How Jane Austen Actually Predicted The Current Ambiguous Hook-Up Culture

by Alex Schnee

It may be near 200 years since Jane Austen passed away, but that doesn’t seem to lessen the obsession readers have for her work.

From creating Elizabeth Bennet, the defining heroine of the regency period, to allowing for a wet-shirted Colin Firth in BBC’s production of "Pride and Prejudice," Austen remains alive and well in the hearts of women everywhere.

But, does Austen’s advice hold true for young, Generation-Y women who are navigating the hook-up culture? Let’s take a look:

“A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.” – "Pride and Prejudice"

Obviously, this holds true in Austen’s society, as marriage and stability were really the only acceptable things for respectable young ladies to consider (especially those who were strapped tight for cash).

Now, even if we are broke, most of us can still manage to get jobs and support ourselves. Many women don’t consider marriage until later in life, but in Austenland, such priorities would be labeled to be complete and utter spinsterhood.

“The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!” – “Sense and Sensibility”

Marianne Dashwood’s words are honest — and fairly translatable to our hook-up culture.

Let’s be real: When we are beyond looking to have a single, fun night, we really want someone we can count on to be there for us. We all have those nights out when no one catches our interest — whether for a one-night stand or for something else.

There’s also the factor of what “love” means for us, as Generation-Y. We are fortunate to be able to marry for “love,” while in Austen’s time period, that was more of a daunting challenge. “Love” was probably tied to whether or not someone could provide for you, rather than how good he or she was in the sack.

On second thought, it seems that things haven’t changed for some people!

“In nine cases out of ten, a woman should show more affection than she feels.” – “Pride and Prejudice”

Okay, Jane, you just defined “clingy.”

“I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control.” –“Emma”

Though we might not necessarily call it “self-control,” today’s relationship power dynamic favors the person who cares the least. Although a woman used to be expected to show more affection than she felt, we are for sure not supposed to do so now.

Sure, sit down and write thoughtful responses to love letters, but a text message? Leave it for a few hours and pretend you didn’t read it. We’re not supposed to feel love until we’ve been dating someone for at least… wait, what was the rule again?

“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.” – “Emma”

We would all like to believe this, right? Emma Woodhouse is Austen’s most “fortunate” character (handsome, rich and clever), so she had the luxury to choose whether or not she wished to marry.

Fortunately, most of us in the Western world have that option today, too. If someone isn’t treating you the way you feel you deserve to be treated, you can move on to the next person — a solution that most middle-class women of the Regency period did not have.

“We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man, but this would be nothing if you really liked him.” – “Pride and Prejudice”

In all honesty, how many of us would actually end up with a Mr. Darcy in today’s culture?

If you are out for a fun night, who are you more likely to pick: the brooding guy with the Pabst beer can, standing in the corner who hates to dance; or the Wickham, flattering you with free drinks who has all the right moves?

Maybe we should take Austen’s advice on this one. When the night is over, who do you think is more likely to save your sister from complete and utter social ruin? Erm, I mean, offer you a cup of organic coffee?

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” – “Emma”

Repress. Repress. Repress. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? For two cultures separated by two centuries, it all comes down the fact that we are still human and still have the same emotions.

No one wants to expose their heart and get hurt, and no one wants to lose a potential match — whether it is for financial stability or because we truly care.

Austen is a wise woman, social satirist and commentator of her time. So, before we think about who is the “cool” one (e.g. cares the least) in a relationship, we might also want to think about who is the most sincere and cares the most.

Photo via We Heart It