Prejudice, chapter 22.

“Anne, at seven-and-twenty, thought very differently from what she had been made to think at nineteen”—Persuasion, chapter 4.

Marianne Dashwood expresses the views of popular literature of the time when she says that a 27-year-old woman is too old for love. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas is desperate at age 27, and accepts Mr. Collins. But in Persuasion, Austen overturns the conventions by showing us a mature, 27-year-old woman who does find love, though her society would say she’s over the hill.

All Jane Austen’s other heroines are younger, between 16 (Marianne Dashwood) and 22 (Jane Bennet, and Charlotte Heywood of Sanditon). The heroes are somewhat older, from their early twenties to mid-thirties, with Mr. Knightley the oldest at 37 or 38.  These ages are probably standard fare for books including a marriage plot (though Austen of course offers other themes as well).

However, many older characters in Austen’s novels influence those young people’s lives. We can learn a lot about aging in Austen’s world from her novels.

I’m glad that some years ago I got a copy of Maggie Lane’s Growing Older with Jane Austen. I learn new things from it each time I re-read it. I’ll tell you up front, though, that currently there are only some overpriced used copies available online, though I hope you might be able to borrow a copy through your library. (I’d love to see this classic reissued, at least as an ebook!)

So, I want to share with you just a few of Maggie Lane’s insights into aging in Jane Austen. It’s hard to choose from such riches; I wish I could cover the whole book. Lane explores the topic of aging through Austen’s novels, other writings, and letters, as well as Austen’s own life and her family’s lives. I’ll give you some tastes of the first half of the book this month, and the second half next month.


Jane Austen was aware of the challenges of growing older. Lane starts with several of Austen’s comments that show compassion for older people and awareness that she herself was aging. For example, Austen wrote of her elderly acquaintance, “poor Mrs. Stent”: “we must be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves, unequal to anything & unwelcome to everybody” (Letters, April 21, 1805).

Austen herself, Lane says, “was more contented, busy and fulfilled at thirty-eight than at twenty-nine. . . . She had less than four years left to live, but what she accomplished in her brief lifespan would bring pleasure to readers across continents and for centuries to come . . .” (9).

The Loss of Youth and Beauty (chapter 1)

Beauty was crucially important to young women of Austen’s time because it enabled them to find husbands, along with security and income.

Two Austen heroines, Marianne Dashwood and Anne Elliot, lose their “bloom.” Lane defines that as “a healthy, glowing skin free from blemishes and wrinkles.” Health was fragile in this day of “little medical undertanding or treatment.” A woman’s “bloom” could be lost through suffering or sickness, as happened to Marianne and Anne (as well as to Eliza Williams, offstage in Sense and Sensibility). The loss of bloom and beauty materially damaged a woman’s chances of getting a husband and a home of her own. However, both Marianne and Anne are restored by the love of those around them (Lane, 14-17).

Anne Elliot recovers her “bloom” at the seaside.
C. E. Brock, public domain.

One conduct book of the time, The Mirror of Graces, suggests that at age 30, a woman lays aside youthfulness, and “arrays herself in the majesty of sobriety, or in the grandeur of simple magnificence.” By the time she is 50, she should “gracefully” throw aside ornamentation and descend into old age (Lane, 20). Elizabeth Elliot is approaching the “dangerous” age of 30. Mrs. Weston of Emma must be in her late thirties, though Frank Churchill describes her as a “pretty young woman.”

Several role models in the novel are older women like Mrs. Weston, whose “sense of self-worth is not dependent on her appearance, or on male reaction to it” (Lane, 25). Mrs. Croft and Lady Russell are likewise secure in their age and appearance. It is a man, Sir Walter Elliott, age 54, who is most concerned about age and most vain of his looks!

My Time of Life (chapter 2)

“Age plays a large part in how we perceive ourselves and others, even today,” Lane says (38). Austen gives us full pictures of her characters, appropriate for the “time of life” of each one. “With the lightest of touches, Jane Austen grounds her characters in the age range they inhabit. Small details of clothes, hair or deportment, or more frequently and consistently of speech, outlook and habit, help us perceive her old characters to be middle-aged or elderly” (Lane, 41). Mr. Woodhouse, though, shows himself to be “older in ways than in years.” His fears, hatred of change, love of youthful habits and furnishings, and his speech all show him as a unique but elderly person. Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Bates also speak and reminisce in ways that show their age.

For Austen, youth is not enough. Mrs. Bennet, for instance, had “youth and beauty” enough to capture a husband, but not the depth of character needed for aging well. Austen uses the phrases “the evening of life,” in Emma, and “November of life,” in Persuasion. “In both instances, what is shown is an awareness of passing time, and acknowledgment that to live a satisfying full lifespan, the charm and freshness of youth need to be supplemented and then succeeded by something deeper” (Lane, 39).

Mrs. Bennet was probably in her early 40s, though we often imagine her as older.
C. E. Brock, public domain

Parent Against Child (chapter 3)

Most of the older people in Austen’s novels are parents. The parents of marriageable daughters would likely have been in their early forties, though the movies often show them much older.

Lane explores the tensions between the generations in Austen’s novels: Edward Ferrars against his mother, Tom Bertram against his father, William Elliot against the head of his family, Henry Tilney against his father, even Colonel Brandon against his own father before S&S starts.

Parents were no longer arranging marriages for their children. “In the eighteenth century, it was increasingly believed that the way to promote fidelity in marriage was to allow couples to follow their hearts, rather than forcing them into the dynastic arranements of the past.” Couples, however, still had to get parental approval, as we see in Austen’s novels. The Morlands, for example, will not countenance Catherine’s marriage to Henry until General Tilney gives his “appearance of consent” (Lane, 57).

Propriety dictated that the younger generation defer to the older generation, and Austen criticizes those who are disrespectful. Anne Elliot, despite her father’s selfishness and foolishness, always treats him respectfully. (I would add, this was a religious duty, to honor one’s parents.) Emma is rebuked most strongly, and repents most deeply, when she makes fun of an older woman, Miss Bates.

Lane goes on to explore “the joy of grandchildren” and “the importance of aunts” in the novels. Elizabeth Bennet’s aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, provides “a model of how an aunt/niece relationship, or indeed any relationship between the generations, should be” (Lane, 71).

Old Wives (chapter 4)

Along with other family relationships, Austen illustrates a whole range of marriages. From the ill-matched Bennets to the well-matched Gardiners and Crofts, Austen “shows us every kind of marriage” so her heroines can learn what to imitate and what to avoid.

Lane discusses “old wives,” meaning women “who had been married long enough to come to some accommodation with the choices they had made in youth and to live with whatever idiosyncrasies they may have discovered in their husbands” (Lane, 72). Some are happy, some are not, mostly depending on their own attitudes.

One of Mrs. Bennet’s worst characteristics is self-pity, “a severe failing in Austen’s estimation, because it is something that could and should be remedied” (Lane, 73). In contrast, Charlotte Collins and Mrs. Grant make the best of their situations with less-than-ideal husbands, and enjoy their lives. Mrs. Price (Fanny’s mother) and Mary Musgrove, however, complain and grumble about the choices they have made.

Clergymen’s wives had an important place in the community, as we see with Mrs. Elton. But their positions were also precarious. The husband’s death meant a loss of home and income, as happened to poor Mrs. Bates. Jane herself, with her mother and sister, suffered the loss of most of their income when Jane’s clergyman father died.

Miss Bates is Jane Austen’s quintessential “old maid,” “poor and laughed at,” but deserving respect.
C.E. Brock, public domain

Old Maids (chapter 5)

The alternative to marriage, a single life, involved being a potentially despised “old maid.” In Austen’s own family, there were several late marriages which rescued an older woman from that fate. Austen also had some friends who were older, impoverished, single women.

In Emma, Emma discusses old maids. Harriet is shocked that Emma does not plan to marry, because being “an old maid at last” is “so dreadful.” Emma disagrees, saying, “a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else!” But, she adds, “a single woman with a very narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! The proper sport of boys and girls” (Lane, 96). This, of course, reflects Emma’s prejudices. Miss Bates, poor and foolish, is the quintessential example of an old maid in Austen’s novels. In contrast, Emma also includes three respectable single teachers and two governesses. (Though Jane Fairfax is only expected to be a governess, which she compares to slavery.) These were the alternatives for women who did not marry.


In later chapters, which we’ll look at next month, Lane discusses aging men, widows and dowagers, age and money, and illness and death. In the meantime, I’ve listed some online sources you might want to explore.


Let’s discuss in the comments section:

Who is your favorite older character (let’s say over 35; lifetimes were shorter then) in Austen’s novels? Who is your least favorite older character? Why? Do they show you anything particular about aging in Austen’s England?


Here are some to choose from (age estimates with a ? are my own guesses):

P&P: Mrs. Bennet (probably between 41-48?), Mr. Bennet (?), Mrs. Gardiner (“several years younger than Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Phillips”), Mr. Gardiner (?), Lady Catherine de Bourgh (perhaps in her late 40s or early 50s?, as she has a daughter around Darcy’s age of 28)

Persuasion: Mrs. Croft (38), Admiral Croft (40s or 50s?), Sir Walter Elliot (54), Lady Russell (50s?)

S&S: Mrs. Dashwood (40), Mrs. Jennings (late 40s, probably?; her eldest daughter Lady Middleton is 26 or 27), Sir John Middleton (about 40)

Mansfield Park: Dr. Grant (45), Mrs. Grant (?), Mrs. Rushworth (40s?), Sir Thomas Bertram (50s?), Lady Bertram (about 50?; married 30 years ago)

Emma: Mr. Weston (40s), Mrs. Weston (late 30s?), Mr. Woodhouse (50s or 60s, perhaps? He “had not married early,” but has a 20-year-old daughter), Mrs. Bates (“very old”), Miss Bates (“middle of life”)

Northanger Abbey: General Tilney (“past the bloom, but not past the vigour of life”), Mr. Allen (older, has gout), Mrs. Allen (was at school with Isabella’s mother, Isabella is 22, perhaps the mothers are in their 40s)

Lady Denham of Sanditon (70), Lady Osborne of The Watsons (49)

You can no doubt add others!


For more on the topic of aging women in Jane Austen’s novels, see:

Growing Older with Jane Austen, Part 2

“’My Poor Nerves’: Women of a Certain Age on the Page,” about perimenopausal women in Austen

Past the Bloom: Aging and Beauty in the Novels of Jane Austen,” by Stephanie M. Eddleman, a fascinating article

Three Stages of Aging with Pride and Prejudice,” by Emily Willingham, a light look at how we identify with different characters as we have more life experience 

And, of course, the source for most of the above:

Growing Older with Jane Austen, by Maggie Lane

Brenda S. Cox writes about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. Her recent book is Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England.

This June she will be speaking at Regency Week in Alton, England, and would love to see some of you there!

Read Full Post »

In the world of romantic comedies, there are certain tropes (common or overused themes) that come up again and again. In this series, starting with Pride and Prejudice, I’ll analyze Jane Austen’s novels and identify the best romantic tropes used in each one – with the goal of proving that Jane Austen not only used romantic themes ingeniously but also played an important role in developing several key plot devices that are regularly used in modern filmmaking today.

Defining the Relationship

When you look down the list of common themes used in modern romantic movies, there are many to choose from. There’s “Best Friends Turned Lovers,” “The Girl/Boy Next Door,” “Stuck on an Island/In a Car/On a Plane,” “The Makeover,” and of course the “Love Triangle.”

When it comes to Pride and Prejudice, we can all agree it definitely does not utilize a “Cute Meet-Cute” to kick off the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. It does seem to fit the “Opposites Attract” theme rather well. However, the theme that Pride and Prejudice models most perfectly is the “Enemies-to-Lovers” trope.

The “Enemies-to-Lovers” plot is one of the most popular themes used in romantic books and movies today. Austen modeled it so well that many romantic movies have borrowed (whether knowingly or unknowingly) from Pride and Prejudice. Though Austen didn’t invent the idea of rivals falling in love, the chemistry she created between Elizabeth and Darcy is unmatched. Modern era movie-makers continue to utilize the heat-factor Austen tapped into with her “Fitz-Lizzy” combo.

Enemies at First Sight

We see this theme play out in many popular romantic comedy movies. A huge majority of Hallmark (and Hallmark-like) movies start with a misunderstanding, a bad first impression, or enemies / rivals who fall in love.

However, it’s not just the made-for-tv rom coms that utilize this popular theme. Some of the highest grossing “date movies” have used some variation or other of the enemies-to-lovers plot. One IMDB list, “Enemies-to-lovers Movies,” includes over 80 titles!

Here are a few popular movies that caught my eye from that list:

When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, New in Town, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Runaway Bride, What Women Want, The Breakfast Club, The Cutting Edge, Sweet Home Alabama, A Walk to Remember, Someone Like You, Silver Linings Playbook, Leap Year, Life as We Know It, Letters to Juliet, 27 Dresses, As Good as It Gets, Picture Perfect, French Kiss, and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I’m sure there are many other movies (and books) you might add to the list! BuzzFeed nailed it with this funny graphic about Parks and Recreation:

Recipe for Love

The enemies-to-lovers recipe is pretty potent stuff; in order to understand it better, we need to analyze the ingredients that make it possible to change a rivalry into a romance.

The following steps are used in many enemies-to-lovers plot lines. I’ve included modern movie examples for each, plus the clever building blocks Austen used in Pride and Prejudice to create the sizzling chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy.

It’s the friction between the two characters that provides the spark for romance!

Step 1: A Bad First Impression

In the enemies-to-lovers trope, rather than a meet-cute, there’s a bad first impression (or a “Bad Meet-Cute”) that starts the action. This is where the soon-to-be-lovers first meet and get off on the wrong foot. The fall-out from this first meeting sets the stage for the rest of the story.

You can find the heroine’s “enemy” in a modern rom-com because he’s the one who makes the main character bristle at first sight. He’s the guy that made fun of her growing up, the one who took her spot on the debate team, the business man who stole her cab, or the flower shop owner across the street who’s putting her out of business. (Side note: The “enemy” is usually infuriatingly good looking.)

Bottom line: There is always an initial misunderstanding that causes the two leads to get off on the wrong foot.

Modern Example:
In Runaway Bride, Ike writes an erroneous newspaper article about Maggie, so Maggie gets him fired. From that moment forward, she sees him as the jerk journalist from the big city who made her a laughing stock. Meanwhile, he sees her as the “man eater” who cost him his job. As with most rom coms, their anger-to-attraction ratio sets off some serious fireworks.

P&P Example:
There’s a reason Jane Austen’s first draft was titled “First Impressions.” In Pride and Prejudice, the bad first impression occurs when Mr. Darcy snubs Elizabeth at the ball when they first meet. She overhears Darcy when Bingley says he should dance: “You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room.”

Worse yet, she hears his response when Mr. Bingley suggests he dance with her: “She is tolerable: but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”

The end result: “Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him.” She makes light of it it later, but it affects her more than she lets on. In the history of bad first impressions, Mr. Darcy’s is one of the worst!

Step 2: Confirmation

After the initial meeting or bad impression, there is a series of events in which the main character continues to see the other only through the lens of their first impression.

In this scenario, every next move the characters make only continues to confirm their bad first impressions. When one character tries to make amends or tries for a “do-over,” it usually doesn’t go well. As the characters continually bump into each other, they rub each other wrong. Often, there are further infractions and snubs that add to the initial impression.

Modern Example:
In When Harry Met Sally, Sally’s first impression of Harry, when they drive together on a long road trip, is that he’s arrogant and insensitive. Sally’s bad first impression of Harry is confirmed when they meet several years later. At first, he doesn’t recognize her. Later, he remembers who she is and offends Sally by asking if they slept together in college. Because of their initial interactions, Sally sees Harry as purely guy-friend material until much later in the movie.

P&P Example:

While Darcy finds himself more attracted to Elizabeth at each of their subsequent meetings, Elizabeth’s view of Darcy is unchanged: “to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable nowhere, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.

Austen builds on this negative first impression by adding further complications. From that first meeting, everything Darcy says or does is interpreted by Elizabeth through the lens of his bad first impression: When Mr. Darcy interferes with Jane and Mr. Bingley, it can only be because he’s arrogant and looks down on the Bennet family. When Mr. Wickham tells his tale about Darcy, Elizabeth quickly believes Wickham must be telling the truth (because Wickham is handsome and charming and Darcy is proud and rude). It takes several meetings, a lot of lively banter, a (bad) first marriage proposal, a lengthy explanatory letter, a visit to Pemberley, and a grand gesture to change Elizabeth’s mind.

Step 3: Attraction

During this step in a rom com, at least one character begins to see something unexpected in the other that makes them reconsider their first opinion. Beneath the initial animosity, anger, or annoyance, attraction begins to build and the characters find themselves (inexplicably) drawn to one another.

Arguments heat up (in more than one way) and turn into exasperated banter that one or the other finds enjoyable instead of infuriating. The characters begin to soften toward one another. Either one or both find that they can’t stop thinking about the other person.

Modern Example: In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Andie and Ben are in a fierce competition–but neither of them knows what the other is doing. While Andie does everything she can to prove she can lose Ben in 10 days, Ben tries to prove that he can make a girl fall in love with him in 10 days. As they face off, instead of pushing each other away, they both find the competition exhilarating.

P&P Example:

In Pride and Prejudice, while it takes longer for Elizabeth to realize her attraction to Mr. Darcy, this stage happens almost immediately for Darcy:

“…he began to find [her face] was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes . . . he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; he was caught by their easy playfulness.”

When Elizabeth refuses to dance with Darcy, he isn’t offended: “Her resistance had not injured her with the gentleman.” In fact, he stands in pleasant reverie, thinking about her: “I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

While it takes longer for Elizabeth to realize her attraction to Darcy, there’s no arguing the fact that she dearly loves to tease him, verbally spar with him, and toy with him right from the start. She flirts and makes fun of him because she thinks he’s always brooding and judging and looking down on her; meanwhile, he finds her absolutely bewitching.

Step 4: Making Amends

In this step of the typical enemies-to-lovers romantic movie plot, one character tries to make amends, smooth over ruffled feelings, explain a misunderstanding, or admit fault.

In this phase, there may be more misunderstandings and more complications, but it’s an important step toward the two main characters seeing each other as they really are and not as they first appeared. Often, the characters *just happen* to bump into each other on many occasions by chance. In this phase, one character tries to win over the other. Both begin to try to put their best foot forward.

Modern Example:
In You’ve Got Mail, Joe tries to show Kathleen that he’s not a heartless business man but is actually the secret pen pal she’s fallen in love with. He meets up with her, takes an interest in her world, tries to give her business advice, and asks her to be his friend. When she’s sick, he brings her daisies—her favorite flower—and take cares of her. Kathleen finds herself wishing Joe was her secret pen pal.

P&P Example:

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s demeaner toward Darcy begins to soften over time as she gets to know him. First, she’s surprised and touched by his fondness for his sister. Later, when she reads Darcy’s letter, the narrative she’s believed about him is shattered. Next, when she visits Pemberley and he’s kind to her and her aunt and uncle Gardiner, her heart melts even further. (And it doesn’t hurt that Pemberley is quite something to behold!)

In each instance, as Darcy tries to put his best foot forward, Elizabeth notices something further about him that she didn’t realize before. She finds out that he’s more reserved than arrogant, that he keeps a close circle of family and friends, and that he isn’t naturally at ease in social situations. She notices that he cares for his sister Georgiana, for her aunt and uncle, and finally for her entire family’s reputation. When she visits Pemberley and realizes that he wants to make a good impression on her and on her relatives – and that he wants her to meet and get along with his sister – she is thrown off balance in the most delightful way.

Step 5: The Grand Gesture

In these types of romantic storylines, there is usually a moment where the “enemy / rival” often does something to save or help the other character. There is a great sacrifice or grand gesture that seals the deal.

Often in this phase, one characters needs help (or convincing) and the other swoops in to save the day in order to prove their love for the other character. This phase may also include apologies, gifts, or messages.

Modern Example:
In New in Town, Lucy gives up her high-profile job in Miami and moves to Minnesota permanently. She negotiates a deal to save the local factory, makes it into an employee-owned company, and saves everyone’s jobs. She proves to Ted that she’s more than just a suit and that the people she loves are more important to her than any job.

P&P Example:

Austen sets the bar pretty high for grand gestures when Mr. Darcy personally hunts down Wickham and Lydia, forces Wickham to marry her, and pays off his enormous debts. He even tries to do it quietly, so that everyone will believe it was Mr. Gardiner who made all the arrangements. When Elizabeth later thanks him, he tells her that he did it for her:

“If you will thank me,” he replied, “let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.”

You Be the Judge

Do you think Pride and Prejudice has had a lasting affect on modern storytelling? Why are we drawn to the enemies-to-lovers theme? Are there other books or movies that fit this theme that I didn’t mention?

I’ll continue this series next month by looking at other common themes in modern romantic comedies that share similarities with Jane Austen’s great works. Next time you watch a favorite movie, start tracking how many plot devices hark back to our Jane!

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Now Available: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Read Full Post »

Happy Valentine’s Day, JAW friends! Are you sending cards this year or planning something special? I found it interesting to read about Valentine’s Day during the Regency Era and found several histories of the holiday online. A short overview from The Jane Austen Centre proved intriguing.

As I thought about the kinds of Valentine’s Day cards and letters Jane Austen’s characters might have sent to one another, I had a few creative ideas. The following is the fruit of an hour spent laughing over what some of Austen’s most famous (and silly) characters might say if they sent out Valentine’s Day cards.


True Romantics

And finally, a few Jane Austen-themed Valentine’s Day graphics that you might like to share with a loved one! After all, she did write some of the most romantic lines in the English language!

A very Happy Valentine’s Day to you, from all of us here at Jane Austen’s World! May your day be filled with love, laughter, friends, sweet treats, and good books. Feel free to share this post with your friends and loved ones!

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog. She is the bestselling author of The Little Women DevotionalThe Anne of Green Gables Devotional and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Now Available: The Secret Garden Devotional! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: