Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Jane Austen Formula

I need to do another Austen review, but most of the other heroes only have two really viable options, and so I'm going to first, lay out the Austen Formula, and then in another entry I'll discuss the Villains (who's the best/worst, that sort of thing).

What's brilliant about Austen is that even though she follows, almost exactly, a basic and obvious formula, you still freak out about whether or not the heroine will end up with the hero. So, here it is.

There is a Heroine that is meant to be with an obvious Hero. Either the man she's loved for years, the newest man in her life that loves her, or the man she's known her whole life.

There is a decoy man who can be rather villainous and  for a time is a legitimate contender for the Heroine. He has or displays intentions towards the Heroine and either has had past affairs, or will have future affairs, or both. Sometimes he's not all together immoral. Whether or not the Heroine has actual designs on the decoy, or vice versa, he throws the Hero off his game.

There is in most cases another woman; a best friend's sister or a cousin, the new girl in town, the young girls in town, a secret fiance, Jane Fairfax and/or your best friend, or an impregnated former lover. Whether or not the Hero has actual designs on this other woman doesn't really matter. She still throws a wrench in the situation.

There are revelations that get the decoy out of the way. His past comes out, he runs away with your cousin, he's been engaged for months, etc.

There is a revelation that gets the other woman out of the way: We find out he doesn't love her, she suffers a massive brain injury, she's an awful person, she's his sister, she switches brothers.

There is a realization: Usually the Heroine/Hero learns the truth about the other woman/decoy and/or the Hero does something wonderful, and/or the Heroine realizes she loves the Hero, and/or the Hero grows a pair and mans up, and/or the Heroine and Hero just fall in love.

Usually there is a side relationship with sisters, in-laws, cousins, friends that serves as a lesson, or just creates hubbub in general to forward the plot.

Let's start with the most well known, then move on in no particular order other than Persuasion is my favorite and Sense and Sensibility is not my favorite and has the most variations to the formula.

Pride and Prejudice:
Heroine: Elizabeth Bennet
Hero: Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy-new guy in town, loves Elizabeth
Decoys: Mr. Wickham and Mr. Collins
Other Women: Anne de Bourgh and Caroline Bingley
Revelation: Wickham is a cad, he runs away with Lydia, and Elizabeth learns Darcy is the Bennet family's savior.
Realization: Elizabeth realizes she loves Mr. Darcy and that he's amazing. Mr. Darcy learns from Lady Catherine's visit to Elizabeth that he should hope again.
Side Story: Jane and Bingley (other woman is Georgiana Darcy, Bingley learns Darcy kept Jane from him, Bingley grows a pair).

Heroine: Anne Elliot
Hero: Captain Frederick Wentworth-old love of 8 years
Decoy: Mr. Elliot, cousin
Other Women: Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove
Revelations: Louisa is engaged to Mr. Benwick, Henrietta is engaged to Charles Hayter, Mr. Elliot is a cad
Realization: Capt. Wentworth grows a pair and writes Anne the most amazing letter ever

Mansfield Park:
Heroine: Fanny Price
Hero: Edmund Bertram- cousin and love of her lifetime
Decoy: Mr. Crawford
Other Woman: Miss Crawford
Revelation: Mr. Crawford runs away with Maria, Miss Crawford is a terrible human being
Realization: Edmund, after a long while, realizes he's always loved Fanny.

Northanger Abbey:
Heroine: Catherine Morland
Hero: Henry Tilney- first guy she's met
Decoy: John Thorpe
Other Woman: Elinor Tilney (whom Catherine mistakes for Henry's date and not his sister, for about a minute)
Revelation: Catherine is not rich and is kicked out of Northanger.
Realization: Henry loves Catherine and doesn't care if she's poor.
Other story: Isabella leads on Catherine's brother and is seduced by Captain Tilney, Henry's brother.
***Northanger Abbey, as the first written, has the weakest formula.

Heroine: Emma Woodhouse
Hero: Mr. George Knightley- neighbor and sort of brother-in-law
Decoys: Frank Churchill and Mr. Elton
Other Women: Jane Fairfax and Harriet Smith
Revelation: Frank is engaged to Jane. Harriet loves Mr. Knightley
Realization: Emma loves Mr. Knightley, Mr. Knightley grows a pair and tells Emma he's always loved her.
Other story: Harriet likes Mr. Martin, Mr. Elton, and Mr. Knightley. Mr. Elton likes Emma but eventually marries Miss Augusta Hawkins. Harriet marries Mr. Martin.

Sense and Sensibility:
Heroine: Elinor Dashwood
Hero: Edward Ferrars- new guy in town
Other Woman: Lucy Steele
Revelation: Edward will not inherit if he marries Lucy. Lucy switches brothers and marries Robert.
Realization: Less a realization, and more of Edward hadn't wanted to marry Lucy for a long time and so was free to propose to Elinor.
***There is no decoy in Elinor's case.

Heroine: Marianne Dashwood
Hero: Colonel Christopher Brandon- loves Marianne at first sight
Decoy: John Willoughby
Other Women: Brandon's goddaughter and Miss Sophia Grey
Revelations: Willoughby has impregnated Brandon's goddaughter and has married Miss Grey for her money.
Realization: Marianne slowly falls in love with Brandon, realizing he's a good guy.

With more than one heroine, and the decoy getting so close to being the hero in Marianne's case, Sense and Sensibility is the most complicated of the formulas, but still adheres to it. In it there is no decoy for Elinor, and no other woman for Colonel Brandon.

So there it is. Like I said, expect an entry comparing the faults and virtues (if any) of the decoy men. 


  1. I always felt the decoy for Brandon and Elinor were each other. If they were following the norm of the day, Brandon would offer to the eldest who being quieter should be more his temperament. I feel like you get that underlying bit between Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman out of all the movie versions.

    1. I agree that Elinor and Brandon are better suited in a traditional sense, but that as Elinor's preference for Mr. F is so well known by the entire neighborhood, and most importantly Marianne, Brandon could never have been considered a serious threat to Marianne and Brandon's ending up together. Likewise Brandon's attachment and preference for Marianne is established so early, and again, known by all (and importantly Elinor)that Elinor couldn't have been a distraction for Brandon. In these cases the key is that neither was ever seen by the cast at large or the eventual lover as rivals and therefore didn't get in the way of Elinor being with Edward, or Brandon with Marianne. I will grant to you that Elinor and Brandon are much better and closer friends as portrayed by Emma and Alan, but in that adaptation Elinor is portrayed as much older than 19 so a more peer-like relationship is expected. Also in general, if Elinor and Brandon seemed close in any version it is because Brandon used Elinor worked together for the well being of Marianne. If you read all of that then good for you!