GT: Why does Jane Austen condemn marrying without love?
EK: She thinks it’s wrong. She thinks it’s morally wrong to marry without love. She calls it “duping somebody,” because he wouldn’t want to marry you if he didn’t think you had feelings for him, right, because that’s just not honest.
But then she also talks about what the likely sad results are going to be. This is in these fantastic letters that Jane Austen actually wrote. She had a correspondence with her niece when her niece was going through the courtship phase of life.So you can not only get the novels and I draw not only on the novels in the Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After, but also on these actual letters on advice about whether to marry a guy that Jane Austen wrote. And what she tells her niece is, on the one hand, the guy her niece may want to marry is just perfect in a lot of ways: He’s friends with her family, he’d be a good match, but the niece just can’t get enthusiastic about him or seemed to sort of like him, but now that he likes her she doesn’t like him as much. Jane Austen is saying you just better not get engaged to him without being in love with him because you don’t want the terrible thing that’s likely to happen, which is you’re bound to one guy and then sooner or later someone’s going to come along that you really can like and really can fall for and how awful to be bound to one person and in love with another person.
GT: Right. How did Jane Austen’s heroes differ from Charlotte and Emily Bronte’s heroes?
EK: There’s this great quotation that I love from Florence King who used to write for National Review. She said, “More women have been ruined by Wuthering Heights than by strong drink.” Meaning that the sort of romantic ideal that you see in Wuthering Heights, where Heathcliff and Catherine — it’s a totally impractical match and love story and a bad one because Catherine despises Heathcliff at the same time that she feels like she’s drawn to him and eternally belongs with him and they’re really the same person. So it’s a story of hopeless misery and drama and adventure that makes the protagonists the most interesting people in the world and more authentic than the rest of us who live our conventional, ordinary lives where we may have some passion but we’ve got prudence, too. Well no, no, no; throw prudence aside.
The Bronte ideal is drama and that’s really not what Jane Austen is about. Unfortunately, it’s kind of still a cultural ideal today, that romantic ideal that — as Nicholas Cage says in Moonstruck — “It’s not love unless it hurts.”
GT: Why do you write that Jane Austen was from a time before happiness had become boring?
EK: It has a lot to do with that whole Romantic idea. Up until her day, or a little bit before her day, marriage was going in, I think, a good direction. For hundreds of years, Western civilization has been moving away from arranged marriage toward marriage for love so that in Jane Austen’s books, the ideal is a women gets to choose for herself — she doesn’t have to marry somebody that her guardians and her parents pick. But she’s using prudence. She’s taking into account the kind of things that parents used to take into account. Things like: Will we have enough to live on, does he get along with my friends and family, what’s his character like, is he an alcoholic or a person who has such a bad temper that he’s going to ruin my life. Those very prudent concerns were things that girls were actually supposed to take into account at the same time that they were falling in love. In other words, they were supposed to attempt not to fall in love with a guy who would wreck their life.And then this Romantic ideal with the Brontes and Byron with, as Jane Austen says, “impassioned descriptions of hopeless misery,” come along and persuaded a lot of people that it’s really more interesting to fall into a love that breaks you out of convention and liberates you from normal life and maybe makes you miserable, but isn’t that so exciting? And you can still see that in songs we have on the radio today. And just over the weekend at a party I ran into someone who was interested — she read The Jane Austen Guide and she wanted to talk to me about it — she read the Brontes, she read Wuthering Heights at the wrong time of her life, and it had this big impact on her and made her make a lot of choices that she regrets now.
GT: Is church the best place to find a good man today?
EK: Church is a great place to find a guy and has been for a long time. In the last chapter of The Jane Austen Guide I look at, okay, if you want to be a Jane Austen heroine in the modern world, how could you organize your social life because we don’t have those wonderful Regency balls like where Elizabeth met Darcy? And I think on one end that classic thing that you’re going to meet good guys at church youth group or whatever —the Christian singles group — than you’re going to meet at the karaoke bar. But at the other end of things I think people could also look at things like Match.com and internet dating, and you can put some prudent, rational effort into the project. The problem with a lot of venues for meeting guys today is it’s very difficult to express any interest in a guy without becoming kind of instantly intimate with him. If you meet guys at the kind of parties where the way the guy knows you’re interested in him is that you kiss him at the party, then you’re skipping over all that space that Jane Austen’s heroines had to get to know a guy without getting so close that they lose their perspective.