The Jane Austen Guide To Dating

Unlucky in love or swept off their feet, Jane Austen’s characters are obsessed with the dating game. What lessons in love can the queen of classic romance teach us?

Austen's Guide to Dating


In fact, don't trust anyone wanting to meddle in your dating life. Sometimes this can be an anxious mother obsessed with getting you married off, like Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Other times, it's a friend like the title character in Emma. You know the one - they think they're brilliant at setting people up, but actually it always ends in a dating disaster. Especially when they offer to set you up an online dating profile after one glass of wine too many. On the other hand, you should probably exploit every social opportunity for chance encounters with handsome, dashing strangers.

Amanda Root as Anne Elliott in Persuasion.

Amanda Root as Anne Elliott in Persuasion.


If you're taking this dating game seriously, then it takes years of practice. Jane Austen has taught us that piano-playing is highly regarded at intimate gatherings, though at a pinch you can simply take charge of the stereo or laptop at house parties nowadays. Then there's the dancing. Like Catherine in Northanger Abbey and the Bennet girls in Pride and Prejudice, you could be called upon at any moment to show off your footwork. Even if it's just the local nightclub, a few perfectly executed dance moves will work in your favour. Finally, if you're angling for the chance to chat to your potential date in a more relaxed setting, take inspiration from Emma and organise a small group trip into the countryside. Take a perfectly prepared picnic to an idyllic setting like Box Hill - just make sure you're not rude to everyone while you're there.

Adrian Lukis as Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.

Adrian Lukis as Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.


Charm may be an enticing quality, but if there's one lesson Austen teaches us again and again, it's that the charmers are always the ones to be wary of. Mr Wickham is the classic example, but there's also John Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility - he's cultured, handsome, and smooth-talking, but also a serial seducer and heartbreaker. Plus, if you happen to come from wealthy stock, beware the polite, dashing suitor, who could just be after your money, like Philip Elton in Emma. It's always the quiet, thoughtful ones who make the best match in the end. Mr Darcy is the prime example, of course, but Emma's George Knightley displays similar reserve. He was also Emma's best friend, proving that nice guys don't always finish last.

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It worked for Lizzy Bennet and Mr Darcy, and it worked (briefly) for Marianne Dashwood and John Willoughby. It seems that running about in the rain, without any appropriate wet weather gear, can be the best way to initiate some physical contact from your suitor. If you're worried about any rebukes for acting with impropriety from possible onlookers, then feign a slip on the wet ground (without actually spraining your ankle, like Marianne in Sense and Sensibility), so that your date has an excuse to whisk you into his arms. A private estate is probably the best setting for trying this tip - and remember, aim for 'tousled beauty' rather than 'drowned rat' as the desired look.

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Elinor, the more serious, straight-laced Dashwood girl, and Marianne, her temperamental, artistic, outgoing sister are like two sides of the same coin, and Austen always seems to suggest that everyone needs both a bit of Sense and a bit of Sensibility in matters of the heart. After all, if Lizzy Bennet had always acted with logic and sense, she would have ended up marrying the awful Mr Collins rather than the lovely Mr Darcy. On the other hand, in Persuasion, it is Anne's restraint and respect for social values that eventually allows her to reunite with her true love, and in Sense and Sensibility itself, Marianne learns from her sister not to be so flighty and hot-headed, and only then can she and Colonel Brandon get together. Above all, Austen teaches us that we can't hurry love, but that the dating game can be fun, and when the right person comes along, rational thought will give way to flying sparks. That's Sense and Sensibility in action.