A woman walks into a pub. Two men propping up the bar break off their conversation to glance at her.

One of them looks at her with interest and comments to his friend: ‘She’s nice.’ The other one says: ‘Well I wouldn’t [insert word] her.’

Woman thinks: ‘You’re not going to get the chance, mate.’ I know because I was that woman.

pride and prejudice

It amused me, because I felt I was witnessing the 21st century version of a scene from Jane Austen. You know the one: It’s that moment in Pride and Prejudice when two men are taking a break from dancing at a ball and notice our romantic heroine, sitting down on her own. One of them likes the look of her, and suggests the other asks her to dance. The other man gives her the eye and comments – loud enough for her to hear – that she’s tolerable, but not quite good enough for him. The 21st century guy just put it more earthily.

If life were a Jane Austen novel, that man and I would be destined for each other. In Pride and Prejudice we are expected to believe a rather obnoxious man transforms into a romantic hero through the sheer power exerted over him by the heroine’s magnetic looks and personality. Yet we know it’s a born-to-fail idea to expect a partner to change. I never saw these guys again and can’t say I feel I’ve missed out on a great love. The episode just served as a reminder that in real life we aren’t romantic heroes and heroines with a destiny written for us by an 18th century English novelist.


We’re all too intelligent to think we can fall for that, yet such is Jane Austen’s ‘classic’ status, that her novels are made to be taken seriously by us in school just at the age we are most impressionable. We’re not even aware of it but I wonder if deep down, there’s a confused bit of us, under the impression that because Jane was a genius, then what she writes is reality.

Are you – perhaps subconsciously – suffering from Jane Austen Syndrome?

The Anne Syndrome

You’re still smitten with someone from your past. In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, this someone just happens to turn up in your neighbourhood, nearly a decade later, still available, brilliantly successful, surprisingly unattached, and most of all, still mad about you.

REALITY: this someone has probably long since moved on emotionally, and so can you.


The Emma Syndrome

Perhaps you’re bored, disappointed, and disillusioned with gone-wrong relationships. Your eye falls on someone who’s been hanging around the sidelines for as long as you can remember. There are significant differences between you. In Emma for example, the man is an old family friend and there is an age gap of nearly twenty years between him and the heroine. Of course clever old Jane convinces us that they were right for each other all along, just never realised it, duh!

REALITY: I sense more than a few question marks over this supposed happy ending. In fact it verges on dodgy.

The Elinor Syndrome

Someone you fancy is heavily involved with someone else. In Sense and Sensibility it’s easy for the omnipotent author to pull dozens of convoluted strings to free her puppets so they can be happy together, without any emotional fallout.

REALITY: We know it’s much more complicated than that and involves big pain, often ongoing.

sense sensibility

The Catherine Syndrome

Blimey. By the time you’ve got to the Northanger Abbey stage you’re practically approaching classic bunny boiler territory. Even my sedate Cambridge Companion to English Literature describes Catherine as ‘somewhat unbalanced’. In essence a fairly bonkers teenager attracts the perfect guy, and they embark on a life of ‘perfect happiness’.

REALITY: Excessive kookiness, which looks so endearing in rom-coms, can act as a turn-off.

Sorry if I sound like I’m dissing your favourite author. I appreciate Jane Austen was a genius who knew how to make us believe a good story. That’s her special gift and our potential pitfall. The point of Jane Austen is to love her for her wit, her social observation, her elegant English, not subconsciously accept her stories as actual life scripts from reality shows.

northanger abbey

Instead, be glad to be born in the age of the internet – with the many more opportunities it provides than Jane Austen and her like ever had – to find and join social events and activities — to make contact, meet, socialise, flirt, experiment, and yes, find real, mutual love!