I often think that love should just happen; that it is a magical quality that just appears from thin air. But it seems more like a good wine, it needs time to mature. And in that time, it needs adversity for it to slowly age and ripen. Indeed the flipside of this maxim is: Beware the Easy Love Affair. It is only in love’s adversities that love’s colours show themselves. Love needs its difficulties, its trials and tribulations to reveal its strength.
In Sense and Sensibility, a young man, Honourable-Edward Ferrars has fallen for an opportunist. Social-Vampire-Lucy Steele captured Edward’s heart quickly and in youth. What a disaster for Edward. While young and far from home he was vulnerable and open to be preyed upon by the artful social and emotional vampire Lucy Steele. Alas what makes such vampires so successful is that they are attractive; alas such a vampire is also manipulative and even predatory. Just like the great seducers, they lie in wait for the opportunity; they pounce, but ever so softly. A lucky antidote to such a predator is time; time will eventually ensure they show their hand. Honourable-Edward Ferrars felt that as he had promised himself to Lucy, he should remain true to her, even though his promise was given in a youthful moment and he had since found someone else. But time helped. After a period of time, Social Vampire Lucy was tempted again. Obviously patience was not her strength and she spied another opportunity, this time with Edward’s own brother. She unceremoniously dumped Honourable Edward and he was free to love elsewhere.
Time also showed our Responsible-Elder-Sister-Elinor to be a true heroine. She did not give in to overwhelming displays of emotion and histrionics when she learned the news that Edward was not free. She also behaved honourably; keeping her distance when she learnt that Edward was engaged to Lucy. She even worked towards helping Edward to get a living as a curate. She did not display jealousy, not because she didn’t feel it, but because she really did love Edward with an unselfish love. She wanted the best for him. She respected his sense of honour, even if that sense of honour meant that he was lost to her. With patience, honour and a modicum of luck, Honourable Edward and Responsible-Elder-Sister-Elinor were finally united. Austen shows that the difficulties they experienced will ultimately secure their happiness: “their intimate knowledge of each other seemed to make their happiness certain”. Elinor and Edward in Sense and Sensibility did not have an easy transition from friends to lovers but their trials will be likely to ensure longevity.
Some loves cannot transcend the difficulties. In Sense and Sensibility, Prince-Charming-Willoughby needed to ride out the storm of his aunt’s disapproval if he was to win Marianne’s hand. Willoughby had already played Prince-Charming to Eliza, Colonel Brandon’s ward and left her pregnant. He had also been careless with his debts. Rather than dealing with the mess he had created, he instead opted for the heiress. Jane Austen makes it clear, in a sliding doors moment, that had Prince-Charming-Willoughby acted honourably he would have secured his aunt’s approval as well as her fortune, and the love of his life Marianne. Remember, Prince-Charming-Willoughby had already seduced another young woman and this is the root of all his difficulties. He had left her holding the baby with no forwarding address. His aunt had been shocked by his selfishness and cut him off. He could have redeemed himself if he had acted well, at least towards Marianne, but instead it is his selfishness that wins. But, “it has not made him happy”. Even today, social and scientific research into happiness is telling us that selfishness cannot provide the happiness that altruism is able to give us. Doing well by others does bring happiness. Jane Austen promoted this two hundred years ago. And today’s social scientists and psychologists are drawing the same conclusions.
I was privileged to attend a celebration of a very special woman’s life last week. And what came to the fore was not that love ran smooth but that love transcended the difficulties. So perhaps Austen is showing us that love should not run smooth. That time is on our side and outs the superficial or the downright predatory. And beware the easy love affair.