What Romantic Drama Teaches Us

Writers like Jane Austen, Emily Bronte and Catherine Cookson have endured thanks to their bewitching tales of love, courtship and passion. But they're not just writers - they're gurus! And there's a lot we can learn from stories like Pride and Prejudice and Tilly Trotter...

Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice

Forget The "Proper" Match

One dictum outlined by many a great love story is: the proper match is not necessarily the right match.

Jane Austen was particularly amused by the social conventions of her day, in which men and women were paired up on the basis of income and "eligibility" alone. Naturally, Austen had fun satirising marriages based on correctness rather than passion, and Catherine Cookson had a thing or two to say about it as well.

Her hero Charlie MacFell certainly had a bad time of it in The Cinder Path. A humble farmer, he has little in common with country belle Victoria Chapman, yet his father persuades him it's a good idea to marry her. After all, she's elegant, well-off and looks like Catherine Zeta-Jones (who played her, so it's not a coincidence). The only trouble is, she's also a no-good vixen of hate. If only Charlie had stood firm, eh?

Follow Your Gut

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath... he's always, always in my mind - not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself - but as my own being.

And what did Cathy do after coming out with this very moving ode to Heathcliff? She went and married the insipid Edgar instead, putting all the tragedies of Wuthering Heights into motion. So what's the moral of the story? Choose the person you actually love, stupid. (Even if he is a nutcase like Heathcliff.)

A Dinner of Herbs' Mary Ellen

A Dinner of Herbs' Mary Ellen

Get Over Past Loves

Unrequited love is rubbish, and will turn you into a joyless, moping party poop. Catherine Cookson, queen of the tearjerking period romance, knew this perfectly well, and had a lot to teach on the subject.

Take Mary Ellen, the lovely heroine of A Dinner of Herbs. She falls for Roddy Greenbank when they're both kids, and remains stuck on him for years afterwards - even though he's a complete waste of time and their mutual pal Hal Roystan is "a keeper". Luckily she eventually learns to get over him and marry Hal (but not until after Roddy knocks her up, the silly girl).

Don't Be Afraid To Show Passion

Here's how not to begin a proposal of marriage:

Almost as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life.

And here's how not to continue:

Perhaps it will 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.

Employing all the charm and passion of, say, a tax auditor, this is how Mr Collins attempts to woo Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. It's a masterclass in non-charm, and gets even worse (or better, deliciously better) when he reminds her that she really ought to accept as, when her dad dies, it will be him that'll inherit the Bennet estate.

Then again, be wary of going to the other extreme. The love-struck Heathcliff had a tendency to smack his forehead against a tree until it bled, which is perhaps veering towards too passionate on the scale of things.

The dashingly handsome Mr Darcy

The dashingly handsome Mr Darcy

It Doesn't Matter If They're Taken

In love with a married man or woman? Don't let it put you off, as with a bit of pluck and optimism you can bend the situation your way. Especially if the aforementioned other-half is kind enough to snuff it.

Take Emily Kennedy, the good-hearted, hard-working housemaid in Catherine Cookson's Tide of Life. She has a huge crush on her dashing employer, whose wife has the decency to succumb to a fatal illness. The widower soon lets his eye rest on the comely Emily, and before long is down on one knee (he dies himself shortly after, but let's not talk about that).

And then of course there's the ultimate married romantic hero - Jane Eyre's Mr Rochester. Plain Jane can't believe her luck when he proposes to her, but then finds out he already has a wife. Luckily, said wife is also utterly demented and hardly a rival in the love stakes. And when she dies in a terrible fire, all is well for our lovers!

Forgive and Forget

Many people's idea of the perfect romantic novel is Pride and Prejudice, the book that spawned Bridget Jones and pretty much the whole chick-lit genre.

And what is the central, crucial lesson this landmark story teaches us? Don't be so bloody stubborn. (Although Ms Austen would never put it so vulgarly.)

Despite being dashingly handsome, Mr Darcy is, to put it bluntly, a rude and obnoxious bounder during his first few encounters with Lizzie, even going so far as to question her looks (in a very bitchy way). Yet, to her credit, Lizzie revises her opinion of him later, paving the way for a wonderful romance. So remember to forgive and forget, and remember - your lover is only human after all!