Bridget Jones, Anne Elliot and the Allure of the Older Singleton

I recently finished reading Persuasion by Jane Austen, and even though I have read all but one of Jane Austen’s books (Mansfield Park you elude me yet) I have found some easier to read than others, with Persuasion definitely being the easiest by far.

Perhaps it is because it is the shortest of her novels, or because she spends less time teaching us about the class values of the day and more on the actual interaction between the characters but I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. I wondered if it was at the point of my life that I am in that this book resonated with me so much.

In Jane Austen Book Club Karen Joy Fowler wrote, “it was essential to reintroduce Austen back into your life regularly” and that is what makes me glad that I didn’t read all her novels at once, that I read them at strategic points in my life and they spoke to me in different ways. Would it have had the same effect if I read all of them for the first time at once?

I began my Austen journey like so many others with Pride and Prejudice when I was a teenager which introduced me to the power of a romantic partner that is just as witty as you, that can challenge you and you can find intellectually stimulating, also I wrote a paper on how the personal pronouns in P&P in my first year of university shows the shift in the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy and ever since then I have played close attention to the personal pronouns in the DM’s dudes have sent me.

After that came Northanger Abbey when I was in my early 20’s and more in love with books and had romanticised notions of what love was, then of course Emma in my mid-20s when I had sworn off love and was so ready to matchmake everyone else, Sense and Sensibility earlier this year (still deciding the lesson I learnt from this), and now Persuasion.

So for those who don’t know what Persuasion is about:

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love? – [x]

I just turned 27 and my birthday though usually uneventful was a gentle reminder that I am getting old, and perhaps brought to light a lot of what I should be feeling at this point. And while I have no old love to pine for, the past firmly belongs in the past, there was so many ways that I can relate to Anne Elliot. Like her, many times I feel invisible, past my prime, and slightly in the background and with this Austen’s last novel she brought a new heroine into the limelight, one who was a lot older than the usual Austen heroine, and one that was in her second bloom. God, I hope I’m in my ‘second bloom’.

On Saturday, I went to watch Bridget Jones’ Baby which as a comedy fan, I would recommend to the highest degree, I have no idea when last I laughed that much,  but this ties into the subject at hand because Bridget Jones is based off of a Jane Austen novel – Pride and Prejudice. Helen Fielding, the author of the original novel, didn’t even bother to change the leading man’s name. And while the first movie/novel is straight modernised Pride and Prejudice, this one reminded me a lot more of Persuasion. Bridget is a lot older in this one than in the others (naturally) and she seems to have calmed down a bit until she enters in what can be considered her ‘second bloom’ with attentions from men like Patrick Dempsey’s Jack and the return of her ex-lover Mark Darcy, both of whom never stopped loving each other, I don’t want to reveal too much because it’s worth checking out.

Both preach to the idea that it is never too late for love, Bridget talks often about singletons and smug marrieds, but perhaps that’s a sign of 90’s or early 00’s culture because nowadays everyone knows how tough marriage is so the smug marrieds just seem pathetic, why would you be smug about something that most people don’t envy you for? Love is beautiful, marriage is great, but unlike Anne Elliot and Bridget it’s not something every woman aspires to.

I’m not opposed to love or marriage and I know that I might grow to think differently about these things, the opinions that I held when I was 25 have changed so much and I know that by the time I am 30 I am going to change even more (I have even been looking at perhaps getting my eggs frozen if  the maternal bug decides to bite me too late – even though I doubt it). Marriage is just not something that I hold up as an ultimate achievement for myself, I once explained it to my father as when I think of myself in the future as unmarried I don’t freak out, but if I think of myself as never reaching my career goals, I start fretting, which if anything signals to me where my priorities lie.

So maybe I am getting older and I’m still snug in my singleton status, and I’m not quite into my Anne Elliot phase of my life (27 was practically age 40 in the early 19th century), maybe it will take me as long as it took Bridget, maybe I will never get to that stage of my life, and that’s okay. We are not all meant to be smug marrieds, we are not all meant to be smug marrieds by age 30, so to that I want to raise my glass to the all the eternal singletons like myself.


More about Caryn

Journalist, Reader, Dreamer, Fangirl, Defender of the Weak (and that's just my formal titles). I hope to one day take over the world or marry Tom Hiddleston.

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