“You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” Jane Austen’s passionate heroine Elizabeth Bennett thus advises her improbable love Mr. Darcy during a discussion of their past misunderstandings in one of my favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice. Nearly 200 years later and a continent away, this statement continues to speak truth. I believe that we poor, fragile human beings are at our best when we learn from hurtful situations and then move on to the hope of happier ones. Such is the process of self-discovery. I have personally undergone an evolution of character and attitude throughout my entire life, but most especially in recent years. Like Elizabeth and Darcy, love is the reason for the transformation. But unlike Elizabeth and Darcy, my metamorphosis began as the result of losing a love rather than discovering it.
I was nearing my twentieth birthday. My first serious boyfriend and I had broken up a little less than a month before, and while I was over the worst, I still felt less than confident about meeting anyone new. Despite my misgivings, a friend introduced me to a handsome, smart young man, and it didn’t take long at all to reach head-over-heels status. I had tried to keep my wits about me and proceed slowly, but to no avail. We were discussing marriage after having known each other for only three weeks, and he proposed to me on Christmas the following year. I felt very much like the spirited Elizabeth when she explains to her sister Jane that she and Darcy are engaged: “It is settled between us already that we are the happiest couple in the world.”
Then, as it always seems to do, disaster struck at the most inopportune moment: disaster in the form of a tornado that swept away his home, the one that was to be our home, less than three months before our wedding day.
I stubbornly held to the hope that this was just the literary conflict that takes place in every story, not just Pride and Prejudice: Sleeping Beauty’s bewitched spindle, Darcy and Elizabeth’s initial misconceptions of each other, or the like. As Mrs. Bennett tells Elizabeth, “Those who do not complain are never pitied.” And I wanted no pity; I stoically stood by him and only allowed my tears to fall in the dark. The wedding was postponed, planned again, postponed again; the home was replaced, but something was still wrong. Far be it from me to make any attempt at diagnosing the psychological state of someone who had experienced such a loss as he had; thus for reasons I do not know, and have since refused to continue asking myself, he ceased to love me. The feeling was not mutual.
A significant amount of time passed, and while we both knew that our relationship was essentially in the grave already, I continued to foolishly hope for a cure to the disease, and he continued to foolishly refuse to disconnect the life support. I finally made a desperate final attempt. Hoping to remove the pressure of commitment, I gave the ring back; the action was instead one of last weak, labored breaths of our relationship. I finally ended it myself less than a month later, and he agreed. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever been forced to make. We were not so much like Elizabeth and Darcy after all.
I still could not give up hope. If we couldn’t be Elizabeth and Darcy, perhaps we could still be Jane and Bingley, the couple torn apart by snobbery and reunited by true love. They are of course the simpler of the two couples, no real flair for the dramatic; but their love is true, nonetheless. I reminded myself repeatedly that in the end of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bingley comes to his senses and realizes that his qualms about marrying Jane had been ill-founded and then comes running back to her, begging for forgiveness. In fact, I remember quite vividly praying one night something to the effect of the following: “God, I’m not even asking to be Elizabeth Bennett anymore – I don’t have to be the quintessential, self-assured heroine of the drawing room and beyond; I just want to have my true love – let me be Jane Bennett!” But I found little solace. There was no reviving what was dead.
I tried to hate him, and at times almost succeeded, though those attempts actually caused more frustration and confusion; and more often than not, I experienced the evil of “[finding] a man agreeable whom [I] was determined to hate,” as Elizabeth herself fears about Darcy after their earliest meetings. After her opinion of Darcy has reached its most dreadful point, she goes on to explain to her aunt and uncle about men in general, “I am sick of them all… Stupid men are the only ones worth knowing….” This sentiment is one which I gradually began to believe; when I received word of his impending marriage to another, I fully adopted it for quite some time.
Since hindsight is 20/20, I can agree doubtlessly with the scripture that says, “…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” I wish I could say that there is a magic formula whose administration could render a hurting person perfectly well again, but there just isn’t. Despite the difficulties I’d been facing, I had some remarkable people in my life to help me embrace what victories I could. I graduated from Ole Miss with my B.A.Ed. and landed my first “grown-up” job. My best friends went on being best friends and doing what best friends do. One in particular often listened to my crying and blubbering and questioning at all hours of the night, and once listened patiently and celebrated with me at 2:00 AM when I couldn’t sleep and purged my photo albums of he-whom-I’d-been-determined-to-hate. This friend also set up – and funded – the adventure of a lifetime for me, supposedly as a graduation gift, but I suspect as a much-needed lesson in living life to its fullest: a skydiving trip, which taught me that life was still exciting and good. My family loved me through it all as well, and I discovered that the old saying is true: time heals all wounds. (Of course, jumping out of a plane and plummeting nearly three miles to the earth below somehow seemed to aid time a bit in my case. I wonder if Jane Austen would have skydived if she could have…)
Jane and Elizabeth’s less charming – but very insightful – younger sister Mary wisely notes, “Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity to what we would have others think of us.” If that is true, then I am neither too proud nor too vain to admit that I have been wrong about myself and about the one I loved. Pressure is required for us to learn about not only others, but about ourselves. First Impressions is a fitting early title for Pride and Prejudice, as first impressions are often wrong; and occasionally, so are second impressions, third, and so on. Sometimes, misconceptions are cleared up and bring a couple together, as in the cases of Elizabeth and Darcy, and Jane and Bingley. Other times, misconceptions are cleared up and draw apart two people who are not meant to function together, as in my case. And that’s ok. The hard-learned lessons will serve me well for the rest of my life: if I do meet a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Bingley, I will be able to distinguish him from a deceptive Mr. Wickham or an uninspired Mr. Collins; and I can say with utmost sincerity that I am genuinely glad that my past love has found someone with whom he truly can be happy. Most importantly, I will never value myself so ill again.
For such a long time, I was in “so deep an O,” as another famous Brit so eloquently put it, that I couldn’t find fulfillment; I could only dwell on what was wrong. But I could still faintly discern Elizabeth’s words in the back of my mind: “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.” After much effort, much help, and much fighting, I am now fully capable of doing just that.
Pages: 375; Total FoA pages: 3124 (Total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)