Literature is full of awkward attempts at romance. Here are a few of my favorite examples, including two from a certain someone who turns 200-years-old this week (that is, if she hadn’t died in 1855). Oddly enough, more than one of these propositions/icebreakers was actually successful!
- (1) Romilda Vane: “Fancy a gillywater?”
Romilda’s seemingly innocuous question to Harry Potter could have been an appropriate icebreaker if the offering hadn’t been a love potion. Basically, don’t trick anyone into going out with you. Voldemort’s mother learned that lesson the hard way.
Source: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- (2) Gilbert Blythe: “Carrots!”
Oh, Gilbert. As the modernized Anne from Green Gables Fables makes clear in her Top Five Worst Flirting Techniques, insulting a person’s physical appearance is just bad manners!
Source: L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables; see also, Who Says Redheads Can’t Wear Pink?!
- (3) Jane Andrews: “What do you think of my brother Billy? […] Would you like him for a husband?”
A bewildered Anne replies, “Whose husband?,” to which Jane answers, “Yours, of course.” Honestly, I feel bad for both Anne and Billy, who is simply too shy to court anyone. Still, if he’s old enough to be married, he’s old enough to ask them himself.
Source: L. M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island; see also, Would You Choose to be Born in December?
- (4) Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara: “My news is this,” he answered, grinning down at her. “I still want you more than any woman I’ve ever seen and now that Frank is gone, I thought you’d be interested to know it.”
Well, Rhett can get away with anything. That’s all there is to say about that.
Source: Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind; see also, Mr. AMB on Gone with the Wind (& Looking for the Past in the Future).
- (5) Mr. Elliot: “The name of Anne Elliot,” said he, “has long had an interesting sound to me. Very long has it possessed a charm over my fancy; and, if I dared, I would breathe my wishes that the name might never change.”
Ah, the disingenuous Mr. Elliot of Persuasion, one of my all-time favorite novels. These days, in which marrying relatives is less common than it was in Jane Austen’s time, the idea of sharing the same last name as a future spouse before marriage can be a bit uncomfortable (a subject I play around with in Amelia Elkins Elkins).
Source: Jane Austen, Persuasion; see also, Reviews of Amelia Elkins Elkins (A Modern Take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion).
- (6) Mr. Collins: “Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there NOT been this little unwillingness… Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it would be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying—and, moreover, for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did.”
Honestly, I think Mr. Collins doesn’t deserve the criticism he often receives from readers for his business-like proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. In his time, and to some extent in ours (as I explore in Two Lovely Berries), marriage was a business arrangement. I can’t fault Mr. Collins for planning to choose a wife from Longbourn, which he will inherit from Elizabeth’s father, so that “the loss to [the Bennets] might be as little as possible.” That’s admirable. What isn’t admirable, though, is dismissing Elizabeth’s “unwillingness” as mere modesty. Ugh.
Source: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; see also, Why Jane Austen Appeals to Girls (and Boys) Who Don’t “Just Want a Boyfriend.”
- (7) Mr. Darcy: “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.”
It’s a good thing Mr. Darcy improves his technique the second time he proposes to Elizabeth.
Source: Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice; see also, More Reasons Why Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Isn’t Just for Girls Who Want a Boyfriend.
- (8) Mr. Elton: “To restrain him as much as might be, by her own manners, she was immediately preparing to speak with exquisite calmness and gravity of the weather and the night; but scarcely had she begun, scarcely had they passed the sweep-gate and joined the other carriage, than she found her subject cut up—her hand seized—her attention demanded, and Mr. Elton actually making violent love to her: availing himself of the precious opportunity, declaring sentiments which must be already well known, hoping—fearing—adoring—ready to die if she refused him; but flattering himself that his ardent attachment and unequalled love and unexampled passion could not fail of having some effect, and in short, very much resolved on being seriously accepted as soon as possible. It really was so. Without scruple—without apology—without much apparent diffidence, Mr. Elton, the lover of Harriet, was professing himself her lover. She tried to stop him; but vainly; he would go on, and say it all.”
Mr. Elton’s approach is just so over the top.
Source: Jane Austen, Emma.
- (9) St. John: “Jane, come with me to India: come as my helpmeet and fellow-laborer. […] God and nature intended you for a missionary’s wife. It is not personal, but mental endowments they have given you: you are formed for labour, not for love. A missionary’s wife you must—shall be. You shall be mine: I claim you—not for my pleasure, but for my Sovereign’s service.”
Well, at least St. John is honest that he doesn’t have romantic feelings for Jane. I can’t blame her for refusing his offer, though.
Source: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre; see also, “I Wish Juliet Stevenson Would Read Supreme Court Opinions to Me.”
- (10) Mr. Rochester to Jane: “You — you strange, you almost unearthly thing! — I love as my own flesh. You — poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are — I entreat to accept me as a husband.”
As I said in “Covering” the Classics: An Homage or a Rip-off?, in comparison to Mr. Rochester’s declaration of love to “plain” Jane, Mr. Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth is positively smooth!
Nevertheless, it works, for reasons Mr. AMB (my other half) discusses in Jane Eyre: A Contemplative Traveling Companion:
As unromantic as his marriage proposal might be — e.g., “you strange, you almost unearthly thing!” — it makes sense in the context of their relationship. He is captivated and vexed by Jane’s extraordinary intellect and self-control, and is inescapably drawn to it. When they talk, he’s constantly asking her what she thinks (despite caring not one bit about the thoughts of anyone else) because he knows she has some sort of piercing remark, and yet she also has the ability to hold back and restrain her impulses. This quality vexes Rochester greatly, which is why he repeatedly refers to her as having come from the Devil, but it’s also why he’s so intrigued by her, and so desperate to understand her and to win her love.
Before quoting Rochester to a potential love interest, make sure the object of your affection is a Jane Eyre fan before calling them “poor and obscure,” “small and plain”!
Happy Birthday, Charlotte Brontë!
The person responsible for the last two items on my list–Charlotte Brontë–would’ve been 200 years old on April 21st. In her short life, which spanned only 38 years, she produced unforgettable novels we still read today. It’s impressive for any author to attain this achievement, but most especially for a female writer in the 19th Century who had to publish her works under a male name.
We’ve come a long way in 200 years, but perhaps not far enough. Even today, books by and about women don’t receive the same literary recognition as books focused on men. However, if the Brontës and Jane Austen are any indication, those overlooked female authors might end up being the ones with staying power.
I wonder what books from our time our descendants will be reading in 200 years.