A sweet, quizzical and genteel face looks demurely off in the distance from the picture in front of me. It is the delightful author Jane Austen. She has popped up in USA Today of all unlikely places in an article called “Why Jane Austen would approve of online dating.” Mmmm.
Why, exactly would our dear demure Jane approve of such a cyberspace-driven pastime? And who, pray tell, came up with the idea of linking the storied chronicler of Regency society with eHarmony and Match.com? Who else but an Austen lover? The article’s author is Elizabeth Kantor who wrote The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After.
It seems that some bad boy out there — a NY investment banker, no less — actually borrowed a leaf from his finance background and created a spreadsheet rating the women he met on Match.com. Then the guy sent it to one of the women, who sent it to friends, and well, guess what! It went viral.
What’s does all this have to do with the price of potatoes back in the 18th century, when Jane was penning her wickedly witty tales? Well, here’s what: Back in Jane’s time, the kind of courtship described in her novels — the sort of “ballroom as meat market” — approach to finding a mate was roundly criticized as the sign of a failing society. In short, when Elizabeth and Darcy met at a dance, they were bucking convention in the same way that those looking for true love via eHarmony are today.
Up until the period Austen chronicled, the only public setting in which men could see eligible women was in church. So in her novels, Austen acts as a kind of uber-dating coach, flinging her characters together and apart in ways that might make a Match.com customer think twice about pushing the send button. What I love about all this is that hundreds of years after Jane penned her fabulous novels, other writers are coming up with ways of revisiting her work that are fresh and exciting. Austen and eHarmony: perfect together!